Survivors and bereaved of the Grenfell Tower fire have called for the commissioner of the London fire brigade (LFB) to resign following a damning public inquiry report into the disaster that found “systemic failings” in her organisation.
They said it was “heartbreaking” to read that more of their loved ones could have been saved if the building was evacuated earlier and said Dany Cotton, the country’s most senior firefighter, should now quit.
“Her position is untenable,” said Natasha Elcock, chair of Grenfell United (GU), the survivors and bereaved group. “She is the commissioner, she is in charge and she didn’t make sure her team were trained. This wasn’t unprecedented. We have had fires before, but they just weren’t ready.”
Nazanin Aghlani, who lost two family members in the blaze, said leaders of the LFB should also be prosecuted.
“I’m not saying individual firemen, they do a hard job … but the seniors at the top get good money to do a very serious job.”
Cotton confirmed on Wednesday that senior LFB officers have been interviewed under caution by the police but said she would not resign.
“We identified our own areas that we’ve been concerned about way before the inquiry,” she said. “It’s important for me that I continue to protect the people of London by putting those steps in place and developing LFB, and by resigning now that would not happen.”
The long-delayed report into the blaze that claimed 72 lives was released on Wednesday morning by the inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, and was called “strong and fair” by GU, which represents hundreds of members of the community affected by the 14 June 2017 disaster.
The group said the LFB’s failure to prepare and plan for a cladding fire and evacuation, described by Moore-Bick as “gravely inadequate”, was a breach of national guidance and the LFB’s leadership must “stop hiding behind the bravery of their frontline firefighters [and] … face consequences for these failings if there is to be change”.
The survivors said rank and file firefighters, rather than being scapegoated in the report, were let down by their training, procedures, equipment and leadership. Moore-Bick’s conclusion that the refurbishment of the tower completed in 2016 with the fixture of combustible cladding broke building regulations, added to their “determination to see criminal charges brought against those responsible for turning our homes into a death trap”, they said.
They also believe this finding will make it harder for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owned the building, its tenants management organisation and the construction companies involved to avoid blame in the second phase of the inquiry, which starts in January. Over at least 18 months it will consider the design and construction of the £10m refurbishment between 2014 and 2016 and the government’s role in fire safety both by regulation and provision of effective fire and rescue services.
“Justice means different things for all of us but the truth needs to be at the heart of our collective healing. We have been waiting a long time for this report,” GU said in a statement. “Today’s findings give us some confidence that our journey towards truth has finally begun. We now need to urgently see responsibility and action from this report, not excuses. One of the most worrying findings is Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s view that the LFB are currently an institution at risk of not learning the lessons from Grenfell.”
Moore-Bick’s key demands include national guidelines for evacuations of high-rise flats, most of which currently operate a “stay put” policy. He wants tower owners to provide fire brigades with details of external wall materials and building plans, a new regime of regular inspections of high-rises and lifts and urgent inspections of fire doors across all multi-occupancy residential properties.
In a message to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, he said he wanted to see his recommendations implemented “without delay”.
Johnson told parliament he accepted in principle all of Moore-Bick’s recommendations for central government, pledging: “Where action is called for, action will follow.”
But he dismissed questions from Labour about £100m cuts to the LFB during his time as London mayor and whether the removal of aerial appliances during his tenure may have affected the response time of the emergency services.
“Sir Martin notes appliances were at the site within five minutes and he makes no findings, that I’m aware about, of lack of resources,” he said.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile said the government’s response to Grenfell was “too slow and not strong enough … from re-housing survivors to dealing with Grenfell-style ACM cladding on hundreds of blocks across this country”.
He added: “It was not firefighters that deregulated building safety standards, it wasn’t firefighters who ignored the concerns of tenants, it wasn’t firefighters who ignored the coroner’s report [after the 2009 Lakanal House fire] and failed to put sprinklers in high rise blocks. And it wasn’t firefighters who put flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower.”
Moore-Bick also found:
Behailu Kebede, the minicab driver in whose fourth floor flat the fire started, was not at fault.
The principal reason the fire spread was the aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic used on the building exterior and manufactured by Arconic.
Firefighters showed “courage and devotion to duty” and 999 call operators were “unstinting” in their efforts to help trapped residents.
Incident commanders were not trained to cope with the fire and there was no contingency plan for evacuation.
The LFB failed to lift the “stay put” advice when the stairs remained passable, which cost lives.
Communications systems failed and there were serious deficiencies in command and control.
Cotton said in a statement: “I want to express our deepest sorrow at not being able to save all those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. The suffering of the bereaved, survivors and community will never be forgotten by any of us in the brigade.”
The London fire chief said her colleagues faced “impossible conditions that residents and the emergency services must never be placed in again” and she was “disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances”.
The LFB would carefully and fully consider Moore-Bick’s recommendations, she said.
“We are lobbying for major building regulation change and urgent research into ‘buildings that fail’ on fire safety, which leaves the national ‘stay put’ strategy no longer viable,” she said. “We will never give up until all of the changes we are calling for to protect residents have been made.”
Johnson paid tribute to the Grenfell community during a sombre debate in the House of Commons. He praised “residents who sacrificed their own lives to save their children or neighbours, the local community who rallied round in such an incredible fashion, holding the survivors in a tight embrace as the authorities failed to step up, and the people with us here today [in the public gallery], the bereaved and the survivors.”
“To them I say that the truth will come out, justice will be done, and that Grenfell Tower, and the people who called it home, will never be forgotten,” he said.