‘Serious shortcomings’ in fire service’s response to Grenfell disaster – report

There were “serious shortcomings” and “systematic” failures by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) in its response to the Grenfell disaster, according to the official report into the tragedy.

The report into the tragedy, due to be published on Wednesday but seen by the PA news agency, also accused the brigade’s commissioner Dany Cotton of “remarkable insensitivity” after she said she would not have done anything differently on the night.

Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick said fewer people would have died if key decisions had been made earlier and made a number of recommendations following the two-year investigation into how the disaster at the west London tower block unfolded.

London Fire Brigade Commissioner retires
London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton (Gareth Fuller/PA)

In the report, Sir Martin said the main reason the flames shot up the building at such speed was the combustible aluminium cladding used in the refurbishment of the tower.

The 1,000-page report also concluded the fire in June 2017, in which 72 people died, started as the result of an “electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer” in a fourth floor flat.

Sir Martin criticised the London Fire Brigade for its “stay-put” strategy when residents were told to remain in their flats by firefighters and 999 operators for nearly two hours after the blaze broke out just before 1am.

The strategy was rescinded at 2.47am, the report said.

Sir Martin said: “That decision could and should have been made between 1.30am and 1.50am and would be likely to have resulted in fewer fatalities.

“The best part of an hour was lost before Assistant Commissioner Roe revoked the ‘stay put’ advice.”

He added: “I identify a number of serious shortcomings in the response of the LFB, both in the operation of the control room and on the incident ground.

“It is right to recognise that those shortcomings were for the most part systemic in nature.”

MEMORIAL Grenfell
(PA Graphics)

Sir Martin also said that “the LFB’s preparation and planning for a fire such as that at Grenfell Tower was gravely inadequate.”

He praised the heroics and bravery of individual firefighters, but described the “stay put” strategy as an “article of faith within the LFB so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable”.

Sir Martin described Ms Cotton’s evidence that she would not change anything about the response of the fire service on the night as “remarkably insensitive”.

He added: “Quite apart from its remarkable insensitivity to the families of the deceased and to those who escaped from their burning homes with their lives, the Commissioner’s evidence that she would not change anything about the response of the LFB on the night, even with the benefit of hindsight, only serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire.”

He also said of Ms Cotton “that [her] evidence betrayed an unwillingness to confront the fact that by 2017 the LFB knew (even if she personally did not) that there was a more than negligible risk of a serious fire in a high rise building with a cladding system”.

Ms Cotton announced her retirement in June.

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “The Inquiry’s findings are not being published until Wednesday morning and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on them until then.”

An inquiry spokeswoman said the chairman and whole team were “dismayed and disappointed” that media had “chosen to deprive those most affected by the fire – the bereaved, survivors and residents – the opportunity to read the report at their own pace and without the distraction of public discussion and commentary ahead of publication”.

She added: “The inquiry has no further comment to make at this time.”

The second phase is due to start in the new year.

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