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London fire chiefs bear blame for Grenfell toll that reached 72

Official inquiry finds failings on the night stopped more people being saved

The London Fire Brigade has been condemned for "serious shortcomings"  in its response to the Grenfell Tower fire. AFP
The London Fire Brigade has been condemned for "serious shortcomings"  in its response to the Grenfell Tower fire. AFP

The London fire brigade’s “systemic” failings in dealing with the Grenfell Tower blaze, which saw 72 people perish in June 2017, prevented more lives being saved, an official inquiry has concluded.

The report, which is due to be published on Wednesday, praised the “extraordinary courage and selfless devotion to duty” of firefighters at the scene but was critical of the actions of commanders on the night.

In particular, it was found the ‘stay put’ strategy, where residents were advised to remain in their apartments at the 23-storey tower for nearly two hours after the fire broke out at 12:54am, had been abandoned too late.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who chaired the two-year inquiry, identified “a number of serious shortcomings” in the control room of the operation and at the scene that were “for the most part systemic in nature”.

“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,” wrote Sir Martin in the inquiry, which was leaked to The Daily Telegraph.

“The ‘stay put’ concept had become an article of faith within the LFB (London Fire Brigade) so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable,” he said.

The disaster, the UK’s deadliest fire in a residential building since World War Two, led to widespread outrage over how a densely populated social housing block could become a death trap. It was found the main reason the fire spread so fast was because the tower had been covered in flammable aluminium cladding when it was refurbished.

Sir Martin said the fire started because of an electrical fault in a fourth-floor apartment refrigerator.

Dany Cotton, the London Fire Brigade’s commissioner, was also accused of “remarkable insensitivity” to the families of the deceased for saying she would not have done anything differently.

She announced her retirement in June, reportedly after receiving a warning she would be criticised in the report.

In June she said: “The utter devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire and its impact on so many people will never leave me.

“I want to reassure my staff and all those affected by the tragedy that I will remain dedicated to leading London Fire Brigade through any findings from phase one of the Public Inquiry.”

Nabil Choucair, who lost six relatives in the blaze, told Sky News: “Lessons need to be learnt and unfortunately we lost our loved ones and we don’t want anyone else to lose loved one(s) in order for it not to happen again.”

Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said “it will be deeply upsetting to bereaved and survivors of Grenfell fire that the report has been leaked”. He said there needed to be greater scrutiny into the use of combustible cladding and the decisions of government ministers.

A spokeswoman for the London Fire Brigade said it would be inappropriate to comment on the report before its official release on Wednesday.

A police investigation is ongoing but no charges will be brought until the conclusion of the public inquiry process.

Updated: October 29, 2019 05:43 PM

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