Boris Johnson wore a green Grenfell pin and said he hoped today’s report would bring some comfort to those caught up in the Grenfell Tower tragedy
Boris Johnson today said the 72 people who died in Grenfell Tower were ‘overlooked and ignored’ before the blaze and the survivors and bereaved were ‘shamefully failed’ afterwards as the scathing inquiry into the tragedy was published today.
The Prime Minister and Speaker John Bercow led MPs in observing a minute’s silence at the start of the Commons debate on inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s damning report.
Mr Johnson then addressed relatives watching from the public gallery and said victims, survivors and the bereaved were ‘overlooked and ignored’ before the fire in June 2017 and then ‘shamefully failed in the days and weeks after it’.
He said: ‘No report can make up for the trauma they have suffered – but I hope the findings published today will bring some measure of comfort to those who have suffered so much.
‘They asked for the truth, we promised them the truth, we owe them the truth. And today the whole country, the whole world, is finally hearing the truth about what happened at Grenfell Tower on June 14 2017.’
Mr Johnson added: ‘Grenfell Tower, filled that night with almost 300 souls in its 129 flats, was beyond saving.’
He continued: ‘Many who lived together, died together. Husbands and wives, parents and children, were found in each other’s arms. Grenfell Tower and the people who called it home will never be forgotten’.
Mr Johnson added: ‘The impact of the fire, not only on those who survived, but those who lost loved ones or witnessed its destruction, is unlikely ever to be known.’
The PM also slammed private landlords who have still not taken Grenfell-style cladding down from their buildings two years on and said: ‘They have had enough time – no more excuses – they must make their buildings safe’.
Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick has listed 46 recommendations and a further 42 mistakes made by the London Fire Brigade to help avoid a similar tragedy because of the extraordinary failings that contributed to the fire on June 14 2017.
He also slammed fire chiefs’ slavish refusal to evacuate the burning building as it was revealed 55 of the 72 people who died in the fire were told to remain in their flats.
MPs bowed their heads and held a minute’s silence as relatives of those who died in Grenfell Tower watched from the public gallery
Families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire speak during a news conference in London today and said they believed that London Fire Brigade could have saved all 72 people who perished in the blaze
The Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, West London, in June 2017 left 72 people dead and the report marking the end first phase of the public inquiry is out today
Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s scathing conclusions over 1,000 pages
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of the Grenfell public inquiry,
Cause of blaze
It started due to an electrical fault in a fridge-freezer in flat 16 on the fourth floor. Flat owner Behailu Kebede will be absolved of any blame.
More than 200 survivors and bereaved families are suing Whirlpool, which supplied the Hotpoint model in the flat.
The London Fire Brigade’s preparation and planning for such a fire was ‘gravely inadequate’. Experienced incident commanders had ‘no training’ on the dangers of combustible cladding or on how to evacuate a high-rise block.
At the scene
Firefighters displayed ‘extraordinary bravery’ but incident commanders failed to recognise that a full evacuation may have been necessary.
If the decision to evacuate had been made it would have ‘resulted in fewer fatalities’.
Crucial information was not shared by senior officers.
There were ‘shortcomings in practice, policy and training’.
Call handlers did not always obtain the necessary information and were unaware of when to tell residents to evacuate.
The report criticises the London Fire Brigade’s commissioner for her ‘remarkable insensitivity’ after she told a hearing in September 2018 she would change nothing about its response to the fire.
The ‘principle reason’ that the flames spread so quickly up the tower block was due to the rain screen panels which ‘acted as a source of fuel’.
The insulation boards behind the cladding panels also accelerated the fire’s spread. These features were added during a refurbishment several months before the fire.
The failures of the building’s safety design were ‘rapid’. Many lobbies filled with fire 26 minutes after it started.
But Sir Martin Moore-Bick said stairs were ‘not absolutely impassable’ over an hour into it.
The tower’s external walls failed to comply with building regulations. There is ‘compelling evidence’ the walls did not ‘accurately resist the spread of fire’ but ‘actively promoted it’.
Sir Martin has also concluded Grenfell’s recently installed cladding and insulation was illegal – paving the way for corporate manslaughter prosecutions – saying it was the ‘principal’ reason for the fire’s rapid and ‘profoundly shocking’ spread up to the top floor in just 30 minutes.
Boris Johnson said: ‘It was the cladding, the aluminium composite material, rainscreen, and the combustible insulation behind it that ignited because of the fire in flat 16.
‘It was the cladding that allowed the flames to climb so rapidly up the outside of the tower causing compartmentation to fail, and the cladding that turned into molten plastic, raining fire on the streets of North Kensington and causing the blaze to travel up and down the building as well.
‘In short, it was the cladding that turned a routine and containable kitchen fire into a disaster of unprecedented proportions and cost 72 people their lives.’
Mr Johnson said the second phase of the inquiry will look at why the cladding was installed and who was responsible for it.
Today’s report into what caused the fire in Grenfell Tower was published this morning and describes the ‘lost’ 47 minutes where the London Fire Brigade refused to drop its policy preventing people from being evacuated.
This afternoon Speaker John Bercow led MPs in observing a minute’s silence at the start of the debate on the Grenfell Tower inquiry in the Commons before Boris Johnson addressed relatives in the public gallery saying survivors and the bereaved were ‘overlooked and ignored’ before the fire and ‘shamefully failed in the days and weeks after it’.
He said: ‘No report can make up for the trauma they have suffered – but I hope the findings published today will bring some measure of comfort to those who have suffered so much’.
55 of the 72 people who died in the West Kensington fire had been told to ‘stay put’ in their flats inside the 14-storey block before the evacuation was finally ordered at 2.47am – almost two hours after the first 999 call came at 12.54am.
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. I have little doubt that fewer people would have died if the order to evacuate had been given by 2.00am. The time between 2.00am and 2.47am was effectively lost’.
Sid-Ali Atmani, who escaped from the 15th floor, said today: ‘Those in command had opportunity to save everyone in that tower – we’re talking about two hours’.
Flora Neda and her son were the only survivors from top floor after ignoring the stay-put order and fleeing down the stairs to safety. Describing their descent through the smoke and flame she said at a press conference in Westminster today: ‘We didn’t see anyone, until the 4th floor. That’s the first time we saw a firefighter. We told them there’s more people upstairs, they said they would go up. But they didn’t’.
Nazanin Aghlani, who lost two family members in the blaze, called for its top brass to be prosecuted and said: ‘I think it’s quite evident that the whole LFB is in the hands of people that are incapable of their jobs. They should be discharged of it. They should be prosecuted. I’m not saying individual firemen, they do a hard job – the senior leaders at the top’.
Survivors who fled the burning tower and those who lost loved-ones in the worst fire in Britain for a generation praised the report and its criticism of the London Fire Brigade, whose boss Dany Cotton was singled out for criticism after she insisted she ‘would not change anything we did on the night’.
Today the LFB Commissioner, who is retiring next April aged 50 on a £140,000-a-year pension, said she was ‘disappointed’ with elements of the report including the naming of senior colleagues on duty that night.
Asked if she would quit, she told the BBC: ‘No, I won’t. I will retire in six months’ time because my commitment is to making those changes, and if I resign I can’t do that.’
She was then asked three times if she would do things differently before finally admitting she would.
Campaign group Grenfell United said Cotton and other bosses had failed to learn the lessons from the blaze and called on them to ‘stop hiding behind the bravery of their frontline firefighters’.
Its chairman Natasha Elcock praised the ‘strong and fair’ report and said: ‘You can’t say there’s nothing you would change when all of these lives were lost’.
London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton (left today) is retiring at the age of 50 with a £2m pension pot – she has been heavily criticised by the inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick (right) who called her ‘insensitive’ and questioned her lack of curiosity on arriving at the inferno
A team of exhausted firefighters rest at the scene of the blaze in North Kensington in June 2017 – bosses have been accused of throwing them under the bus
Shah Aghlani, whose mother Sakina Afrasehabi and aunt Fatima Afrasehabi died in the horror, hit back today: ‘For a fire chief to say they wouldn’t change anything, they shouldn’t be anywhere near commanding a fire service.’
Nabil Choucair, who lost six family members in the fire, said: ‘We saw how you (firefighters) failed and should have put the fire out, but knowing that you couldn’t tackle a fire that was bigger than you could imagine… you should’ve implemented a rescue plan a lot earlier. If we could see this and experienced fire commanders could not see this… why could they not see it? Why did they not react? Where was the common sense?’.
In his eviscerating report, Sir Martin Moore-Bick said the fire service’s planning for a high-rise fire was ‘gravely inadequate’ and ignored lessons from the Lakanal House blaze of 2009 where five died in similar circumstances.
He said: ‘It had failed to learn the lessons of the Lakanal House fire. But at the same time I find that, following the refurbishment, the external walls of the building did not comply with the Building Regulations because they did not adequately resist the spread of fire over them. On the contrary, they promoted it.’
The damning report into one of the worst fires in British history has found:
- Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick demands root-and-branch changes in 46 recommendations he says are needed to prevent another Grenfell-type disaster;
- Combustible cladding turned the 14-storey-block into a ‘death trap’, but thousands of people are still living in buildings fitted with the panels;
- London Fire Chief Dany Cotton was heavily criticised by the official report into the tragedy including her ‘remarkable insensitivity’ in her evidence to the public inquiry in September last year where she insisted she ‘would not change anything we did on the night’. She refused to resign today;
- Firefighters battling the blaze were praised – but decision by bosses who refused to evacuate the burning tower for more than an hour cost lives;
- Home appliance firm Whirlpool faces a potential multi-million pound lawsuit after the Grenfell report found a faulty fridge freezer sparked the inferno after Sir Martin dismissed their ‘fanciful’ claim fire was caused by a cigarette;
Grenfell’s cladding was illegal and was ‘principal reason’ tower was engulfed in 30 minutes
Grenfell Tower in West London burns hours after the blaze swept through it in June 2017 – its cladding sped up the fire and helped it spread upwards
The use of combustible materials in the refurbishment of London’s Grenfell Tower was central to the catastrophic chain of events in June 2017, the official inquiry said.
The blaze at Grenfell Tower, a 23-storey social housing block owned by one of London’s richest local authorities, shocked Britain and threw up a range of disturbing questions about how the building had been allowed to become a tinderbox.
‘In its origin, the fire at Grenfell Tower was no more than a typical kitchen fire,’ wrote Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of a public inquiry into the disaster, in a report on the first phase of investigations which focused on events on the night of the blaze.
Having broken out late at night in a fourth-floor flat because of an electrical fault in a refrigerator, the fire spread to the outside of the building and raced up its facade, which had been fitted with a type of combustible aluminium composite material cladding during a refurbishment completed in 2016.
Within 17 minutes of the first call to emergency services by the tenant of the fourth-floor flat, the fire had reached the 22nd floor, and six minutes after that it had reached the roof. From there, it engulfed the whole tower, reducing it to a charred ruin by morning.
Moore-Bick said there was compelling evidence that the external walls did not comply with building regulations because of the cladding and insulation material fitted between it and the original concrete wall.
‘They did not adequately resist the spread of fire having regard to the height, use and position of the building. On the contrary, they actively promoted it,’ he wrote.
Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have welcomed a damning report that said London Fire Brigade (LFB) breached national guidelines through ‘gravely inadequate’ preparation.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick said the absence of a plan to evacuate the tower was a ‘major omission’ by the LFB and more lives could have been saved had the ‘stay-put’ policy been abandoned sooner.
Nobody has been prosecuted in the wake of the fire and with phase 2 of the inquiry on the technical aspects of the building expected to be completed in 2022, police are expected to wait until then to swoop, disappointing survivors and grieving relatives of the dead demanding justice.
Justice 4 Grenfell said some of the recommendations could have been made earlier, and that they feared those most accountable may be let ‘off the hook’.
The evidence from the first phase of the inquiry ‘strongly suggests’ that ‘stay-put’ was an ‘article of faith within the LFB so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable’, he said.
The Grenfell Tower cladding did not comply with building regulations and was the ‘principal’ reason for the fire’s rapid and ‘profoundly shocking’ spread, the inquiry report said.
Once the fire had taken hold of the building’s exterior, it was ‘inevitable’ that it would find its way inside, Sir Martin said.
However, because there was no attempt to carry out a managed evacuation of the tower, this is less significant than the lack of training to help incident commanders recognise when this might be necessary, he said.
Hisam Choucair, who lost six relatives, said: ‘I welcome the report, it’s long awaited. It’s the truth, for the findings in phase one, it’s a step in the right direction.
‘It’s opened up a serious amount of questions for organisations, government to answer – and to tell the truth with regards to what happened, and for things to change.’
Shah Aghlani, whose mother Sakina Afrasehabi and aunt Fatima Afrasehabi died in the fire, said ‘cultural change’ was needed within the London Fire Brigade (LFB).
He said ‘I think today everyone who has been in charge of the LFB should examine their role’ and act to bring about the ‘change that’s so badly needed’.
Rukayet Mamudu, 71, escaped from the building in her dressing gown carrying her adopted 12-year-old son Tyrshondre.
She told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: ‘I think the report was very thorough and we appreciate what Moore-Bick has done, and he has given us a room for hope to move forward, to be able to face phase two.
‘Because he has done, I must say, a thorough job, and we appreciate it. Thank you very much.’
Mahad Egal, who escaped from the fourth floor, said: ‘This is the beginning of the truth. It took the necessary time that it needed to, but the results, the right results we’ve been hoping for.
‘Most important, it’s very important to all of us – grieving survivors and residents and the community – that our neighbour from Flat 16 has been exonerated from any sort of blame. That itself is an absolute relief.
‘We are very pleased with the judge in terms of the thorough inspection which he has carried out with the inquiry team. This is a Pandora’s Box now, so we look forward to phase two.’
Hamdan El Alami, the father of Farah Hamdan, 31, who died in Grenfell Tower with her daughters, Malak, 8, and Leena, aged six months, and her husband Omar Belkadi, 32, sobbed as he described their ordeal
Flora Neda and her son were the only survivors from top floor but said firefighters refused to go above the fourth floor
Nazanin Aghlani, relative of a victim of the Grenfell Tower fire, called for an overhaul of the senior leadership of the LFB, and called for its top brass to be prosecuted
Relatives of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire pose with pictures during a news conference in London this afternoon
Pictures of Grenfell’s dead, including many children, surrounded the landmark report that demands changes to how high-rise fires are fought
Grenfell judge dismisses ‘fanciful’ claim by Hotpoint owner that a cigarette could have started the fatal blaze
The judge leading the Grenfell Tower inquiry has dismissed a ‘fanciful’ claim by a corporation that the fire could have been sparked by a discarded lit cigarette.
The owner of Hotpoint, which produces the fridge-freezer where the Grenfell Tower fire originated, previously suggested it could have been started by an ‘alternative source of ignition’ falling into the kitchen through an open window.
But the report today confirmed that the blaze was started by a fridge freezer as it dismissed the claims by Whirlpool.
Hotpoint produces the fridge-freezer where the Grenfell fire began
Rajiv Menon, who represents the occupant of the fourth-floor flat where the fire began, said at the time that Whirlpool Corporation’s claim was ‘desperate’ and ‘pure speculation’.
In his report, inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick said the explanation was not convincing or consistent with the evidence heard in the first phase.
He wrote: ‘Whirlpool’s suggestion that the fire could have originated from a burning cigarette end thrown from a window higher up the building falling into the kitchen of Flat 16 and igniting unknown materials on the floor next to the large fridge-freezer is fanciful.’
Sir Martin said he had ‘no doubt’ that the fire was started by an electrical fault in the fridge-freezer, but that he had been unable to establish its precise nature.
But he said fires originating in electrical domestic appliances were not uncommon and the important question was ‘how an ordinary domestic fire could have had such catastrophic consequences for the whole building and its occupants’.
He continued: ‘What really matters is that the design of the refurbishment, the choice of materials and the manner of construction allowed an ordinary kitchen fire to escape into the cladding with disastrous consequences.
‘How this state of affairs came about is for investigation in Phase 2, but at this stage I accept the evidence of all three experts that, if a fire started near a window, there was a disproportionately high chance of its spreading into the cladding, given the configuration and materials of the windows and of exterior cladding.’
London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton has been criticised in the report.
She said: ‘We will now carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety.
‘Many of the recommendations are welcome and will need to be fully understood not only by London Fire Brigade, but by Government, every fire and rescue service and every residential building owner and manager across the country.
‘The report is focused on our response and it is right for our actions to be fully examined by the inquiry.
‘We welcome the chairman’s recognition of the courage, commitment and bravery of firefighters on the night, but we are disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others.
‘On the evacuation of Grenfell Tower we note the chairman states he has received no expert evidence to guide him on reaching his conclusion and that a qualitative judgment on the brigade’s approach might be better reserved for Phase 2.’
Nobody has been charged with any offences since the inferno in June 2017 – despite Grenfell being encased in flammable cladding that acted like a giant firelighter when the blaze started because of a faulty fridge in a fourth floor flat.
But today’s report only marks the end of phase one of the probe – with phase two set to take another two years from January 2020 and detectives unlikely to charge those responsible until it finishes.
Damningly, the report says lessons had not been learnt from the Lakanal House fire of 2009. Three women and three children died in that high-rise blaze in Camberwell, South London which bore many similar traits and where victims were also told to stay put.
Karim Mussilhy, vice-chairman Grenfell United, who lost his uncle in the blaze, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: ‘We welcome it. It’s strong, it’s long awaited.
‘Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been very quiet throughout the inquiry, listening and hearing to everything, and this was his opportunity to come out strong and really set the tone for phase two and to restore some confidence back – not only in us, survivors and bereaved, but also the community and the rest of the country to a certain extent.
‘So we welcome this report and we think its findings are very strong. For me, what stands out the most is the building was illegal.
‘As of 2016, after the refurbishment was done, that building should not have been lived in. It was a death trap.
‘All of the people that were involved in the refurbishment and the management of that building will have to answer some serious questions.
‘Someone somewhere broke the law, and phase two will be about who broke the law. And hopefully this will bring some accountability.’
A graphic showing the people who died on the various floors of Grenfell Tower, most of whom were told not to leave their flats
What is the five-year Grenfell Tower inquiry and why is it in two parts?
What was part one of the inquiry?
Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick wanted to find out the cause of the fire of June 14 2017 ‘as quickly as possible’ and how the fire was tackled to protect other residents of high-rise blocks on Britain. He wanted the work completed by April 2018 but it has now been completed 18 months later.
What is part two?
This phase will focus on the technical aspects of the building, how it was refurbished and why its make-up accelerated the fire rather than slowed it.
It will start in January 2020 and will take up to two years to complete.
Businesses, architects and council chiefs will be in the firing line.
Harley Facades Ltd, which supplied the cladding panels, was the company behind the controversial refurbishment of the doomed Grenfell Tower in North Kensington.
Reynobond PE cladding was also used on Grenfell – which the Government said previouslu is illegal, although experts challenged this.
Even Reynobond’s manufacturer, Arconic, warns it is ‘crucial’ that Reynobond PE should not be fitted on tall buildings above 10 metres (32ft).
In the early stages of the refurbishment, a non-plastic type of panel named Proteus was proposed. But in the end, cheaper plastic ones named Reynobond PE were used.
Documents show Proteus panels, sold by KME Architectural Solutions, were initially specified for the Grenfell project by architects Studio E. Proteus panels are made with a non-flammable metallic honeycomb core.
Sir Martin will focus on the decisions that led to the highly combustible cladding being installed on the 24-storey tower block.
He will investigate the design of the cladding and choice of materials, the testing and certification of the materials, and the role of central and local government in promoting fire safety.
Other questions include whether fire doors complied with regulations, if the design of the windows during the refurbishment made it possible for fire to spread to the cladding, and whether lifts were properly maintained.
Survivors of the fire and bereaved family members will also hold a press conference this morning as the authorities face a pasting.
Moyra Samuels, from the Justice for Grenfell campaign group, slammed London Fire Brigade [LFB] and demanded answers, saying it was ‘obvious’ that families should not have been told to ‘stay put’ as the block burned.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ’It was obviously for us on the outside that they should have been told to evacuate to have a mass evacuation. The LFB are going to have to explain that decision why there was such a huge delay’.
She added: ‘I think it’s quite concerning that there’s been an enormous amount of deficits in the LFB acknowledged in the report such as poor communication systems.
‘I think what we need is proper research I think the number of high risk buildings across the country with cladding is a massive concern.
‘We need some proper research with fire experts fire chiefs we need political will to explain in the case where stay put doesn’t work what should happen’.
Yesterday families condemned the London Fire Brigade boss for retiring with a £2million pension pot.
They claim fire commissioner Dany Cotton, who was heavily criticised by the official report into the tragedy which claimed 72 lives, has been ‘paid off for doing a deadly job’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped the report would bring ‘some measure of comfort’ to those directly affected by the fire.
He said: ‘They asked for the truth. We promised them the truth. We owe them the truth.
‘And, today, the whole country, the whole world, is finally hearing the truth about what happened at Grenfell Tower on the 14th of June 2017.
‘For the survivors, the bereaved, and the local community, this report will prove particularly harrowing.
‘Yet I hope it strengthens their faith in the inquiry’s desire to determine the facts of the fire – and in this government’s commitment to airing those facts in public, no matter how difficult they may be, and acting on them.
‘That commitment is absolute.’
The report, which was leaked yesterday, found that systemic failures by the LFB increased the number of deaths because it told residents to ‘stay put’ in flats for almost two hours after the first 999 call.
Miss Cotton was lambasted in the report for ‘remarkable insensitivity’ in her evidence to the public inquiry in September last year.
The 72 confirmed victims who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. (top row left to right) Mohammad Alhajali, Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye, also known as Khadija Saye, Anthony Disson, Khadija Khalloufi, Mary Mendy, Isaac Paulos, Sheila, Gloria Trevisan, Marco Gottardi, (second row left to right) Berkti Haftom, Ali Jafari, Majorie Vital, Yahya Hashim, Hamid Kani, Jessica Urbano Ramirez, Zainab Deen, Nura Jemal, Jeremiah Deen, (third row left to right) Yasin El-Wahabi, Firdaws Hashim, Hasim Kedir, Deborah Lamprell, Ernie Vital, Sakineh Afrasehabi, Denis Murphy, Raymond Bernard, Biruk Haftom, (fouth row left to right) Yaqub Hashim, Mehdi El-Wahabi, Ligaya Moore, Nur Huda El-Wahabi, Victoria King, Mohamed Amied Neda, Maria del Pilar Burton, Hesham Rahman, Gary Maunders, (fifth row left to right) Alexandra Atala, Vincent Chiejina, Steve Power, Rania Ibrahim, Fethia Hassan, Hania Hassan, Fathia Ali Ahmed Elsanosi, Abufars Ibrahim (silhouette), Isra Ibrahim (silhouette), (sixth row left to right) Mariem Elgwahry, Eslah Elgwahry (silhouette), Mohamednur Tuccu, Amal Ahmedin, Amaya Tuccu-Ahmedin, Amna Mahmud Idris, Abdeslam Sebbar (silhouette) , Joseph Daniels (silhouette), Logan Gomes, (seventh row left to right) Omar Belkadi, Farah Hamdan, Malak Belkadi (silhouette), Leena Belkadi (silhouette), Abdulaziz El-Wahabi, Faouzia El-Wahabi, Fetemeh Afrasiabi, Kamru Miah, Rabeya Begum, (eighth row left to right) Mohammed Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Husna Begum, Bassem Choukair, Nadia Choukair, Mierna Choukair, Fatima Choukair, Zainab Choukair and Sirria Choukair.
Government rejects call for toxin exposure monitoring scheme after Grenfell fire
Mary Creagh, Environmental Audit Committee chairwoman
The Government has rejected calls for a monitoring programme to check residents’ exposure to toxic chemicals in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee’s chairwoman Mary Creagh accused the Government of having ‘utterly failed’ residents for not implementing a ‘full health biomonitoring’ programme after the tragedy.
A report from the committee in July backed calls from experts and residents for such a programme, after concerns over environmental contamination caused by the fire in June 2017 in which 72 people died.
The parliamentary committee also recommended that local people with concerns about dust or residues in their homes should be offered the opportunity to have them tested.
The committee of MPs made the recommendations its report on toxic chemicals in everyday life, in which it described how residents have reported the emergence of the ‘Grenfell cough’ and health problems including vomiting, coughing up blood, skin complaints and breathing difficulties
Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, West London, in June 2017
A scientific study also found cancer-causing chemicals in samples taken from balconies within 100m of the tower a month after the blaze and ‘significant environmental contamination’ in the surrounding area, including in oily deposits collected 17 months after the tragedy.
Researchers concluded there was an increased risk of a number of health problems including cancer and asthma to those in the area.
But in its response to the EAC’s report, the Government did not accept the calls for a programme to monitor people’s exposure to toxins, saying it is not usually possible to determine if contaminants can be associated with such a fire.
It said Public Health England felt it ‘could cause unnecessary concern to an already distressed community’, and it would not provide reassurance as there was no pre-fire analysis for comparison.
And it highlighted ‘additional, ongoing environmental checks’ being carried out in and around the Grenfell Tower site, £50 million to fund long-term treatment for those affected by the fire and enhanced health checks offered by the NHS.
Mrs Creagh said: ‘The Government has utterly failed Grenfell residents in the aftermath of the disaster.
‘Rejecting our call for a comprehensive biomonitoring scheme – which would reassure Grenfell’s traumatised community – is another example of public authorities’ complacent and patronising attitude towards residents after the fire.’
On wider action to take toxic chemicals out of use, the committee also criticised the Government for failing to make swift progress to remove products such as flame-retardants used on home furnishings.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired judge who chaired the inquiry, said her attitude meant the brigade was at risk of failing to learn the lessons from Grenfell. He also highlighted her apparent lack of curiosity on arriving at the inferno at around 3am on June 14, 2017.
She was told the notorious ‘stay-put’ advice had just been abandoned, but asked no follow-up questions. Miss Cotton, whose annual pay package is worth £234,000, provoked anger when she told the inquiry she ‘would not change anything we did on the night’. The 50-year-old fire chief is retiring in April on a full pension estimated to be worth up to £2million after 32 years of service. She will have served as commissioner for three years and three months – six years fewer than her predecessor, Ron Dobson, who continued until he was 57.
Miss Cotton, who became the fire brigade’s first female commissioner in 2017, has previously compared the sight of flames ripping through the tower block to a ‘disaster movie’. She said the fire was ‘the most difficult thing’ she had dealt with in her career, saying that she has suffered memory loss and received counselling.
In her testimony, she also claimed no training could have prepared the fire crews, saying: ‘I wouldn’t develop a training package for a space shuttle to land in front of the Shard.’
Sir Martin’s report describes the lack of training at the fire services as an ‘institutional’ failure. He concludes: ‘Quite apart from its remarkable insensitivity to the families of the deceased and to those who escaped, the commissioner’s evidence that she would not change anything about the response of the LFB, even with hindsight, serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the fire.’
He also says Miss Cotton’s 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’.
Miss Cotton joined the brigade aged 18 as one of 30 female London firefighters.
The 935-page report into events on the night is published today. Sir Martin makes 46 recommendations following a two-year investigation. He says the ‘principal reason’ why the flames shot up the 24-storey high rise was the combustible aluminium cladding used in the refurbishment.
The report also concludes the fire started as the result of an ‘electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer’ in a fourth floor flat.
Part two of the inquiry examining the circumstances and causes of the disaster begins in January. An LFB spokesman said it would be ‘inappropriate’ to comment on the findings ahead of its official release.
Firefighters claimed yesterday that they are being made scapegoats after an official report into the Grenfell disaster condemned the actions of the London Fire Brigade.
They said that those who raced up the burning tower ‘merely did their best to save lives’ and that the ‘real culprits are yet to be held to account’.
And a fire union chief said the inquiry was ‘back to front’ because firefighters were being criticised ahead of those responsible for wrapping the building in flammable cladding.
The first part of the report into the tragedy concluded that systemic failures by the LFB caused a greater number of deaths.
It found that the slavish adherence to the controversial ‘stay put’ policy by fire chiefs prevented residents from escaping.
But firefighters said that the policy was introduced by the Government and accused ministers of evading criticism.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, said: ‘The issues behind the Grenfell Tower fire go back 30 years or more and they lie at the heart of central government.
‘My frustration with this is that individual firefighters, including senior firefighters, are being subjected to a degree of scrutiny which Government ministers are avoiding.’
Dawn breaks at Grenfell Tower today on a landmark day for the families of the dead and those who survived the fire
London Fire Brigade failed to learn from 2009 Lakanal House blaze that killed six and senior officers didn’t understand risks of cladding despite training on the topic
The Lakanal House fire in 2009 in Camberwell killed six people
London Fire Brigade failed to learn from a fatal fire at a tower block in Camberwell eight years before the Grenfell Tower disaster, the inquiry has found.
The Lakanal House blaze in July 2009 killed six people and injured at least 20 more when flames ripped through the 14-storey block in South London.
But the report by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick found the LFB ‘failed to learn the lessons of the Lakanal House fire’, such as the danger of assuming crews would always reach callers.
The report also claimed senior fire officers did not understand the risks of cladding despite being trained about the topic.
Flames ripped through the 14-storey block in South London in 2009
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton infamously told the inquiry that preparing for Grenfell would have been akin to preparing for landing a spaceship on the Shard.
But Sir Martin said this evidence ‘only serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an insti
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