Grenfell disaster was caused by private companies and government – the FBU tells Inquiry!

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FIRE BRIGADES Union lawyer Martin Seaward has told the Grenfell Inquiry that the disaster was caused by individual private companies and the government!

He insisted: ‘It is particularly wrong to blame the individual firefighters and control staff who attended the disaster in its early stages.’

Seaward added: ‘The London Fire Brigade’s work was impeded by austerity cuts and privatisation for decades before Grenfell.’

The Grenfell Tower disaster was caused by ‘individual private companies which were allowed to put profit before people’ and ‘represented the culmination of a generation of Central Government policies including deregulation and the “war” on the culture of health and safety, privatisation, fragmentation, austerity and the degradation of social housing’, emphasised Seaward.

He warned: ‘The building failure was so total and the systemic failings so widespread across the country that it would be wrong to scapegoat the Fire and Rescue Service for the failures of Central Government and a corporate culture that made people’s homes unsafe’. He added: ‘The performance of the Fire and Rescue Service at Grenfell must be assessed ‘in the wider political and economic context, apportioning blame where it is due, particularly, in relation to those who created and enabled this truly horrifying disaster.’

He added: ‘Any deficiencies in the performance of the London Fire Brigade were institutional or due to inadequate senior management.

‘The manufacturing companies manipulated the flawed testing and certification regime. The private companies involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower created a wholly unsafe building surrounded by highly flammable material, from which the Tenant Management Organisation’s under-resourced and ineffective fire risk management system failed to safeguard the residents.’

He then stated: ‘The lack of care shown by the private companies was facilitated and enabled by policies made since 1979 by Central Government in the service of a social and economic system driven by the pursuit of profit above all else, including people.’

Naming specific policies here, he said: ‘Deregulation and the “war on the culture of health and safety” facilitated the use of the inflammable cladding that destroyed Grenfell Tower… Privatisation weakened public services and introduced conflicts of interest between safety and profit as we have seen in the testing and certification regimes.’

The FBU’s latest written submission to the Inquiry, released yesterday, also raised important questions about what the government knew about combustible cladding as far back as 1991 and why this information was not conveyed to the London Fire Brigade.

After the fire at Knowsley Heights, Merseyside in 1991, a handwritten government note from the Department of the Environment, which at the time had responsibility for building regulation, to the Building Research Establishment, asked them to ‘play down’ the issue of the cladding fire at Knowsley. The cladding’s contribution to the fire was then ‘suppressed’, according to the FBU.

In its evidence, the union says that the note shows that ‘the government and the Building Research Establishment’ were ‘significantly invested in the success of cladding schemes’, and in oral statements the union’s lawyer to the Inquiry, Seaward, added in relation to the note that ‘the risk of rapid fire spread associated with combustible cladding systems was deliberately downplayed by government and this significantly contributed to the widespread misunderstanding of this risk.’

Seaward said: ‘We accept there are important lessons to be learnt by the London Fire Brigade and the Fire and Rescue Service more generally from Grenfell Tower’. However, amongst other things: ‘Operational crews in London had not been informed that building failure was not rare, that compartmentation could not be relied upon and some cladding materials were combustible, nor of the heightened risk of total building failure these combined risks presented in cladded High Rise Residential Buildings, nor of the resulting need to consider revoking stay put and evacuating such a building, and had not been trained when or how to do so.’

He added: ‘Central Government, the Chief Fire Officers Association, National Fire Chiefs Council, Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor and the London Fire Brigade failed to equip and prepare the operational crews, incident commanders and control room staff for a major disaster such as Grenfell Tower.’

He concluded: ‘The individual firefighters who attended the disaster, including the first two Incident Commanders and the supervisors of the Control Room staff, should be relieved of any individual blame. Grenfell Tower was not their fault.’