THE INQUIRY into the Grenfell Tower inferno was told this week by senior London Fire Brigade officer Andrew O’Loughlin that ‘The building was so horrendous several hours later that I think no one should have lived in the building.’
O’Loughlin was the senior officer present at the blaze that killed 72 people when the brigade changed its long-standing advice for people to stay put in their homes in the event of a fire to calling for an immediate evacuation of the block. O’Loughlin told the inquiry he was ‘confused’ at this change in policy explaining that ‘You wouldn’t expect fire to spread around the building like it did on the outside.’
Yesterday, the head of the London Fire Brigade, commissioner Dany Cotton, gave evidence and was again pressed by the lawyer acting for the inquiry about why people had initially been instructed to stay put. She explained: ‘If a building behaves correctly, then the “stay put” advice is the safest option’ and that a tragedy like Grenfell would have been deemed an ‘unrealistic scenario’ that no amount of training could have prepared firefighters for dealing with.
She said: ‘The complete failure of the building, the ability for a fire to spread across the external face of a building, for it to involve so many people, for it to involve as many fire survival guidance calls, I could go on …’
Throughout this past week of evidence to the inquiry from the fire brigade, a distinct and clear narrative has emerged – namely to spread the responsibility for the deaths of 72 people in the fire as thinly as possible by implicating the very firefighters who risked their lives and so divert attention from the real culprits. In June this year, the Metropolitan Police announced that the Brigade and its senior officers are being investigated over the ‘stay put’ policy with the threat of manslaughter charges hanging over them.
In fact, the London Fire Brigade had issued warnings to all 33 councils in London before Grenfell about the risk of external cladding after a fire on the 7th floor of a block in Shepherd’s Bush in 2016 where fortunately no one was injured. The Brigade urged councils to consider carefully the arrangements for monitoring and approving ‘all aspects of future replacement and improvement of building facades’ and those councils should ensure work complied with regulations ‘to secure public safety and minimise fire losses’.
The Fire Brigade itself had responsibility for fire risk assessments taken away from them in 2005 and turned into a self-certification exercise that could be carried out by anyone, including people employed by the cladding companies themselves. The Fire Brigades Union described the mandatory forms as ‘not fit for purpose’ and said that anyone could set themselves up as a fire risk assessor and that no training or qualifications were necessary.
None of these facts has been investigated by the inquiry in its investigation into the role of the fire service at the Grenfell inferno. Instead, by concentrating on the ‘stay put’ advice, the inquiry appears set on making the fire service and FBU members the scapegoats.
The criminals who must be made to stand trial for the deaths of 72 people are the Tory Kensington and Chelsea Council, the Tenants Management Organisation who put the cladding up, Rydon the company that did the refurbishment, and the Tory government that has closed ten fire stations in London, axed 552 firefighters’ jobs and got rid of 14 fire engines in the capital.
A Tory government that boasted of a ‘bonfire of the regulations’ including the very regulations that would have insisted on real tests on the flammability of the cladding used on Grenfell and not just a useless paper exercise should stand trial. A Tory-run council that threatened legal action against tenants who raised concerns over fire safety in the block should face prosecution.
These are the ones who put profit before the lives of the Grenfell tenants and it is they who must be put on trial for the deaths of 72 men, women and children not the firefighters who put their lives on the line to save people.