Grenfell inquiry hears criticism of LFB and post fire audit
THE INQUIRY heard that London Fire Brigade (LFB) had ‘failed residents and firefighters’, and that a post Grenfell audit of the building’s management company found only ‘minor weaknesses’ in its approach.
Earlier this year, the inquiry began looking at the ‘factual narrative’ of the events, with expert witnesses describing the various safety failures in the tower and a ‘culture of non compliance’. After the inquiry resumed once more, a fire station manager stated that ‘vital’ plans for the tower were not able to be found in the lobby of the building. It then heard from 999 operators that due to a policy not to recontact callers, residents were not told to evacuate when policy changed.
In September, one of the fire commanders stated that ‘the building let us all down’, before London Fire Brigade (LFB) commissioner Dany Cotton admitted that she had no knowledge of cladding risks despite an LFB presentation created only a year before the fire. Recently, the inquiry heard two different experts note that flames spread in ‘just over 10 minutes’ to the outside of the tower, and that cladding issues ‘have been known for decades’.
In November, the inquiry heard that the architectural ‘crown’ of cladding designed to make the tower ‘look nice’ was ‘instrumental’ in the fire’s spread around the tower, and that the fire was ‘most likely started by overheated wiring’ within a fridge freezer. BBC News reported on criticism of LFB from victims’ lawyer Sam Stein, who said that Ms Cotton and her leadership team were ‘not fit to run’ LFB, and that the tower’s residents and firefighters ‘were let down’ by those in charge.
He stated that Ms Cotton ‘should have been well aware’ of what he called ‘dreadful failings’ within LFB, which ‘had been identified’ during the inquiry by the time she came to give her evidence. He added that ‘this condemnation of the leadership of the fire brigade of London should not be taken to be an insult to those on the front line. No-one can or should forget the sheer bravery and determination of the individual firefighters who risked their lives’.
In turn, another victims’ lawyer Danny Friedman stated that there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ LFB had ‘failed to plan for such a scenario’, claiming that LFB knew ‘there was a risk’ of such a high rise fire that might require evacuation, but that knowledge ‘did not filter down’ to the firefighters in a ‘terrible gulf between paper and practice’. He also added that LFB had been ‘brought into disrepute’ by Ms Cotton’s testimony, when she said she would not change any part of its response.
On this note, he stated that ‘not only where these comments insulting to the bereaved, survivors and residents, but they were irresponsible. They sent a wholly negative message about the LFB’s capacity as an organisation to acknowledge its shortcomings and to make any real change in the future’.
In response, LFB’s lawyer Stephen Walsh said that the fire was the ‘biggest challenge to any fire service in the UK in living memory’, adding that ‘its policies, procedures and training were strained to their limits and in some respects well beyond, that is accepted’, while LFB said it would be ‘unfair for it to be judged before all the evidence was heard’.
Additionally, Inside Housing reported that the inquiry heard that a post fire external audit of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which had managed Grenfell Tower, found only ‘minor weaknesses’ in its fire safety approach. The audit was commissioned by Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council a fortnight after the fire, and was carried out by Housing Asset Management Consultancy Ltd (HAMC), identifying ‘moderate’ assurance that KCTMO’s fire safety strategy ‘was working properly’.
The report, marked ‘strictly private & confidential’, was published by the inquiry, and was written by HAMC managing director Dr Graham Coupar. It examined fire risk assessments (FRAs) commissioned by KCTMO, with a new fire safety strategy introduced by the organisation nine days before the fire. The HAMC report concluded that KCTMO had ‘well established process[es] and procedures that support the delivery of fire safety compliance’.
In turn, it noted that the FRAs undertaken by CS Stokes and Associates Limited were ‘of a high standard’, despite a ‘recurring theme’ of overall risk ratings being lower ‘than they should have been’. However, the report did also identify a ‘recurring theme of failure to consider fire signage’ in the FRAs, while the level of outstanding actions related to required repairs was ‘excessive’, with 34% or 133 required.