LFB interviewed by police over Grenfell

LFB interviewed by police over Grenfell

THE METROPOLITAN Police has interviewed London Fire Brigade (LFB) under caution as a corporate body over the fire in June 2017, in relation to ‘health and safety offences’.

The Guardian reported on the questioning of LFB in relation to health and safety offences ‘that may have contributed’ to the deaths of the 72 people in Grenfell Tower, adding in its reporting that the interview under caution was the seventeenth such interview since the fire. The police are investigating ‘possible criminality before and during’ the fire, with LFB interviewed as a corporate body.

A range of unnamed others have been questioned in relation to gross negligence, manslaughter and corporate manslaughter, though charges are ‘unlikely to be brought’ until 2021, once the public inquiry has concluded. Detective Superintendent Matt Bonner, senior investigating officer of Operation Northleigh – ‘established to investigate the fire’ – expected that the number interviewed under caution ‘will continue to rise in the forthcoming weeks and months as further progress is made’.

In response, LFB commissioner Dany Cotton stated that ‘we have always been subject to the Metropolitan police investigation and I want to ensure it is accurately and publicly known the brigade has now, voluntarily, given an interview under caution’. She also mentioned that she recognised the need for answers for survivors and the bereaved, and noted that LFB was ‘committed’ to assisting investigators.

She also reiterated that LFB had been put in an ‘impossible position’ by the design and construction of Grenfell Tower, stating that ‘we must all understand what happened and why to prevent communities and emergency services from ever being placed in such impossible conditions ever again’.

The Guardian pointed out that criminal charges of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act would require prosecutors to prove a defendant had not done all that was ‘reasonably practicable’ to prevent possible danger. Breaches of the law are punished by ‘unlimited fines and up to two years in jail’ should an individual be charged. The news outlet also pointed out that LFB’s conduct was ‘heavily criticised’ during the inquiry’s first phase.

Last year, it began looking at the ‘factual narrative’, with expert witnesses describing various safety failures and a ‘culture of non compliance’. After resuming, a fire station manager stated that ‘vital’ plans were not able to be found in the lobby of the buildingIt 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 2018, one of the fire commanders stated that ‘the building let us all down’, before Ms Cotton admitted that she had no knowledge of cladding risks despite an LFB presentation created only a year before. Then, it heard two different experts note that flames spread in ‘just over 10 minutes’ to the outside, and that cladding issues ‘have been known for decades’. 

In November 2018, the inquiry heard that the architectural ‘crown’ of cladding was ‘instrumental’ in the fire’s spread, and the fire was ‘most likely started by overheated wiring’ within a fridge freezerAfter that, it heard that 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.

Grenfell United, an organisation for the bereaved, survivors and community, responded: ‘It is only right that serious questions are being asked of the LFB. It’s been 27 months since the fire that killed 72 people. The first inquiry report is yet to be published and so far there have been no arrests. We have been very patient but in the months ahead we need to see organisations and individuals being brought to account, lessons being learned and changes being made.’

Lawyers urged inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick to ‘conclude’ that LFB ‘breached its policies and legal duties in failing to plan or train for the foreseeable event of a fire such as that at Grenfell’, with QC Danny Friedman stating that shortcomings in 999 call handling had ‘undeniably contributed to people dying’, with callers ‘being offered the choice whether to stay or go when there was none’.

The first phase report is ‘due’ to be published in October, and last December, the second phase was reported to be ‘unlikely to start’ until the end of 2019 because there are ‘more than 20,000 documents still to disclose’. In May, a letter sent to core participants stated that Sir Martin will not make any ‘urgent’ fire safety recommendations in his report on the first phase. 

Earlier this year, reports on the refurbishment and the cladding and insulation were released, while any prosecutions are ‘unlikely’ before 2021. Sir Martin’s first report will ‘not make recommendations on a range of fire safety issues’, despite inquiry experts warning that ‘urgent and very far-reaching reform’ is needed. Two further experts were added by previous Prime Minister Theresa May to the second phase in June.