24 January 2022

London Fire Brigade failures at Grenfell Tower ‘caused extent of deaths’

24 January 2022

The London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) failures at Grenfell Tower were “causative of the extent of loss of life” and even made matters “far worse,” an inquiry into the 2017 fire has heard.

Danny Friedman QC, who represents several residents and families of those who died in the inferno, told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on Monday that the fire services’ failures were “shocking” and contributed to the deaths of 72 people.

It comes as lawyers make closing statements for the latest modules covering firefighting as part of the inquiry’s phase two, which is examining how Grenfell Tower came to be coated in flammable materials.

Mr Friedman said: “The depth of the failures of the LFB that contributed to this disaster was shocking.

“The brigade was incompetent and incapable at every level to respond to a fire that was extreme but foreseeable and was actually in breach of its duty under statute and policy.

The LFB failed in six ways at Grenfell Tower, which were “all foreseeable, all preventable and all in their own way causative of the extent of loss of life,” he told the hearing.

Mr Friedman said the first of the failures was that “firefighters and managers remained in ignorance of catastrophic construction risks posed by cladding fires”, even though the risks were known about within the LFB and cladding fires were on the rise.

The Grenfell Memorial Wall (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)

“Incompetent” risk assessments of the premises and the LFB’s “profoundly insecure” training, continuing education and preparation also contributed to the extent of the disaster, he said.

According to Mr Friedman, the LFB also failed in terms of “no developed thinking at all” when it came to supporting high-rise residential evacuations and because it also “tolerated inadequate fire ground radio communications”.

Finally, he said: “The control room was simply unable to cope with a complex incident involving multiple cause.

“The fire ground control could not coordinate properly and the result was to make matters worse, in fact, far worse.”

Mr Friedman also explained how each of the six failures were “foreshadowed” during the LFB’s response to the Lakanal House tower block fire in 2009, which led to six deaths.

“The repeat of these failures should be deeply unsettling to anyone who have studied the evidence,” he added.

Mr Friedman also called on the LFB to publicly declare and acknowledge its own responsibility in its failures in order to reclaim trust.

Meanwhile, Professor Leslie Thomas QC, who represents other residents and families of Grenfell victims, also criticised the LFB as “seemingly unwilling or unable” to reflect on its failings and change as an organisation.

“They are not listening, they are not learning, they are not reflecting,” he said.

Professor Thomas told the panel the fire service has “already given a clear indication that they are not going to follow” the inquiry’s phase one findings, and has even indicated it wants the panel to revisit them.

“This is arrogance of the highest level,” he said, adding the panel needs to tell the brigade it is “unacceptable”.

“This is an affront to our clients and the memories of those who lost their lives.”

Prof Thomas said the LFB is “an organisation with complacent and self-satisfied management structure and leadership, who are seemingly unwilling or unable or a combination of both to undergo the difficult but necessary task of self-reflection and valuation”.

Phase two of the inquiry’s hearings is expected to conclude in May.

A report is expected to be then published at a later date.

Grenfell United, a group for bereaved and survivors said: “It’s heartbreaking to hear that the LFB’s catastrophic failures were foreseeable and preventable.”

“The LFB must make a public commitment to implementing the recommendations in full from the first and second phase reports in the public inquiry,” it added.

“In 2018 we said ‘if another Grenfell happens tomorrow, the brigade would not be prepared’.

“Four years on that statement stands true.

“We need to see urgent reform within the LFB and other statutory bodies.

“Until then, firefighters and residents continue to be put at risk.”

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