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London fire chief plagued by traumatic memory loss since Grenfell, inquiry hears

London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton giving evidence in Holborn (Grenfell Tower inquiry/PA) Photo: Press Association Images

Traumatic memory loss has plagued the head of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) following the Grenfell Tower fire, she revealed.

Commissioner Dany Cotton told of how she struggled to talk about the tragedy or look at images of the inferno in the months after the blaze in June last year.

She revealed she has experienced significant memory gaps following the catastrophic tower block fire, and has received therapy to help her process the trauma.

One of the key events she was still unable to recall was when she was almost hit as a large piece of debris crashed down from the tower, with colleagues fearing she had narrowly escaped death.

In a written statement to police, shared with the public inquiry into the fire, Ms Cotton said: “I’m still finding it very difficult to look at visual images and have conversations about Grenfell.

“I’m still responsible for effectively running the London Fire Brigade, and everything else that’s involved in that. It would be no good for me to fall apart.

“Therefore, I have not spent huge amounts of time in my head looking and thinking about Grenfell Tower.

“In speaking to police to provide this statement, this will actually be the first time I have talked through the whole incident.”

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Ms Cotton said she believed her brain was “protecting me” from the reality of the night, when an operational colleague said she was almost hit by a six-foot piece of debris.

She said: “Matt Cook says we had a conversation at the time which went something along the lines of ‘That was really close, that nearly got you’.

“Apparently I had laughed and said ‘But it didn’t’. Matt was very traumatised by it because he thought I was going to die, but I have no recollection of it whatsoever.

“The amount of debris that was coming down from the outside of the building was indescribable. It was like being under attack whilst trying to do your job.”

The fire chief was also concerned by a large number of people who were “wandering round in a complete daze having come out of the building, clearly in shock”.

The representative for the local authority was “completely overwhelmed”, she said.

She also encountered exhausted firefighters bursting into tears in her arms, something which had never happened prior to Grenfell.