Grenfell Tower response would be different now, admits London Fire Brigade chief

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton has for the first time admitted she would handle the force's response to Grenfell Tower differently.

Following the release of a public inquiry report into the fire, Commissioner Cotton told ITV News that London Fire Brigade must make changes to its handling of high-rise fires.

Sir Martin Moore Bick's report suggested there was a possibility the LFB would not learn from Grenfell, after Commissioner Cotton told the inquiry she would handle the disaster the same way if it were to happen again.

The LFB has been widely criticised by relatives and friends for their "stay-put" advice during the fire. Many have said if the advice was different, more people may have survived the blaze.

But speaking to ITV News, Commissioner Cotton said: "What I said to the inquiry was actually in relation to what my firefighters did on the night in facing such an incredibly challenging set of circumstances.

"That was never intended to cause hurt or offence to anybody.

"Clearly, knowing what we know now, we have put steps in place immediately afterwards to make changes, and we've continued to make changes."

When pressed on if her response would be the same, she said: "Absolutely not, knowing what we know now."

Commissioner Cotton and other senior members of the LFB had been criticised by campaign group Grenfell United, who said they must "stop hiding behind the bravery of front line fire fighters".

The group was supportive of the firefighters who tackled the blaze on the night, highlighting that Sir Martin report "does not blame the firefighters on the night for the fire, instead he shows how they were let down by their training, procedures, equipment and leadership".

  • ITV News Corespondent Paul Davis on the next steps in the ongoing inquiry

Campaign group Grenfell United said "the most senior leadership of the LFB must face consequences for these failings if there is to be change."

Commissioner Cotton said she would not resign from her role, adding it "absolve of her responsibility".

She added: "We never want any community to be faced with this situation again. That's why it's important for me to continue as commissioner of LFB, making changes and making sure we keep the people of London as safe as possible."

Cotton is due to retire from her role as Commissioner in six months time.

In summary, the report found:

  • LFB incident commanders had received no training in how to recognise the need or organise an evacuation.

  • No contingency plan for an evacuation

  • A decision should have been made between 01.30 and 01.50 to revoke the 'stay put' policy.

  • "Serious deficiencies" in command and control.

  • Many physical and electronic communication systems did not work properly on the night of the fire.

  • Communication between the control room and on the ground were "uncertain" and "prone to error".

  • The operational risk database (ORD) was not up-to-date and contained "no information of use".

  • In some cases information held by LFB on the tower was "wrong" or "missing".

What has the reaction of victims' families been?

Nabil Choucair, who lost six family members in the fire and has been an avid campaigner seeking justice for the victims, said the LFB has tried to put the blame on the cladding, rather than accept responsibility themselves.

"It's like when you drive a car and you have an accident and you kill someone, it's your fault, you can't blame the car, and say it should have cushioning on it to protect the people, no you need to be responsible," he said.

"On the night we knew and we saw how you failed and you should have put the fire out, but knowing that you couldn't tackle a fire that was bigger than you could imagine and harder to put it out, you should have implemented a rescue mission a lot earlier."

Nazanin Aghlani, who lost her disabled mum in the Grenfell fire, said the decision to evacuate should not have been up to the LFB but residents themselves.

"No matter how brave the firefighters were on the night, there was a serious lack of common sense and they didn't see what was so vivid in front of them, especially at senior levels," she said.

"It's a shame, as a country, we look at firefighters as these heroes...we are made to think anything they do is right, but they are paid professionals and they choose to do the job and they have a lack of common sense.

"They should let people choose their own faith, whether they want to jump out, whether they want to choose to escape."

While Nazanin's brother, Shahrokh Aghlani, said urgent cultural changes was now needed in the LFB.

"Evacuation was always possible, and they just gave up too early on the victims," he said.

"The building fire went out on its own accord, it wasn't put out by the London Fire Brigade, the reason it went out was because there was nothing else left to burn, they allowed the bodies of the loved ones to just cremate, we need the cultural change to be able to address the problems."

What has the reaction to the report been?

The report was leaked to the media on Monday to the frustration of the local community who were unable to respond due to non-disclosure agreements.

Campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell said firefighters “have been made scapegoats of Phase 1 while the ‘big’ players seem to have got off scot-free”.

The group will parade billboards around Kensington and Westminster after the report is made public to highlight the fact that recommendations need the political will of the government to be implemented.

Phase 1 of the public inquiry into Grenfell Tower has been released. Credit: PA

They said: “The film that we are using again as inspiration, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, highlights the power of advertising to bring about justice.

“We wanted to harness this power to remind people to pay attention to the report and to highlight that the government ignored the recommendations after the fire at Lakanal House in 2009.

“Also there is nothing on the statute books for recommendations of any public inquiry to be implemented, by a government.”

The Labour MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, has invited those directly affected to meet her in Parliament on Wednesday evening to hear any concerns and responses they may have about the report.

The Metropolitan Police welcomed the report and said it was working hard to implement the recommendations the report makes.

Commander Stuart Cundy announced both frontline officers will be given more training in responding to major incidents, while senior officers leading the response will also be given additional guidance.

In a statement, Commander Stuart Cundy said: "[The report] highlights the leadership shown by officers and the sensitive policing approach. Many police officers at the tower risked their own lives to help others. I am incredibly proud of the bravery and professionalism shown by all our officers and staff that night in such difficult and challenging circumstances."

"The report also identifies how the emergency services can improve their response and work together more effectively."

PM hopes report will bring 'some measure of comfort' to victims

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped the report would bring “some measure of comfort” to those directly affected by the fire.

He told the Commons told: "Since then the survivors, the bereaved and the local community have endured one unbearable milestone after another.

"The funerals, the anniversaries, giving and hearing evidence at the public inquiry, the painful process of building a new life in a new home without loved ones and without treasured possessions and then the publication of this report today.

"All this while carrying with them the unimaginable trauma suffered that night. I'm very much aware that no report, no words, no apology will ever make good the loss suffered and the trauma experienced.

"But I hope that findings being published today and the debate we are holding this afternoon will bring some measure of comfort to those who suffered so much.

"They asked for the truth, we promised them the truth, we owe them the truth. And today the whole country, the whole world, is finally hearing the truth about what happened at Grenfell Tower on June 14 2017."

Jeremy Corbyn, wearing a green tie in remembrance of those who lost their lives in Grenfell Tower, paid tribute to the firefighters who risked their lives.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Grenfell was an "avoidable tragedy" before insisting there is "genuine love and affection" between the community and the firefighters who risked their lives to help.

He told the Commons: "I know nobody is trying to do this today, let's not blame firefighters for their work - they did everything they could and more and well beyond that."

Mr Corbyn also said: "I think the Grenfell survivors are the heroes of all this.

What happens now?

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who was the inquiry chairman for the two-year investigation into how the disaster unfolded, examined how events unfolded on that fateful night and the responses to those directly involved in Phase 1 of the report.

Phase 2 will focus on establishing how different conditions allowed the Grenfell Tower disaster to occur.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of the Grenfell public inquiry. Credit: PA

The website into the report adds: "The Inquiry continues to plan for Phase 2 hearings to commence in January 2020. The full scope of Phase 2 can be viewed in the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference.

"The next tranches of disclosure will include Building Control documents, Mechanical and Engineering documents relating to the lift and smoke control system, and documents relating to Fire Risk Assessment."