Grenfell Inquiry: Union says there was ‘unjustified reliance’ on firefighters to evacuate residents

There was an “unjustified reliance” on firefighters to evacuate people from Grenfell Tower on the night of the fatal fire, an inquiry has heard.

Martin Seaward, a lawyer for the Fire Brigade Union, told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry the group is urging “responsible persons” to develop and practice building-specific evacuations for blocks of flats to prevent any future catastrophes from taking place.

He gave his comments during the final day of closing statements in phase 2, module 3, of the inquiry, which explores the management of the tower and the fire safety measures that were in place at the time.

Mr Seaward criticised the approach to fire measures by the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).

He told the inquiry on Tuesday the “hazardous rainscreen cladding system” should have been identified as a fire risk and removed by April 2016, over a year before the fire broke out in June 2017.

“Additionally, the near total failure of all the active and passive fire safety measures allowed the rapid deterioration of conditions inside the tower, which grossly impeded the firefighters’ operations, including search and rescue,” he told the inquiry.

“If the TMO’s fire risk management system had done its job, most, if not all, of the lives lost in Grenfell Tower disaster would have been saved.”

He added: “Module 3 has also been characterised by an unjustified reliance by the responsible person on the Fire and Rescue Service to evacuate residents including those especially at risk in the event of fire in Grenfell tower.

“The FBU is concerned that such reliance should not be countenance going forward. Of course, the Fire and Rescue Service will attend and do its best at any fire or other emergency, but fire safety depends on everyone doing their bit.

“That very much includes responsible persons developing and practising building specific evacuation plans for residents, including personal emergency evacuation plans for those especially at risk, in the same way that employers do in office blocks or factories.”

Anne Studd QC, representing London Mayor Sadiq Khan, told the inquiry the KCTMO did “very little” to see if Grenfell was suitable for the stay put strategy in its fire assessments and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) had “very little” oversight of them.

“The evidence before you, Mr Chairman, has demonstrated a culture of failings in transparency and candour by the KCTMO, which, coupled with a lack of intrusion from RBKC, was a toxic combination,” she said.

James Maxwell-Scott QC, representing RBKC, told the inquiry the council “apologised unreservedly” again for its failings prior to the inferno.

The failings included the number of council officers devoted to monitoring the KCTMO being “insufficient” and its housing commissioning team not making enough use of the corporate health and safety team’s expertise to “prevent issues falling between the gaps.”

He added the KCTMO was an independent, managing agent of the Grenfell Tower which was at an “arm’s length” from the council, which was the tower’s landlord.

“The council fully admits that it retained some control over the tower, and therefore continued to have some responsibilities for it under the Fire Safety Order. But those responsibilities are better described as residual ones than shared primary ones,” he told the inquiry.

The inquiry has been adjourned until Thursday at 10am.