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Grenfell families urge prosecutions over ‘inadequate’ fire brigade preparation

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to accept fire safety recommendations from a damning report.

The Grenfell Tower in west London on the day the first report from the public inquiry into the fire which claimed 72 lives is published (Steve Parsons/PA)
The Grenfell Tower in west London on the day the first report from the public inquiry into the fire which claimed 72 lives is published (Steve Parsons/PA)

By Jemma Crew, Thomas Hornall and Henry Vaughan, PA

Relatives of those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire have called for fire chiefs to be prosecuted, as the Prime Minister vowed to accept fire safety recommendations from a damning report.

The public inquiry into the blaze found the London Fire Brigade (LFB)’s preparation for a tower block fire such as Grenfell was “gravely inadequate” and its lack of evacuation plan a “major omission”.

More lives could have been saved had the “stay-put” policy been abandoned sooner, inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick added.

Bereaved family members said it was “heartbreaking” that more of their loved ones could have been saved, and called on Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton to step down.

But some organisations questioned Grenfell inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s assertion that evacuation would have been possible.

Some of his 46 recommendations require “urgent action” from the Government and others with responsibility for the “oversight and direction” of the emergency services, he said in a letter to the Prime Minister.

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Survivors and families of those who died in Grenfell Tower, during a press conference (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Boris Johnson told Parliament he would accept all the recommendations relating to central Government in principle, legislate accordingly, and set out how this will be done “as quickly as possible”.

“I will not allow the lessons of this tragedy to fall through the cracks,” he added.

Nazanin Aghlani, who lost two family members in the blaze, told an emotional press conference: “I think it’s quite evident that the whole LFB … is in the hands of people that are incapable of their jobs. They should be discharged of it.

“They’re responsible for a lot of lives and they don’t care much.

“They should be prosecuted. I’m not saying individual firemen, they do a hard job… but the seniors at the top get good money to do a very serious job.”

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Dany Cotton (Yui Mok/PA)

Ms Cotton said many recommendations were welcome and would be “carefully and fully” considered by senior officers.

She has resisted multiple calls for her to resign, and said the brigade was “fully cooperating” with the police.

Asked about accusations she was “criminally negligent”, Ms Cotton told Sky News: “I think it is right that the police are the ones who will look into that.”

She added that she regrets causing offence to those directly affected by the fire over her comments during the inquiry that she would change nothing about her team’s response on the night.

On Wednesday afternoon, the House of Commons observed a minute’s silence in memory of the 72 victims of the June 2017 fire.

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(PA Graphics)

Wearing a green Grenfell heart on his lapel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the local community’s “exceptional tenacity” in seeking justice has “not always been matched by their faith in the system’s ability to deliver”.

He said: “This is no surprise.

“After all, they have been let down many times before, too often overlooked and ignored in the months and years before the tragedy, and shamefully failed by the institutions that were supposed to serve them in the days and weeks after it.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who wore a green tie as a mark of respect, 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.”

He stressed the “whole truth is not yet with us” with phase two of the report still to come.

Grenfell United said fire chiefs had failed to learn the lessons from previous fires and called on them to “stop hiding behind the bravery of their frontline firefighters”.

The group said: “Today’s findings give us some confidence that our journey towards truth has finally begun.

“We now need to urgently see responsibility and action from this report, not excuses.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said there was “no way of knowing if evacuation could have saved more lives” and it could have led to further fatalities.

He said: “We strongly refute the report’s assertion that it would have been possible or safe to evacuate more than 150 people via a narrow, smoke-logged stairwell with just 30 firefighters. There is no evidence to suggest that this was possible.”

He added that the order in which the inquiry has investigated issues has been “entirely wrong” and it was prioritising scrutiny of firefighters over “the critical issues of public safety”.

This was echoed by Labour’s Diane Abbott, who said trying to explain the events of the disaster before examining what led to them was “ill-conceived” and “mistaken”.

Campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell said some of Sir Martin’s recommendations could have been made earlier, and it feared those most accountable may be let “off the hook”.

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(PA Graphics)

In his report, Sir Martin said the principal reason the flames shot up the building so fiercely was the combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding with polyethylene core which acted as a “source of fuel”.

The judge said there was “compelling evidence” that the external walls did not comply with building regulations.

Grenfell United said it was Sir Martin’s “most important conclusion” and raises serious questions for those involved in the refurbishment of the block.

They said: “This finding adds to our determination to see criminal charges brought against those responsible for turning our homes into a death trap.”

PA

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