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London Fire Brigade shortcomings ‘contributed to deaths’

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The “shortcomings” of the London Fire Brigade “undeniably contributed to people dying” in Grenfell Tower, the inquiry into the disaster has heard.

Danny Friedman QC, who is representing a group of bereaved survivors and residents, singled out LFB commander Dany Cotton for her “woefully ill-judged” comments and “defensive statements” when she appeared before the inquiry in September.

Mr Friedman said there was “overwhelming evidence that the LFB failed to prepare for a fire like Grenfell”.

Ms Cotton told the inquiry she would not change any part of the brigade’s response to the fire on 14 June 2017.

Mr Friedman said: “What can be undoubtedly concluded by 2017 is that the LFB was aware of the prospect of a high-rise fires involving breach of compartmentation as a risk to life to be prepared for, including specifically as a result of flammable facades.”

London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton giving evidence at the Grenfell Tower inquiry in Holborn
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LFB commissioner Dany Cotton has been criticised over her statements to the inquiry

He continued: “The evidence of commissioner Cotton in response to these matters brought her and her organisation into disrepute.

“Not only were these comments insulting to the bereaved, survivors and residents, but they were irresponsible.

“They sent a wholly negative message about the LFB’s capacity as an organisation to acknowledge its shortcomings and to make any real change in the future.”

Mr Friedman highlighted issues in the control room which led to callers receiving conflicting advice.








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Video:
How Grenfell brought out the best – and worst in human nature

He said: “Its shortcomings undeniably contributed to people dying and will continue to do so… until the system acquires the training and technical capacity to offer informed strategic advice to mass volume callers including the capacity to re-contact them through multimedia when the advice changes.”

Mr Friedman said the night of the blaze was a “devastating episode of looking without seeing and hearing without listening”.

He added that the first commanders at the scene had failed to appreciate and act upon the necessity for mass evacuation.

Instead they relied on a system that involved individual deployments to particular occupants on a one-by-one basis.

Mr Friedman urged inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, in his interim report to be published within the next six months, to include a “clear finding” that none of the 72 deaths were accidental.

Mr Friedman continued: “Ultimately this is an issue of institutional culture.

“If the LFB is serious about making change, it needs to learn from its errors on the night of this fire. Its failure to do so is damning.

“At the moment its leadership remains in denial. If the phase one report does not disabuse them of that, who will?

“The inquiry can, and should therefore, make recommendations that identify the way the LFB breached its own policies and failed to discharge its legal duties of training, resourcing and risk assessment.”

The first firefighters entering Grenfell Tower
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The first firefighters entering Grenfell Tower

Earlier on Monday, the inquiry heard Stephen Walsh QC, who represents the LFB, urge the chairman to refrain from criticising individual fire officers before both phases of the inquiry have been completed.

He said it would be unfair for the chairman to pass judgement on individuals as there were aspects the inquiry’s expert witnesses did not agree upon and issues still to be examined in the second phase.

Mr Walsh acknowledged it was a “stark fact” that one of the biggest fire services in the world had been “severely challenged, in some elements overwhelmed” by what happened on the night of 14 June last year.



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Meghan visits kitchen helping Grenfell survivors

He said: “Meaningful lessons must be learned by many, including the brigade, and fundamental changes made wherever possible to ensure a disaster of this kind never happens again.”

Mr Walsh added that one of the “most significant lessons” that the brigade is acting on was the inadequacy of the systems and policies relied upon by control room officers.

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