Firefighters who responded to the Grenfell Tower blaze should not be ‘scapegoats’ for central government and business failures, an inquiry into the disaster has heard.
Louis Browne QC, representing the Fire Officers Association (FOA) and Incident Officer Richard Welch, told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on Monday that the fault “lies squarely” with those involved in the design, construction and approval of building renovations in 2015.
It came as lawyers gave final statements for the final firefighting modules as part of phase two of the investigation, examining how Grenfell Tower was covered in flammable material which caused the rapid spread of the 2017 fire and claimed 72 lives.
Lawyers representing survivors and families of victims earlier on Monday criticized the London Fire Brigade (LFB) for several shortcomings in their response to the blaze.
Mr Browne said ‘the real failure of the fire and the fatalities’ did not rest with ‘the LFB officers and staff who heroically tried to put out the fire and save as many lives as possible’.
He argued that the decisions, including the “stay put” policy, had been made on the “entirely reasonable assumption” that building regulations were fit for purpose and had been complied with.
“Tragically, this reasonable assumption was invalid due to the egregious failures of those involved in the design, construction and approval of the renovations,” he said.
“The fault for this tragedy and the huge loss of life lies entirely with them.
Grenfell was the culmination of a generation of central government policies
“They cannot shirk responsibility by seeking to blame the actions of firefighters, including senior executives, at night. Allowing them to do so would compound their egregious failures.
Martin Seaward, representing the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), also said any failure was a “systemic institutional failure”.
Mr Seaward urged the panel to assess the performance of firefighters in the wider political and economic context and to blame ‘especially those who created and enabled this truly horrific disaster’.
“Grenfell was the culmination of a generation of central government policies including deregulation and war on health and safety culture, privatization, fragmentation, austerity and the crumbling of social housing” , did he declare.
He said that while lessons for LFB should be learned from the fire, “it would be wrong to scapegoat the fire and rescue services for the failings of central government and corporate culture which have made people’s homes unsafe”.
Danny Friedman QC, representing several residents and families of those who died in the inferno, previously told the inquest that the failures of the fire service were ‘shocking’ and caused ‘the extent of loss of life’ .
“The brigade was incompetent and unable at all levels to respond to an extreme but foreseeable fire and in fact breached their duty under law and policy,” he said.
Meanwhile Professor Leslie Thomas QC, who represents other residents and families, criticized the LFB as ‘seemingly unwilling or unable’ to reflect on its failures and change as an organisation.
“It is an affront to our customers and to the memory of those who lost their lives,” he said.
However, Anne Studd QC, representing London Mayor Sadiq Khan, argued that the head of the LFB, London Fire Commissioner (LFC) Andy Roe, had made “significant progress” for reform in line with the findings of the stage one.
“It is essential that the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire provides direction for change both within the LFB, and indeed within other relief services and central government’s approach to reform of fire and building regulations,” she added.
“The mayor has already demonstrated the sustained attention he gives to ensuring that your report’s recommendations remain a central part of the brigade’s transformation.”
Stephen Walsh QC, representing Commissioner Roe, also said the LFB “deeply feels that the brigade owes the survivors and bereaved residents of Grenfell Tower and surrounding areas and the wider community to learn from the tragic events of June 2017.”.
The second phase of the Inquiry hearings is expected to conclude in May.
A report should then be published at a later date.
Grenfell United, a group for mourners and survivors, said: “It is heartbreaking to hear that the catastrophic failures of LFB were predictable and preventable.
“We need urgent reform within LFB and other statutory bodies.
“Until then, firefighters and residents continue to be at risk.”