People living in high-rise social housing are ‘at significant risk of future fires’

The Grenfell Tower inquiry heard that the UK currently has an ‘unstable fire regulatory system’

Isobel Frodsham
Monday 20 September 2021 15:20
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<p>‘Those who live in high rise social housing will continue to be at significant risk,’ heard the hearing </p>

‘Those who live in high rise social housing will continue to be at significant risk,’ heard the hearing

People who live in high-rise social housing blocks are still at “significant risk” of future fires, the Grenfell Tower inquiry has heard.

Danny Friedman QC, who represents a group of bereaved people, survivors and residents of the west London tower block, told the hearing that Britain currently has an “unstable fire regulatory system” and a fire service that is “incompetent to meet contemporary challenges”.

In his opening statement to the fifth module of the inquiry, Mr Friedman told the panel: “Both of those matters (the fire regulatory system and fire service) need fixing. Until that happens, those who live in high rise social housing will continue to be at significant risk. Grenfell Tower showed them (to be) least likely to be protected from fire and most likely to be dependent on effective fire service response.

“The LFB (London Fire Brigade) was brave at Grenfell Tower but it was not effective. There was a time and a place in this inquiry to deal with deregulation and austerity. But the fire service leadership and the fire brigade union need to be far more introspective than they currently are in acknowledging how they can be more part of the solution rather than the problem.”

He went on to quote Professor Jose Torero, a global fire safety expert who previously published a report commissioned by the public inquiry, stating his expert opinion was that “without a radical change in structure, culture and competency, things will remain the same”.

Mr Friedman added: “The evidence of decades of reviews tells us that the sector will never lead itself out of these current deficiencies. Therefore, what is required is a long-term ongoing, multi-disciplinary national transformation process. It should include fire service personnel, but must be led by others.”

Leslie Thomas QC, representing a separate group of bereaved people, survivors and residents, said the evidence disclosed to the inquiry demonstrated the London Fire Brigade is “in urgent need of reform”.

He told the panel: “Our clients are concerned that the London Fire Brigade is an institution incapable of reforming itself from within... given the implications for public safety, this overhaul cannot wait.

“Our clients want to ensure that others do not experience what they went through. We all want and need a fire service that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. This is not an insurmountable goal. But it is one that requires more than just goodwill and paper policies. There must be a genuine sea change in the culture of the LFB.”

Mr Thomas also called for proper funding from the government for the fire service to help aid its transformation, adding: “Safety in lives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of austerity.”

The inquiry, led by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is being held to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower on the night of 14 June 2017.

The fatal blaze led to the deaths of 72 people after flames quickly spread through the 24-storey building in north Kensington.

Further statements from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the Fire Brigades Union, the Fire Officers Association and the London Fire Commissioner are expected to be given to the panel on Monday.

The hearing continues.

PA

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