Jacob Rees-Mogg labelled 'callously irresponsible' by firefighters after blaming Grenfell victims for their deaths

Intervention comes after House of Commons leader forced to apologise for suggesting victims lacked 'common sense'

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 05 November 2019 17:24
Jacob Rees Mogg suggests Grenfell residents who followed instructions to ‘stay put’ lacked ‘common sense’

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been condemned as “callously irresponsible” by firefighters for his comments on the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the Conservative MP’s remarks suggesting it would have been “common sense” for residents to ignore orders to stay in their flats was “crass and insensitive”.

“Residents were thrown into a terrifying, impossible situation at Grenfell,” said general secretary Matt Wrack.

“For Mr Rees-Mogg to suggest it would be ‘common sense’ to ignore the advice that they were given was crass and insensitive. It was also callously irresponsible for a senior government figure to suggest that the public should ignore firefighters when they are in a fire.”

The national “stay put” policy followed by the London Fire Brigade on the night of the 2017 disaster was named as a key factor in the deaths of 72 victims by a report released last week.

It said the measure was an “article of faith” for firefighters, “so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable” even as the blaze spread through the tower block.

Residents calling 999 were told to stay in their flats, and survivors described firefighters giving the same instructions in person even after reaching their homes.

Mr Wrack defended the policy as means of saving “countless lives in the past” by stopping people from moving towards danger.

“However, there was no clear guidance for what firefighters should do when it failed at Grenfell,” he added.

“Mr Rees-Mogg’s Tory colleagues, Eric Pickles and Gavin Barwell, ignored warnings about the need for alternative evacuation procedures when ‘stay put’ fails. Perhaps the Commons leader should look closer to home.”

Critics have called for Mr Rees-Mogg to resign his post amid anger over his comments, although the prime minister’s official spokesman said he still had confidence in him on Tuesday afternoon.

He had told LBC radio that it would have been better for Grenfell residents to “ignore what you're told and leave”, adding: "It just seems the common sense thing to do, and it is such a tragedy that that didn't happen."

After calls to apologise, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "What I meant to say is that I would have also listened to the fire brigade's advice to stay and wait at the time.

"However, with what we know now and with hindsight I wouldn't and I don't think anyone else would.

Fire chief Dany Cotton says response to another Grenfell like fire would be different

"I would hate to upset the people of Grenfell if I was unclear in my comments."

The original comments were called "crass" and "insensitive" by Jeremy Corbyn, and Grenfell United said his words were "extremely painful and insulting to bereaved families".

Grime artist Stormzy called him "an actual piece of sh*t" and demanded his resignation.

Answering questions at the London Assembly on Tuesday, the head of the London Fire Brigade said the service would now respond differently to a Grenfell-like fire.

Commissioner Dany Cotton added: "Clearly, knowing what we know now about Grenfell Tower and similar buildings with ACM cladding, our response would be very different."

Ms Cotton also expressed concern for the number of buildings covered in similar material to the Kensington tower.

She told the committee: "We know that there are still several hundred buildings in London that are covered in ACM cladding [...] our concern is that action is not being taken quickly enough to remove that cladding which is a high risk."

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