IN DEFENCE OF DANY COTTON AND THE LFB

There has been much ado recently about criticisms made by Grenfell Inquiry Chair Martin Moore-Bick of the leadership of the London Fire Brigade in general and of Commissioner Dany Cotton in particular in his much delayed summing-up of Phase 1 of the Inquiry. Although these criticisms are confined to just a few short passages of the report, which is nearly 900 pages long, they have been seized upon by the news media generally and by some elements within the Lancaster West community, notably Grenfell United, the leadership of which has villified Commissioner Cotton in no uncertain terms, and called for her resignation. According to the Moore-Bick Report:

“The London Fire Brigade’s preparation and planning was gravely inadequate. LFB incident commanders had received no training in how to recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one and there was no contingency plan for the evacuation of Grenfell Tower. The failure to train firefighters in how best to fight cladding fires was the inevitable consequence of the LFB’s institutional failure to inform its firefighters about the risks they present. Notwithstanding their experience none had received any training on the risks posed by exterior cladding or the techniques to be deployed in fighting fires involving cladding. None had received any training in when to withdraw ‘stay put’ advice or how best to evacuate residents from high-rise buildings and (their) training did not adequately prepare them for the nature, speed and ferocity of the fire they faced.”

“Hindsight” he concluded, “provides no answer to the significant systemic and operational failings revealed by the evidence. The bravery and commitment to duty shown by individual firefighters cannot mask or excuse the deficiencies in the command and conduct of operations. Once it was clear that the fire had spread out of control, that compartmentation had extensively failed, but that evacuation remained possible, a decision should have been made to evacuate the tower”

However, having issued such a harsh indictment of the LFB leadership, particularly in relation to the failure to suspend the ‘stay put’ policy in a timely fashion – apparently oblivious to the fact that this decision would need to have been made early and within a very narrow time window (between 01:26 and 01:40 according to expert witness Dr Barbara Lane), he then confessed that in arriving at these conclusions he had received no expert evidence to guide him and that a qualitative judgement on the approach of the LFB on the night might better be reserved for Phase 2 of the Inquiry. He also conceded that mass evacuation of the occupants of the tower “would no doubt have presented serious risks to the lives of both residents and firefighters, given the internal layout of the building and the absence of any kind of communication system.”

Nowhere in the report does he explain how such an “evacuation” could have been carried out with only 30 firefighters present at that time. There is substantial evidence provided to the Inquiry by survivors and firefighters inside the building that conditions for a mass rescue were extremely hazardous. According to the Fire Brigades Union, to have made such a decision at that juncture, “against every procedure and every prior element of training”,  would have been a huge gamble.

How can it be fair then to criticise officers on scene when (according to the FBU) nobody – ministers, their advisors, chief officers or the National Fire Chiefs Council, had devised a credible mass evacuation/rescue strategy for high rise residential buildings.

https://www.fbu.org.uk/circular/2019hoc0545mw/grenfell-tower-inquiry-phase-1-report-fbu-update-2-do-not-scapegoat-emergency

So, if the alleged failings of the LFB command structure as described by Chairman Moore-Bick would, as he suggests, be more appropriately investigated in Stage 2 of the Inquiry what might such an investigation reveal?

In September 2019, nearly two months before the Moore-Bick report was published, the Fire Brigades Union published a report they had compiled that sheds an alternative light on the LFB failings outlined by Moore-Bick.

The FBU report describes an ideology of deregulation driven by central government that has, they claim, blighted efforts to improve the living conditions of millions for a number of years. During that time central government has failed to provide the resources necessary for the fire service to adequately manage risk. Ministers have promoted a fire safety regime that was not fit for purpose and that ultimately failed catastrophically at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017.

According to the same report the guidance in Approved Document B is not specific enough to provide residents or firefighters with the clarity needed for when ‘stay put’, phased evacuation or simultaneous evacuation are required; how to transition from one policy to another; and how to achieve a safe outcome, particularly in circumstances like Grenfell with a rapidly escalating fire and just one narrow escape stairway, no central alarm and no central communications system.

The FBU report also reveals that since the 1980s the management of risk has squeezed out firefighters, as well as other workers and their trade union representatives who practise fire safety as their profession. This expertise has mostly been substituted with management consultants, industry lobbyists and chief fire officers. These agents have operated within a political climate that has emphasised the need for reducing regulation. This has been driven by central government which therefore bears ultimate responsibility for the failings at Grenfell Tower. Those who made the pivotal decisions at Westminster (and arguably at RBKC and KCTMO) need to be held to account and fundamental change is needed in the regimes covering fire safety, fire policy, housing and the fire and rescue service.

According to the FBU fire and rescue services have been decimated by central government funding cuts, sometimes supplemented by local fire authority cuts. One in five frontline firefighter jobs has been cut since 2010. At least a quarter of fire inspectors have also been cut, along with the number of inspections and the time spent on them, contributing to a culture of non-compliance with fire regulation. Weaker enforcement bodies mean some firms and other actors get away with unsafe practices.

Add to this the malign influence of Boris Johnson who, while serving as Mayor of London, took an axe to the London Fire Service, closing twelve fire stations. Firemen involved in regulation and inspection were particularly impacted as Johnson effectively reduced the number of staff involved in operational regulation enforcement by half and total fire brigade staff by a quarter.

The National Audit Office estimated that between 2010-11 and 2015-16 central funding to local fire and rescue services was reduced by an average of 28% in real terms, with reductions between 26% and 39% in different authorities over that period. The acceleration of deregulation along with savage austerity cuts to funding has had direct implications for the fire service. The full FBU report can be downloaded here;

The Grenfell Tower Fire A crime caused by profit and deregulation.

One has to wonder in what universe it would be appropriate to hold the LFB accountable for its perceived failings when considered against this background of the insidious erosion of its funding and staffing and the undermining of its ability to upgrade the essential equipment and resources on which it would ultimately depend to function as a competent fire service when confronted with the unprecedented challenges faced on the night of the Grenfell Fire. And let us not forget that this is all before we have even begun to consider the proximate causes of the lethal inferno that occurred that night, starting with the totally botched refurbishment of the Tower and all those who were responsible for it.

There is another glaring inconsistency that is particularly noteworthy in relation to Moore-Bick’s indictment of the LFB. As stated in the opening paragraph of this post, that indictment is confined to just a few short passages in the report. However, in the very same report Moore-Bick states multiple times throughout the document that the cladding system encasing Grenfell Tower was the fundamental cause of the inferno that took so many innocent lives that night.

“It is clear” he states, “that the use of combustible materials in the external wall of Grenfell Tower, principally in the form of the ACM rainscreen cladding, but also in the form of combustible insulation, was the reason why the fire spread so quickly to the whole of the building……a number of aspects of the design of the refurbishment and the choice of materials will need to be examined, (including) the choice of ACM panels with a polyethylene core, the choice of combustible insulation and extruded polystyrene window infill panels, a design which incorporated many vertical channels and the decision to incorporate an architectural crown composed of ACM fins, all of which made a major contribution to the extent of the fire…”

He couldn’t have been more clear in his denunciation of the totally botched refurbishment of Grenfell Tower – and yet he stopped short of naming those responsible (unlike his indictment of the LFB which he named and indicted without hesitation). Those responsible for the botched refurbishment, he decided, must await investigation in Stage 2 of the Inquiry before they can even be named.

At this point let us not forget that he had already conceded that the passing of judgement on the London Fire Brigade might also be better reserved for Phase 2 – even as he rushed to judgement and condemned them anyway. One has to wonder what his intent might have been in so doing. Might it have been to use them as red meat for the baying mob and as a convenient scapegoat for those who should really have been held responsible?

In his denunciation of the LFB leadership Moore-Bick also condemned Commissioner Cotton personally, taking particular issue with a couple of poorly worded statements she made in her evidence to the Inquiry. One of these statements he singled out for special criticism.

“Quite apart from its remarkable insensitivity to the families of the deceased and to those who had escaped from their burning homes with their lives, the Commissioner’s evidence that she would not change anything about the response of the LFB on the night, even with the benefit of hindsight, only serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire.” (Inquiry Phase 1 Report Volume 4)

Taking his criticisms of Commissioner Cotton in reverse order, Moore-Bick’s warning that “..the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire” stands very little scrutiny, not least because shortly after the Grenfell disaster in 2017 Commissioner Cotton had established ‘The Grenfell Tower Investigation and Review Team’, with a remit “to understand the circumstances of the incident and what happened on the night, identify lessons to be learnt, and when all the evidence is available, provide an unfettered and comprehensive evaluation of the Brigade’s response to this unprecedented incident. This investigation has and will continue to work alongside the statutory processes being undertaken by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), whilst acknowledging the primacy of those processes.”

The Review team has already made a number of recommendations which the LFB has acted on, such as improved training and firefighting equipment, including extended height aerial appliances with turntable ladders up to 64 metres, of which there were none available anywhere in Greater London on the night of the fire. Moore-Bick has, of course, been fully briefed on these improvements so his criticism of the LFB’s inability to learn from Grenfell appears, at best, to be misguided and at worst disingenuous:

https://www.london-fire.gov.uk/about-us/grenfell-tower-investigation-and-review-team-gtirt/

Dany Cotton is London Fire Brigade’s first female Commissioner and is one of the most senior fire officers in Europe. She joined the Brigade at the age of 18 and was just one of 30 female firefighters in London. Within 12 years, she had become the UK’s first female station officer and from there, steadily rose through the ranks to become London Fire Commissioner on 1st January 2017.

Throughout her career she has attended some of London’s most significant incidents. Just three months into the job, she attended the Clapham Junction rail disaster where 33 people died and she has also led crews at the Cutty Sark fire in 2007 and a 40 fire engine blaze near the Olympic Stadium on the evening of the London 2012 closing ceremony.
She has received a number of accolades. She was made Public Servant of the Year in 2002, was the first woman to be awarded the Queen’s Fire Service medal in January 2004 and won the Most Influential Woman in Fire award in 2015. She is National Chair of Women in the Fire Service, Strategic Advisor to the Local Government Association and National Counter Terrorism lead. It should be noted that her appointment as Commissioner of the LFB on 1 January 2017 occurred less than six months before the night of the Grenfell Fire.

If one accepts the detail of the FBU report above concerning the ill-conceived deregulation by government of building and fire safety systems, the privatisation of building control and fire safety inspection regimes and the savage cuts imposed on LFB staffing, resources and funding, then one must also seriously consider how much reform and improvement Commissioner Cotton could reasonably have been expected to accomplish in so little time and with so little local or national government support.

As for her perceived “…remarkable insensitivity to the families of the deceased and to those who had escaped from their burning homes with their lives”, perhaps it would be fairer and make better sense to judge Commissioner Cotton on her career record and on a more comprehensive reading of the evidence she gave to the Inquiry. Below I have quoted her at length in four paragraphs from her written submission to the Inquiry:

“Even though there may be a risk to firefighters, while we believed there was saveable life, we would continue to commit crews into the tower to fire fight and conduct rescue operations. The imperative was to save human life. The right to life is a basic function of human rights and we were servicing that human right. However, for the first time ever, I had an overwhelming continuous feeling of anxiety, of responsibility in committing firefighters into a building where I could not guarantee their safety. I’ve never felt that way before, and I have been in charge at hundreds of large scale operational incidents. It was a huge responsibility to know how many people were in there and that we were just going to keep committing and committing, even though there was a potential risk, but that was the decision we took.”

“Something we had to bear in mind was that it was a terribly narrow staircase and that was then being compromised further by the presence of hoses, taking up space and forming a trip hazard, and by firefighters in breathing apparatus. We were trying to rescue people in effectively quite a small space so the plan was also about getting reasonable numbers of resources in there, in a timely fashion to get to those floors and to make best efforts to try and get people out. We also had to consider access and egress from the tower, not just for firefighters but also for those casualties we were bringing out. I was aware that there was more than one dead person on the stairs and that it was very difficult to get passed them. It just seemed like we had been doing it forever; forever committing crews in, forever helping people coming out… So we had to consider how we do that safely, how we then take them to the triage point for the Ambulance Service to then take them, and then make sure we’re recording who’s coming out at the same time.”

“I was concerned by the number of people being evacuated from the tower who were walking the streets and who appeared not to have been swept up and in the care of Police or the Local Authority. I had spoken to a number of people when I’d walked back to the command unit, and they were wandering round in a complete daze having come out of the building, clearly in shock. I was really concerned that nobody had put them somewhere, not least of all for identification purposes. The Local Authority Liaison Officer from Kensington and Chelsea was there but they were completely over-whelmed by the volume of how much needed doing and how many people there were.”

“It was overwhelming to see how many people had been committed into the fire and had clearly worked so hard. This is where I encountered several firefighters in floods of tears. A number of firefighters, not known to me, had physically burst into tears in my arms. I’ve never ever had that on the fire ground. Generally, firefighters will see a traumatic event, such as a fatality, but they will carry on dealing with the incident I’ve never seen people actually in tears on the Fire Ground like that, I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming volume of people absolutely physically drained and exhausted and in visible shock from what they had seen and experienced.”

Witness Statement – LFB – Dany Cotton MET00012492

Commissioner Cotton has been criticised by Chairman Moore-Bick, by the mass media and by some elements within the Grenfell Community, notably by members of Grenfell United (especially their leadership), who continue to excoriate her for what has been described by Moore-Bick as her “remarkable insensitivity” and by GU for what amounts to nothing less than dereliction of duty. Indeed some have called, not just for her resignation, but for her prosecution. As recently as 13th November ITV News reported on a meeting GU recently had with London Mayor Sadiq Khan in which they repeated their demands for her resignation. They are clearly continuing to conduct a ruthless personal vendetta against her and against the senior leadership of the London Fire Brigade which appears to be, not just misguided, but downright vindictive.

From my reading of the four paragraphs above, quoted from her written evidence, Commissioner Cotton appears to me to be anything but ‘insensitive‘. On the contrary she strikes me as a sensitive, compassionate and empathic woman who takes her duties and responsibilities very seriously and cared deeply, on the night of the Grenfell Fire, for the welfare of her fire crews and for both the victims and the survivors of the fire.

When she said she would have changed nothing that the LFB had done on the night I don’t believe she meant any disrespect but was just trying to be realistic and to pay tribute to her fire crews who had performed with such courage and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds. I believe she was trying to say that was the best they could have done given the inadequate training and equipment they had to work with and the absolutely unprecedented nature of the fire which they had encountered and the odds that were stacked against them.

In closing I feel I should clarify one final detail. Those who have expressed a marked antipathy to Commissioner Cotton seek to hold her personally responsible for the delay, on the night, in suspending the ‘stay put’ policy. It is important that such people are properly informed and clearly understand that after 02.00am conditions in most lobbies and in the stairwell had deteriorated significantly so that by 02.20am they posed a risk to life. After 02.20am conditions had deteriorated even further, but not to such an extent as to create a completely impassable barrier to anyone who attempted to leave the building.(Moore-Bick executive summary 2.11)

Dany cotton was ‘on call’ that night for only the most serious of emergencies. She was duly called out but was unable to reach Grenfell Tower until 2.50am. The decision to suspend the ‘stay put’ policy had been taken at 2.47am, just minutes before her arrival. She therefore played no part in the decision making process related to the ‘stay put’ policy.

ENOUGH SAID?

ENOUGH SCAPEGOATING… PLEASE!

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GRENFELL INQUIRY INTERIM REPORT – WHAT WE FEAR

GRENFELL INQUIRY INTERIM REPORT – WHAT WE FEAR
Emma Dent Coad MP for Kensington
26.10.19
Press release for immediate publication

As we head towards the date of publication for the Interim Report of the Grenfell Tower Fire Public Inquiry, on Wednesday 30 October – a moment of reflection.

I remember in October 2012, when after years of lobbying by residents in cold, damp flats with dodgy lifts and heating and hot water system constantly breaking down, the Council and TMO announced a major refurb of Grenfell Tower. I was leaving KCTMO Board after four years, and this overdue investment was welcomed by residents at the time.
Between then and 14 June 2017 were five years of meetings, negotiations, consultations, design decisions, planning decisions, contracting, commissioning, estimating, re-estimating, materials decisions – ‘value engineering’ – and the work itself.

In 2015 a group of residents had been concerned about failures and delays in the process of the works, the noise and inconvenience, concerns about fire breaks, the position of boilers in hallways, exposed gas pipes, the loss of emergency road access, the loss of green space at Lancaster Green to build the school close to the Tower, and fears that the building itself may be dangerous post-refurb.

Rather than take residents’ concerns seriously, in November 2016 the Council sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to the complainants, stating that they were frightening residents.

Six months later a fridge now deemed so dangerous it has been withdrawn from sale burst into flames, and fire services were called. Unknown to them the fire had burnt through a UPVC window frame and flames had begun to tear up the building fuelled by a devastating combination of flammable insulation and flammable cladding. Then –

  • The stair lighting failed.
  • The smoke vents failed.
  • The fire doors failed.
  • The fire breaks between floors failed.
  • Badly fitting UPVC windows blazed and emitted deadly gases.
  • The insulation and cladding failed, due to their combustibility and to poorly fitted breaks and gaps which acted like a chimney.
  • The gas supply could not be turned off for 18 hours.
  • And the ‘value engineered’ insulation (now banned) and cladding combination described as ‘solid petrol’ raged for hours.

The devasting fire that had been predicted by residents turned a concrete frame building with fire safe compartmentation, where ‘Stay Put’ policy had worked for 40 years, into a 24 storey bonfire.

Into this nightmare, firefighters had to work to save lives with equipment inadequate for a combination of disastrous errors that should never have been allowed. They went in untrained for a disaster that should never have happened.

And here lies the problem with this back-to-front Inquiry.

Despite the preceding 60 months of appalling decision-making and dereliction of duty by those in power and authority, we fear the Inquiry will focus on the efforts of those sent to save lives into the hell created by others.

This process is unfair, inequitable and seems destined to blame the responders in place of those responsible.

As we wait with trepidation, anxiety and sleepless nights for the Interim Report and recommendations, it is sickening to contemplate what our brave and selfless firefighters may be accused of.

An Inquiry is not a criminal prosecution. Blaming responders rather than those responsible goes completely against the spirit and purpose of a Public Inquiry.
I will stand by all victims of this avoidable atrocity, those we have lost and those left behind, until justice is served for them all.

Ends

Contact emma.dentcoad.mp@parliament.uk
Out of hours, text: 07773 792736

Reposted with thanks to Justice4Grenfell:

https://www.facebook.com/officalj4g/

https://justice4grenfell.org

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THE LAST POST

This will almost certainly be the last post I, or anyone else, will publish on this blog. Contrary to usual practice it will be written in the first person singular rather than the collective ‘we’ that has previously been the norm. This is because, although I continued to write in the collective ‘we’ after the night of the Grenfell fire, I was actually working alone and it was I alone who produced all subsequent posts. I now believe that it is way past time that I took ownership of the work that I alone have produced on this blog during the last couple of years.

I have been struggling with and avoiding this moment, and this task, for some months, certainly since last October when it became clear to me that I was all used up and burnt out. I no longer had the contacts I needed to remain relevant and properly informed about events in the Grenfell community and had become too ill and too exhausted, both physically and emotionally, to continue. I no longer have the heart to continue this work but it is, nonetheless, a painful and heartwrenching moment for me which I had hoped to avoid even when it had become clear to me that I could no longer continue.

In 1983 a gas explosion at my home left me for several weeks in an intensive care burns unit with 50% burns. I was transfused with about one and a half litres of plasma, which saved my life, but in 2002 I was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis c infection, which I believe I contracted from those lifesaving transfusions. For several years following my hospitalisation I experienced PTSD in the form of an intense phobia to the harsh light and heat of the sun. Hot summers were hell for me. In 2012 I was further diagnosed with cirrhosis. I had refused treatment for my hepatitis because the only treatment available at the time was lengthy and difficult (a full year). It was based on a combination of very toxic drugs with nasty side effects and a very poor success rate. Around the time of my diagnosis I also began to experience M.E. type symptoms which gradully worsened over time.

I decided to leave Verity Close in 2013. My constant exhaustion, exercise and stress intolerance, aching muscles and unrefreshing and disordered sleep pattern had taken a heavy toll on me and I now found the constant dust, noise, diesel fumes and other disturbances from the academy and leisure centre construction intolerable, so I abandoned my tenancy and moved to Ireland. However, from 2013 onward I continued to work on the GAG blog in partnership with Ed Daffarn.

About two years ago my hepatitis was successfully treated in Dublin with a new drug regimen and the virus was eradicated, but unfortunately I experienced no improvement in my quality of life which has continued to deteriorate.

I had lived within a stone’s throw of Grenfell Tower for many years and knew every nook and cranny of it like the back of my hand. On the night of the fire I watched on my television screen as it was consumed in an inferno. It was a horrendous and deeply shocking experience and it was immediately obvious to me, from the intensity of the fire and the speed with which the tower was engulfed, that the death toll would be very high.

At about 5am I published a very short blog (GRENFELL TOWER FIRE) which included a list of links to previous blogs we had posted in our repeated but vain attempts to challenge and alert RBKC to the complacency, negligence and incompetence of both the Council and the KCTMO concerning the delivery of essential services to Lancaster West and other council housing estates, emphasising particularly the neglect of fire safety on those estates.

Before the fire the Grenfell Action Group blog had attracted a weekly readership of about 200. On the day of the fire, however, it went viral receiving nearly three million views during the first 24 hours. The Grenfell fire was, of course, big news worldwide. I realised from the unprecedented level of interest that it was vital to continue blogging regularly and to concentrate on publishing any evidence that emerged, or that could be uncovered, concerning the causes of the fire and the circumstances surrounding it.

Unfortunately I had lost my main ally, co-founder and co-author Ed Daffarn, who had lived in Grenfell Tower. Ed was physically uninjured in the fire but had lost his home and narrowly escaped death on that terrible night. He told me that he would be unable to contribute to the blog for a significant period, and I fully accepted that, but I also fully expected him to return when he felt able. Meanwhile the viewing numbers for the blog remained high throughout the summer and only gradually declined as the media circus gradually began to move on. In October 2017 the readership was still 10,000 for the month and held steady throughout 2018 at around 4000 views per month.

Ed never returned. After several months I began efforts to initiate a discussion with him about when he might be ready to return, but he rebuffed me each time I raised the subject claiming that he was still too traumatised to even discuss his return. Eventually, in November 2017, I had become so frustrated that I decided to insist on having that discussion, but when I pressed him on it he lost his temper and hung up the phone on me. That same night I discovered that he was still active in the Save Wornington College campaign and was a moderator of their Facebook group. Later I discovered more from press coverage and from the entry below on a public information website called Nesta:

“Grenfell United is made up exclusively of bereaved family members and survivors of the fire. The group represents 80 per cent of the tower survivors and approximately 80 per cent of bereaved families. The organisation was formed a mere two weeks after the fire during a meeting at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. Ex-Grenfell resident, and Vice Chair of Grenfell United Ed Daffarn, said the initial aim was to offer an authentic voice to the survivors and bereaved and to give each other the emotional support needed in the immediate aftermath of such trauma.”

https://www.nesta.org.uk/feature/new-radicals-2018/grenfell-united/

I also discovered that the exclusive and secretive Grenfell United have enjoyed privileged access to Prime Minister Theresa May and other members of her Cabinet and that an early meeting with Mrs May had run for two hours. (Guardian Jan 2018).

It finally dawned on me that Ed had lied repeatedly to me for several months, by claiming that he was still too fragile to contribute, or even discuss contributing, to the GAG blog. The truth appears to be that he had ulterior motives, which he withheld from me, and had made a deliberate choice to abandon the GAG blog – and me with it – because it suited his ambitions to do so. He was, of course, a founder member and pivotal figure in Grenfell United, as he had previously been in The Grenfell Action Group, but he lacked the common decency to inform me that he had chosen, immediately after the fire, to abandon GAG in favour of GU. It is noteworthy that Grenfell United have never, to the best of my knowledge, recognised or acknowledged the continuing existence of the GAG blog after the fire, or the considerable body of work I produced over the last couple of years as the sole remaining author and editor of the blog. I believe that Ed could have used his influence as a prominent member of Grenfell United to encourage such recognition, but he appears to have chosen not to do so. I can only speculate as to the reasons for this behaviour.

He continues to enjoy significant celebrity as the ‘face’ of the pre-Grenfell GAG blog and as the man who allegedly ‘predicted the Grenfell fire’, a myth that has been endlessly repeated and perpetuated by the British press. He has shamelessly and deliberately exploited his misbegotten fame and celebrity to enhance his personal reputation and that of the exclusive and secretive Grenfell United which he now favors, invariably at the expense of The Grenfell Action Group. Among other things this has enabled him to secure a place representing Grenfell United on the Shelter Housing Commission.

The GU propaganda above, illustrating an interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, describes the sainted Ed Daffarn in glowing terms. However it is no more than media hype. He did not predict the Grenfell fire and nor did he write the blogs so endlessly quoted that appear to have predicted it, a myth the media (notably the Guardian) continue to shamelessly propagate to this day.

Ed and I worked together on those blogs, but mostly they were my work, and we were equally surprised, shocked and horrified by the catastrophe that occurred at Grenfell Tower. Nobody, except those with foreknowledge of how flammable, how lethal and how utterly inappropriate was the cladding system affixed to the exterior of Grenfell Tower could have predicted the tragedy that was to unfold there. We did not have that foreknowledge, having been denied access by the KCTMO to the documentation that contained that crucial information.

There is also a very bad stink underlying all this, most of which has already been covered, more or less, in a previous GAG post (22nd October – the one about BACKSTABBERS).  A re-reading of that blog, in conjunction with what I have revealed here about the breakdown of my relationship with Ed should make it clear what a ‘piece of work’ the capricious Mr Daffarn is – a quality he clearly shares with the more machiavellian of his new confederates at Grenfell United and with the ruthless and unprincipled Shamik Dutta of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.

It should be clear from the preceding narrative that my decision to end this blog was complicated, involving much more than just the physical illness from which I am suffering. The psychological factors to which I have also alluded weigh very heavily on me and I find I no longer have the heart to continuue this work regardless of the state of my health.

So what does the future hold for the long suffering residents of Lancaster West, many of whom have been impacted, in varying degrees, by the Grenfell disaster? Stage One of the Inquiry ran for about sixteen tedious months following which it has been in recess since last December. In my view the hearings were far too often devoted to lengthy hostile interrogations of the many firefighters who had attended the fire and later to similarly hostile interrogation of the senior LFB officers who were in command on the night. I do not consider this to have been fair to the individuals concerned, who had acted with great courage on the night in appalling conditions and against overwhelming odds. Nor do I consider it to have been an appropriate use of the Inquiry’s time and process.

According to the latest information, posted on the Inquiry website on 17th April, Phase Two hearings are not scheduled to begin until January 2020. The Inquiry team has meanwhile published a long provisional list of issues to be examined in Stage Two but has not included a timetable or schedule of hearings to accompany this. The list can be downloaded from the following link: Phase 2 List of Issues 4 JUNE [FINAL]   How much longer the Inquiry will continue and how long we will have to wait for a final report is anybody’s guess. As for me, I have been cynical about this process almost from its inception and have no great expectation of a positive or satisfactory outcome from this long drawn out process which seems designed to frustrate and exhaust rather than to inform those seeking justice.

Instead I have pinned my hopes on the Metropolitan Police, who began a massive criminal investigation in the summer of 2017. Unfortunately they appear to be waiting for the Inquiry to finish before proceeding, so I would surmise that they are unlikely to take any decisive action before, I would guess, sometime in 2022 (?). However, there is one possible silver lining to this seemingly interminable cloud of gloom. According to the Guardian (18 July 2018) detectives investigating the fire have interviewd several individuals under caution and are actively considering gross negligence manslaughter charges as well as corporate manslaughter and breaches of the Health and Safety Act. The main, and possibly only, positive in this is that charges of gross negligence manslaughter would be brought against individuals who, on conviction, could be punished by terms of imprisonment. In my opinion only this outcome could provide the justice that so many are seeking.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/18/grenfell-police-carry-out-three-interviews-under-caution

Finally, I am grateful to the many who have kept faith with this blog over the last couple of years and who continue to visit regularly in hopes, I assume, of finding new content. That new content has, all too often, failed to appear. I owe you all my apologies for that. I owe apologies also to those with whom I have recently collaborated, particularly Ruth London and her colleagues at Fuel Poverty Action. It was always my intention to continue to support the FPA Safe Cladding and Insulation (SCIN) initiative and I regret that I was unable to meet that challenge.

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2018/05/05/fpa-new-campaign-for-safe-cladding-and-insulation-now/

Sincerely,  Francis

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Grenfell Inquiry – Stage One Conclusions Of An Expert Witness

Grenfell Tower – Fire Safety Investigation:

Phase 1 Report – Section 2
Conclusions and Next Steps

REPORT OF
Dr Barbara Lane FREng FRSE CEng
Fire Safety Engineering
5th November 2018

2.9 The primary failure – the Rainscreen cladding system

2.9.1 A high degree of compartmentation forms the most important basis of the single building safety condition Stay Put.

2.9.2 Approved Document B (ADB) 2013 states there are two main objectives for compartmentation:

(a) to prevent rapid fire spread which could trap occupants of the building; and

(b) to reduce the chance of fires becoming large, on the basis that large fires are more dangerous, not only to occupants and fire and rescue service personnel, but also to people in the vicinity of the building.”

2.9.3 Compartmentation relied on the performance of the external wall at Grenfell Tower, because the external wall connected every flat, and every flat must be a separate compartment.

2.9.4 The external walls were required to comply with Regulation B4 External Fire Spread:

“The external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls … having regard to the height, use and position of the building.”

2.9.5 In Section 8 and 11, of my Expert Report, I have identified the materials forming the rainscreen cladding system, and assessed their compliance with the relevant statutory requirements.

2.9.6 Based on the relevant test evidence submitted to the Public Inquiry, the construction materials forming the rainscreen cladding system, when either considered individually or when considered as an assembly, did not comply with the recommended fire performance set out in the statutory guidance of ADB 2013 for a building with a storey 18m or more above Ground Level.

2.9.7 These materials as installed on Levels 4-23 were:

a) Aluminium windows supplied by Metal Technology Ltd;
b) Insulating core panels as infill between windows, formed of combustible Styrofoam (extruded polystyrene) supplied by Panel Systems Ltd;
c) Window fan inserts specified as the combustible Kingspan TP10 insulation;
d) 100mm thick Celotex RS5100 combustible PIR insulation board applied to columns;
e) 80mm thick Celotex RS5080 combustible PIR insulation board (two layers) applied to the spandrels between floors;
f) Kingspan K15 combustible phenolic foam insulation (two layers) applied to the spandrels between floors
g) Arconic Reynobond 55 PE Cassette system ACP (smoked silver metallic);
h) Arconic Reynobond 55 PE Cassette system ACP (pure white)- Level 3 only;
i) EPDM weatherproof membrane between the new windows and the existing concrete structure;
j) Siderise Vertical cavity barriers on the columns;
k) Siderise Horizontal cavity barriers;

2.9.8 Additionally, I conclude the entire system could not adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls having regard to height, use and position of the building. Specifically, the assembly failed adequately to resist the spread of fire to an extent that supported the required Stay Put strategy for this high-rise residential building. The assembly failed adequately to resist the spread of fire to an extent that supported the required internal fire fighting – Defend in Place fire fighting regime.

2.9.9 There were multiple catastrophic fire-spread routes created by the external wall materials, the arrangement of the materials, as well as the construction detailing of those materials.

2.9.10 In addition, as I have explained in Section 9, the construction detailing created to seal the gap between the old and new windows, in each flat, meant that the materials and the arrangement of those materials, increased the likelihood of a fire breaking out of the flat and into the large cavities contained within the cladding system surrounding those windows. Those cavities were formed of and contained combustible materials.

2.9.11 Attempts had been made to subdivide the column cavities, and to provide vertical and horizontal fire stopping at key compartment lines. However, both the horizontal and vertical fire stopping were defective in their installation, but more importantly there is no evidence these fire stopping products have ever been proven, by fire test, to perform in an ACP based rainscreen external wall system of the type installed at Grenfell Tower.

2.9.12 The window openings were not provided with fire resisting cavity barriers. These unprotected openings themselves were instead surrounded by combustible materials, which acted as a means of fire and smoke spread.

2.9.13 There were combustible lining materials located within the flats, above and below the window openings. These materials support the spread of fire and smoke, from an incident adjacent to a window, also.

2.9.14 Therefore, in the event of any internal fire starting near a window, there was a
disproportionately high probability of fire spread into the rainscreen cladding
system.

2.9.15 This was also true in the event of a fire remote from the window, unless the fire brigade extinguished it early enough to prevent heating of the rainscreen system via the window openings or via the window opening surrounds; or the fire was prevented by some other means from developing into a scenario which could cause the heating of the window opening or the heating of the materials surrounding those openings in a flat.

2.9.16 The interface between the kitchen window, and the window reveal lining materials, in Flat 16 and (a) the column rainscreen system and (b) the above window horizontal rainscreen system, was the primary cause of the early stages of fire spread.

2.9.17 The type of window reveal lining materials and how they were arranged around the window provided no means to control the spread of fire and smoke, from the small kitchen fire which was the source of the fire.

2.9.18 In addition, the type of materials in the rainscreen system and how they were arranged around the windows in the kitchen, contributed to the speed at which the fire spread from the flat of fire origin to a multi storey external fire within the rainscreen system.

2.9.19 Once the fire entered the rainscreen system outside Flat 16 on the East elevation, the Reynobond 55PE rainscreen cladding panel coupled with the ventilation cavity backed by the Celotex insulation or Kingspan K15 insulation, incorporating defective vertical and horizontal Siderise fire stopping material, and missing cavity barriers around the window, failed to control the spread of fire and smoke.

2.9.20 The Reynobond 55PE contributed to the most rapid of the observed external fire spread.

2.9.21 There were also Aluglaze extruded polystyrene core insulating panels installed between every window, in front of the existing window infill panels. Polystyrene produces large quantities of black toxic smoke; and supports rapid fire spread as evidenced during the fire.

2.9.22 The assembly – taken together with the insulation material on the existing external wall, the missing and defective cavity barriers – became part of a successful combustion process. This process generated substantial fire spread over 6 distinct pathways. A full geometric grid was created by means of the construction materials, which connected (in the event of an internal fire, cavity fire or external fire) every flat on a storey; and every storey from Level 3 to roof Level. These pathways also supported the spread of external fire back into the building, through the windows, and created a series of internal fire events.

2.9.23 The consequence of this was that any individual flat of fire origin was no longer in a separate fire rated box as is required. The compartmentation required in the building was breached by the ability of the fire to spread on the external wall from that compartmented flat to the next.

2.9.24 I conclude that the required single building safety condition Stay Put, was not
provided for, as was required, as a result of the rainscreen system installed during the primary refurbishment.

2.9.25 As a result, the arrangement and type of construction materials in the rainscreen system caused:
(a) A rapidly advancing and continuous external flame front which impacted flats on multiple stories;
(b) The generation of large quantities of polymeric based smoke which entered many flats;
(c) The flame front caused additional internal fires, many of which underwent a flashover fire (this in general occurred where external firefighting was not possible by LFB); these internal fires also produced smoke;
(d) The external fire and internal fires then affected the active and passive fire protection measures in the building.

2.9.26 The rainscreen system, installed during the refurbishment in 2012-2016, was therefore non-compliant with the functional requirement of the Building Regulations.

2.9.27 In my Phase 2 report I will investigate how this state of affairs came to exist at Grenfell Tower.

2.10 The failure of the early external fire fighting activity

2.10.1 I do not consider it reasonable that in the event of the installation of a combustible rainscreen system on a high rise residential building, the fire brigade should be expected to fully mitigate any resulting fire event. That is particularly so in circumstances where the fire brigade had never been informed that a combustible rainscreen system had been installed in the first place. Further, there are so many combinations of events, that could fall entirely outside the reach of external firefighting activity. This is important when only internal firefighting arrangements are made for high-rise residential buildings by statutory guidance at this time.

2.10.2 I have found no evidence yet that any member of the design team or the construction team ascertained the fire performance of the rainscreen system materials, nor understood how the assembly performed in fire. I have found no evidence that Building Control were either informed or understood how the assembly would perform in a fire. Further I have found no evidence that the TMO risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen system, nor have I found evidence that an LFB risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen system. I await further evidence on these matters, which I will explore in my Phase 2 report.

Dr Barbara Lane report – section 2 (Phase 1 – supplemental).pdf

 

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RHN PROTEST AT KENSINGTON TOWN HALL

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DISPATCHES – GRENFELL ACTION GROUP REPLY

Our last blog was a repost of a statement issued by Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, in anticipation of a programme Channel 4 Dispatches were preparing to broadcast on Monday 18th February. Our repost attracted a lot of attention among our readers and garnered more than a thousand views during the following week.

We watched the programme (several times) in which Dispatches claimed to have uncovered new evidence suggesting that systemic failures in the London Fire Brigade had led to many people dying who could have survived. We saw no new evidence supporting this claim and we regard it as merely the latest in a long list of attempts to scapegoat the LFB with regard to the horrific events of June 2017 in which 72 of our friends, neighbours and loved ones died in an inferno from which, for far too many, there was no escape.

The programme was a pastiche of short clips composed of verbal evidence given on camera to the Grenfell Inquiry by LFB officers, who invariably spent long hours in the witness box facing a barrage of difficult, if not hostile, interrogation at the hands of counsel to the Inquiry. These clips were intercut with excerpts from emotive interviews with witnesses or survivors of the events of that night, generally expressing their anger, frustration and bewilderment at the failure of the LFB to order an early mass evacuation of the tower.

The Dispatches programme ran for a mere half hour – not counting the mandatory commercial break in the middle – apparently in an ill-conceived attempt to answer in some meaningful way one of the most vexed and complex questions addressed in stage one of the Public Inquiry – whether the London Fire Brigade suffered a ‘systemic failure’ on the night of the Grenfell fire. In our view there is no question that there was a systemic failure, but we do not agree that the LFB or its officers should be held culpable for this.

In our view the Grenfell refurbishment that preceded the fire and created the conditions that led to it, is the true locus of a massive systemic failure that can be identified clearly at all levels of the project, from the planning to the financing to the design and to many, if not all, of the building contractors and numerous sub-contracters who succeeded, through a combination of incompetence and criminal negligence in turning a highrise block that had stood the test of time, having been safe to live in for many years, into a firetrap that was consumed in the worst inferno in living memory within months of its refurbishment.

We are not prepared to accept at this point the Dispatches claim that the London Fire Brigade suffered a systenic failure on the night of the Grenfell Fire. The failure of the LFB  to cope with the situation that confronted them on that fateful night was preceded and precipitated by the complete failure of the building’s fire protection systems. In effect it was the failure of the building that caused the extremely high mortality and the Dispatches criticisms of the LFB are an unjustified attempt to scapegoat them for the loss of life and for the additional lives that the Dispatches team claims could have been saved had the LFB not failed in their duty on that night

The Grenfell fire was unprecedented in its ferocity and the speed with which it engulfed the entire tower and we know that the LFB were ill-equipped and insufficiently trained, due to major budget cuts, year on year, by central government that had significantly degraded their ability to cope under normal conditions, let alone the unprecedentedly extreme conditions they faced on that night. This was further complicated by the fact that the fire crews had not been trained in the logistics or hazards involved in the evacuation of a densely occupied multi-storey residential block that was rapidly becoming consumed in by far the worst highrise fire they had ever encountered.

In any case any claim of systemic failure by the LFB  hangs entirely on the failure, between approximately 1am and 2.30am, of senior LFB officers to order the abandonment of the ‘stay put’ policy in favour of a strategy of search and rescue and self evacuation wherever possible. This matter has been the subject of intense scrutiny by the Public Inquiry. No conclusions have yet emerged from that source so we must await publication of the Inquiry’s findings. Meanwhile we can only speculate about the alleged failures of the LFB as we don’t yet have the evidence necessary to make properly informed judgements.

In fact the decision to abandon the ‘stay put’ policy, opting instead for mass evacuation, was by no means as simple or straightforward for those responsible as the LFB’s critics woud have us believe. It carried with it a host of additional risks and dangers that could not be predicted or quantified and might themselves have led to disastrous consequences. Nor must we forget that this whole crisis had unfolded within a very short timescale, between 1am approximately, when the first fire crews arrived on scene, and 2.30am approximately when the decision to abandon the ‘stay put’ policy was finally taken.

We may reasonably assume that it would have been considered premature to make such a drastic decision during that first hour, but according to the evidence submitted to the Inquiry by expert witness Dr Barbara Lane, the ‘stay put’ strategy had effectively failed by 1.26am. The ‘defend in place’ firefighting strategy upon which it relied had also failed and the LFB had no effective means of attacking the fierce external fire which was the only firefighting strategy that was then left to them.

We also know that, by this time, much of the stairwell and many of the lobbies were smoke logged. Who could have predicted the rapidity or ferocity with which this sequence of events would occur? Nor is it any wonder that the senior officers charged with making the crucial life and death decisions, who did not have the benefit of the forensic evidence now available to Dr Lane and other experts, did not or could not, react with the speed and hindsight that the Dispatches team would clearly now expect and demand of them.

The extended interview with Marcio Gomes, broadcast near the end of the programme is, in our view, a crucially important part of the whole Dispatches programme. It clearly reveals the terrible dilemma Marcio and his family were confronted with, particularly when attempting to self evacuate, which they had tried on several occasions, only to be driven back by the thick black toxic smoke that confronted them every time they tried.

Strangely, the interview with Marcio is immediately preceded by a voiceover that is, in our view, the most reckless, misleading and preposterously flawed statement that the Dispatches team used as part of the foundation for their vendetta against the LFB:

” The Inquiry has heard that the whole tower could have been evacuated in seven minutes”.

Having arrived at this point of the narrative I have struggled to construct, I realise that there is no need for further argument from me. I already have in my possession a lengthy extract from the statement submitted by Dr Lane at the conclusion of phase one of the Inquiry. It describes in excruciating detail and in a far more articulate form than I could ever attempt, the conditions that existed in Grenfell Tower on that fateful night and that confronted all those inside the tower during that crucial hour when the building was lost. I will finish this blog by quoting the words of Dr Lane directly from her statement.

(CAUTION: Those still struggling to cope with the events of that night may find parts of what follows extremely painful reading.)

2.19.1 The conditions in the lobbies created intense fear amongst the residents which is likely to have affected the ability of many of them to leave their flat and descend the stair. As the fire progressed, and conditions worsened in the lobbies, but also directly on the external wall of their own flat, and adjacent flats, it was even more difficult to overcome this fear, even when they were eventually instructed to do so.

2.19.2 The evidence from the residents has emphasised this stark dilemma for them all too clearly.

2.19.3 The residents were left in conditions that appeared life threatening to them. So much so that even with a flame front entering their home or neighbour’s home, entering the staircase was believed to be a fatal option. In some cases, this belief appears to have seriously impacted their decision making process with respect to self-evacuation. It is my opinion that they required very specific advice tailored to overcome their fear of the lobby conditions, and to be informed, for example, that there was a concerted effort to meet and rescue people in the stairs.

2.19.4 Their experiences created a belief that entering the staircase was a fatal option, specifically:

2.19.5 For some residents they had already experienced conditions in the stairs and considered them to be life threatening and so turned back

2.19.6 For other residents, they had entered the stairs or approached the stairs, and heard instructions not to go down the stairs at all, and again had turned back.

2.19.7 Many residents had been told it was safer not to self-evacuate for up to an hour, and the change seemed to overwhelm those that ultimately stayed in place.

2.19.8 There were substantial signals of danger to residents, and to firefighters. This included large quantities of thick smoke impacting sight and breathing immediately outside flat entrance doors, intense heat outside flat entrance doors, heat and smoke within the stair itself; rapidly advancing fire and smoke entering flats from the external wall, and ultimately horrific and rapidly increasing numbers of fires for the residents to attempt to escape away from within their own flats.

2.19.9 It is my opinion that the conditions created difficult, and at times life threatening conditions, for the LFB. The conditions greatly restricted their ability to implement their standard processes and procedures, regarding firefighting, once the fire had spread beyond Flat 16.

2.19.10 The LFB appear to have stopped attempting to fight the multiple and ever increasing flat fires and focused on attempting rescue activities.

2.19.11 The conditions caused the requirement for a scale of rescue that overwhelmed the LFB’s standard rescue processes. The details of this are being addressed by other experts to the Inquiry.

2.19.12 Because of the external wall fire, a complex building fire occurred, and so the single escape stairs and its lobbies became the single most important life safety feature. As I explain further in later sections, I have considerable concern as to the standards of fire safety provision in the lobbies and the stair, whilst acknowledging the extreme and primary hazard the external wall presented.

2.19.13 The failure of this life safety feature meant that after 01:40, and particularly after 02:00, worsening conditions limited the ability for rescue to occur, and created more and more barriers, or perceived barriers, for residents to overcome in order to safely self-evacuate. Ultimately, 71 persons were not able to do so.

2.19.14 The timing of this decision is relevant to my work because the active and passive fire protection measures are required to provide a safe working environment for the fire and rescue services. However, their failure cannot be considered in isolation, because the LFB continued to invest in rescue after the building safety condition failed.

2.19.15 I consider the Stay Put strategy required from the Building condition, to have effectively failed by 01 :26; the Defend in Place fire fighting upon which it relies had also failed – there was no ability to extinguish the external fire early as became required.

2.19.16 Therefore, there was a need for the LFB to recognise this building failure by 01:26, when the fire had spread up to Level 23 from Level 4, and to recognise the impact this building failure was having, and would continue to have, on standard fire fighting and rescue processes and procedures.

2.19.17 There was a particular need to recognise this failure by the time the major incident was declared at 02:06, in order to improve the means available to residents to self-evacuate, as this had now become the most likely method to mitigate the risk to their lives.

2.19.18 There is a need to recognise now, if interventions could have been made before 02:06, and then before 02:35, in order to prevent such a tragedy happening in the future.

2.19.19 An important topic also for investigation is residents who could not evacuate without assistance (residents who could not walk down stairs). I will incorporate the final numbers of persons requiring assistance when that evidence is finalised. There was no active facility available to them for self evacuation (this is dealt with in detail in Section 15, 16 and 18 of my report”

https://grenfellactiongroup.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/dr-barbara-lane-report-section-2-phase-1-supplemental.pdf

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