With London Fire Brigade (LFB) accused of “institutional failure” over the Grenfell disaster, commissioner Dany Cotton has confirmed her resignation – as bereaved families and survivors pressed for her to go.
Cotton will step down as soon as New Year’s Eve, having intend to retire in June.
In a statement, Cotton said: “Grenfell Tower was without doubt the worst fire we had ever experienced.
“The brigade has and will keep making the changes it can make and continue its fight for all of the other changes that are needed, to prevent such a terrible incident and loss of life from happening again.”
Phase 1 of the public inquiry into the disaster found serious failings in the LFB preparation and response – specific criticism is reserved for Cotton, who told the inquiry she would change nothing about the LFB’s response.
The report singles out her “remarkable insensitivity” and suggested the LFB was at risk of failing to learn the lessons from Grenfell with such an attitude about its operation.
The report states this “only serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire”.
Cotton is accused of an “apparent lack of curiosity” when she arrived at the scene at around 3am and was told the stay-put advice had been abandoned but asked no follow-up questions.
The inquiry concluded that the LFB’s delay in evacuating the burning building cost lives.
Cotton refused to resign, saying she wanted to see out reforms. The inquiry concluded that the LFB’s delay in evacuating the burning building cost lives.
She was backed by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
But a group of bereaved families met Khan at City Hall last month and restated their call for Cotton to go.
It is understood the mayor changed his view on her position after this meeting and having fully digested the full impact of the public inquiry report’s criticisms of the LFB’s leadership.
“I will be appointing a new fire commissioner shortly, and it’s right that they can quickly take on the responsibility to drive forward the changes being made within the brigade, and to deliver on the recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower inquiry report,” Khan said.
In its statement, Grenfell United said: “This change in leadership is needed to keep Londoners safe. Sir Martin Moore-Bick raised serious concerns that the [LFB] was an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of Grenfell.”
At around 1,000 pages – informed by around 50,000 documents submitted as evidence – the Phase 1 report draws damning conclusions on elements of the LFB response to the disaster.
While the report recognises “extraordinary bravery and devotion to duty” displayed by firefighters, the LFB’s preparation and planning for a fire of the magnitude of Grenfell is said to be “gravely inadequate”, with incident commanders and senior officers on scene having “no training” on the dangers associated with combustible cladding, nor how to mount an evacuation of a high-rise block.
This, the report says, was an “institutional failure”.
With no contingency plan for the evacuation of the tower, the LFB database on London buildings had information on Grenfell “years out of date” that did not capture changes made to the structure during refurbishment.
Incident commanders who initially oversaw the firefighting response were faced “with a situation for which they had not properly been prepared”, the report says.
As such, officers failed to recognise that compartmentation had failed and that a full evacuation may have been necessary; nor did they ever gain control of the situation.
Of the stay-put strategy, the report says: “Once it was clear that the fire was out of control and that compartmentation had failed, a decision should have been taken to organise the evacuation of the tower while that remained possible.
“That decision could and should have been made between 1.30am and 1.50am and would be likely to have resulted in fewer fatalities.”
Instead, as the report notes, stay-put was rescinded at 2.47am and, until then, was not questioned “notwithstanding all early indications that the building had suffered a total failure of compartmentation”.
The report also found that crucial information about the spread and extent of the fire was not shared by senior officers, while no system was in place for keeping commanders abreast of 999 call details.
Recognising control-room operators faced an unprecedented number of 999 calls on the night of the disaster, the report says their operation was beset by “shortcomings in practice, policy, and training”.
Call handlers did not always obtain the necessary details from those within the building, including their flat numbers, while some were unaware of when to tell residents to evacuate.
The report referenced the 2009 Lakanal House fire in saying call operators on duty during the Grenfell fire were “not aware of the danger of assuming that crews would always reach callers”.
Rescue teams were unable to reach the upper floors of Grenfell Tower due to the intensity of the fire.
The report said the control room did not know enough about the worsening conditions in the tower, nor were officers at the scene receiving enough valuable information from the 999 calls, as the communication between the two hubs was “improvised, uncertain, and prone to error”.
Subsequently, Cotton challenged the government to take stronger action and undertake urgent research on ‘buildings that fail’ on fire safety that leaves Stay Put advice no longer viable.
She supported a report from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) pressuring the government to outline alternatives to Stay Put for fires in tower blocks in the wake of what the union damned as “decades of failed policy”.