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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:29 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 3:29 pm, 30th October 2019

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate, and I am honoured to follow Jo Swinson.

I need to start by acknowledging the grief, pain and anger of the bereaved and the survivors from Grenfell. No one can be anything other than deeply saddened at the huge loss of life. Anything other than complete condemnation of this event is unacceptable. No one escapes their share of the blame from Grenfell. This includes the London Fire Brigade, and I speak as a former operational firefighter with the brigade. London Fire Brigade is not hiding from the criticism levelled at it, but the catastrophic failure that is Grenfell was not caused by the London Fire Brigade, which did its best to deal with it. Compartmentalisation normally works. I have fought high-rise fires, and I am sure that Bill Grant has, too. It has saved countless lives over many years, but Grenfell was not compartmentalised. The building failure led to London Fire Brigade making many mistakes of which, I am sure, it is absolutely ashamed and that it regrets deeply.

Responsibility for what happened lies with us here in Parliament, with the Government and with many others—local government, building suppliers, construction companies and the rest. The focus of the inquiry is, in phase 1, on the initial evidence supplied by witnesses called by the inquiry. Subsequent phases will apportion more responsibility to a wider number of organisations and individuals. I believe therefore that the criticism of London Fire Brigade has to be viewed with that perspective—that there is a bigger picture and that it will subsequently be uncovered. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for his kind words about London Fire Brigade, to the Leader of the Opposition and to Sir Martin Moore-Bick for commending the brigade’s bravery in his report.

The conspiracy theorists have had a field day, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend Emma Dent Coad for putting on record that the resident who suffered from the fire and was vilified for it has been proved to be completely innocent. There were accusations that London Fire Brigade had used different operational firefighting techniques because of ethnicity, as well as accusations of cover-up and that the body count was not accurate; all these things are not only offensive but insulting to everyone involved in firefighting all the way through.

Nobody can deal with the pain of the survivors or bring back the victims. What we all have to do is to learn the lessons; I believe that London Fire Brigade has, and it is obvious that that is already being demonstrated. I say to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that cladding is still a huge issue, both in terms of safety and policy.

Finally, I thank the inquiry. People said that it would not get to the truth and that it would be a whitewash. I had faith that it would never be that, and the inquiry has demonstrated that it is digging, and digging deep. There is a lot more to do, but the first phase demonstrates that the inquiry knows what happened and is telling the world.