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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Karen Lee Karen Lee Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Fire) 3:41 pm, 30th October 2019

The tragic, avoidable loss of life in the Grenfell Tower disaster is seared into our national consciousness as a shocking example of corporate greed and governmental complacency. The firefighters who responded on the night acted with commendable courage and professionalism, and yet, by choosing to focus on the fire and emergency services in its first phase, the inquiry has made a scapegoat of those who risked their lives to save others. The Labour party welcomes a thorough investigation into the disaster, and it is important that the LFB recognises where there were issues and where it can improve, but firefighters who go into burning buildings to save others must not be blamed for this disaster. I am particularly concerned by the inquiry’s unprecedented decision to name individual firefighters—I think that is shocking.

To deliver justice for the community, we must hold to account those who repeatedly ignored expert advice, deregulated building safety laws and allowed such dangerous materials to be fitted. This inquiry ought to have considered what led to the catastrophic fire at Grenfell before it looked at events on the night. Any recommendations should be implemented and fully funded, but nationally, not just in London. The inquiry’s report confirmed that the 2016 refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was catastrophically non-compliant with fire safety regulations. It also confirmed that the flammable cladding was a primary cause of the rapid spread of the fire, contrary to evidence given by the manufacturer. It took just 12 minutes for the fire to spread 19 floors to the roof.

The Government had been consistently warned about the danger of high-rise residential fires, and the coroner’s report on the Lakanal House fire in 2013 recommended a review of the “stay put” policy, retrofitting sprinklers and clear guidance on compartmentalisation, but the Government ignored that expert advice and failed to act.

In the two years since the disaster, the Government have let down Grenfell survivors with inadequate housing—that is disgraceful. They have dragged their heels on safety regulations and left people to live in unsafe buildings. The only meaningful reform of building regulations has been a ban of combustible materials on select buildings. There has been no review of “stay put”, nothing to ensure that sprinklers are installed and no widespread reform of building regulations. The deep and damaging cuts to our fire service continue. It is time that the Government—or perhaps the next Government—put people before profit and that we prioritised delivering justice for the local community and confronted the ongoing fire safety threat to communities across the UK.

I have only a few seconds left, so I just say this: we are all analysing what happened on the night, but my feelings are for the families and bereaved who are affected. Let us all spare them a thought today—they are certainly at the forefront of my thoughts.