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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Conservative, Watford 5:03 pm, 21st January 2020

First, may I say to the families of the victims, from Watford and I am sure from everywhere in the UK, that you will forever be in our hearts following this terrible tragedy? I have heard today and over the past few years the terrible stories from this event, which really touched my heart, and I want to share one of the stories today.

Less than a year ago, I met one of the firefighters who was first on the scene at Grenfell. My conversation with him was not part of a review or of my being a politician; it was one man talking to another, by chance. He went into huge detail about what he saw that day, and in the following days as he dealt with the tragedy on site. I will share some of what he told me, but not all the details because I do not want to cause any more hurt to the families. After he had spoken, I shed many tears—I feel no embarrassment in saying that. As my hon. Friend Felicity Buchan said, those brave firefighters enter the buildings from which we want to flee, and put their lives in danger to save others.

That firefighter told me about going into Grenfell when the fire was raging. He saw it get worse, and he had literally to grab people and carry them out of the building, down stairs that were pouring with water and slippery, while flames raged around him. We must protect these heroes over the coming years, and learn from the mistakes that were made. Mistakes absolutely were made at the top level, but people on the ground—first responders, paramedics, police, and firefighters in particular—put their lives at risk for people they would never have met.

From that story I learned that the challenge was not just during the event but afterwards as well, and from going back and having to recover bodies—people will have the scar of that in their minds for ever. Having just been told the story, I still sometimes wake up in the night with nightmares, so I cannot imagine how those who were actually there and did that felt, and still feel.

I heard that, since that day, those firefighters who were so brave and saved so many lives have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some have left the fire service, and some have had issues with relationships or with alcohol. They are struggling with the reality of what they saw, which in some ways sounded akin to a warzone. If they were soldiers we would probably give them support to deal with that.

I say to hon. Members, to the families, and to firefighters who were at the scene, that throughout history the biggest failure has been a failure to learn from our mistakes. When we look ahead at this review, we must not fail to learn from those mistakes. We must be able to tell the families and those who survived that those deaths, those awful tragedies, were not in vain, and that we will learn from this and ensure it does not happen again.

I wanted to share that story because a lot has been said today, quite rightly, about building regulations, buildings and cladding, but the real tragedy is in the lives that were lost, and lives that have been so damaged over many years, and will remain damaged for years to come. Let us learn and move forward. I hope that those on the Front Bench will put provisions in place, and take these matters forward in the review. We must put people first, and ensure that, along with that of the victims and the families, the mental health of firefighters is looked after, and that they are supported moving forward.