London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton at a minute’s silence in memory of Grenfell victims in London in June 2017
The embattled London Fire Brigade chief today slammed the Grenfell Tower inquiry report for criticising firefighters for their response to the blaze.
Dany Cotton, who plans to retire next April aged 50 on a pension worth up to £2million, said she was ‘disappointed’ by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report into the blaze in West London in 2017.
The commissioner has been angered that her ‘individual staff members’ were criticised despite being ‘in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others’.
Her response comes after the report accused her of ‘remarkable insensitivity’ after she said she would not have done anything differently on the night.
She infamously told the inquiry that preparing for the North Kensington fire would have been akin to preparing for landing a spaceship on the Shard.
But Sir Martin said her evidence ‘only serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire’.
Firefighters gather at Grenfell Tower in West London after the blaze engulfed it in June 2017
Today, in a statement, Ms Cotton said: ‘We welcome the Chairman’s recognition of the courage, commitment and bravery of firefighters on the night.
‘But we are disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others.
‘On the evacuation of Grenfell Tower we note the Chairman states he has received no expert evidence to guide him on reaching his conclusion and that a qualitative judgement on the Brigade’s approach might be better reserved for Phase 2.’
Survivors of the Grenfell Tower inferno have condemned Ms Cotton for retiring with a £2million pension pot, saying she has been ‘paid off for doing a deadly job’.
Rukayet Mamudu (left), 71, who survived the fire after carrying her son Tyrshondre (both left), 12, and Nabil Choucair (right), who lost six relatives in the fire, both criticised Ms Cotton
The report found that systemic failures by the LFB increased the number of deaths because it told residents to ‘stay put’ in flats for almost two hours after the first 999 call.
Miss Cotton was lambasted in the report for ‘remarkable insensitivity’ in her evidence to the public inquiry in September last year.
Sir Martin, a retired judge who chaired the inquiry, said her attitude meant the brigade was at risk of failing to learn the lessons from Grenfell.
He also highlighted her apparent lack of curiosity on arriving at the inferno at around 3am on June 14, 2017.
A team of exhausted firefighters rest at the scene of the blaze in North Kensington in June 2017
She was told the notorious ‘stay-put’ advice had just been abandoned, but asked no follow-up questions.
Miss Cotton, whose annual pay package is worth £234,000, provoked anger when she told the inquiry she ‘would not change anything we did on the night’.
The 50-year-old fire chief is retiring in April on a full pension estimated to be worth up to £2million after 32 years of service.
She will have served as commissioner for three years and three months – six years fewer than her predecessor, Ron Dobson, who continued until he was 57.
A graphic showing the people who died on the various floors of Grenfell Tower in June 2017
Rukayet Mamudu, 71, who escaped in her dressing gown carrying her adopted 12-year-old son, said Miss Cotton should be stripped of her pension.
‘She should not get any pay-off,’ she said. ‘She should not be paid off for doing a deadly job. I am very angry.
‘Dany Cotton should be made to pay the consequences of the fire brigade being so unprepared and for their inflexibility and failure to respond to events on the ground.’
Nabil Choucair, who lost six family members in the blaze, said Miss Cotton’s pension pot was ‘like winning the lottery’.
He said: ‘She doesn’t deserve it. Her not doing her job, or what she should have done, resulted in a lot of people dying. And she deserves an early retirement payout?
‘I don’t think so. I don’t think she’s setting a good example. She’s just showing how if something goes wrong, this is how you get out of it – by retiring early. Whoever is responsible needs to be held accountable – not rewarded.’
Miss Cotton, who became the fire brigade’s first female commissioner in 2017, has previously compared the sight of flames ripping through the tower block to a ‘disaster movie’.
She said the fire was ‘the most difficult thing’ she had dealt with in her career, saying that she has suffered memory loss and received counselling.
The Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, West London, in June 2017 left 72 people dead
In her testimony, she also claimed no training could have prepared the fire crews, saying: ‘I wouldn’t develop a training package for a space shuttle to land in front of the Shard.’
Sir Martin’s report describes the lack of training at the fire services as an ‘institutional’ failure.
He concludes: ‘Quite apart from its remarkable insensitivity to the families of the deceased and to those who escaped, the commissioner’s evidence that she would not change anything about the response of the LFB, even with hindsight, serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the fire.’
He also says Miss Cotton’s evidence ‘betrayed an unwillingness to confront the fact that by 2017 the LFB knew (even if she personally did not) that there was a more than negligible risk of a serious fire in a high-rise building with a cladding system’.
Grenfell Tower in West London burns hours after the blaze swept through it in June 2017
Miss Cotton joined the brigade aged 18 as one of 30 female London firefighters.
The 935-page report into events on the night was published today. Sir Martin makes 46 recommendations following a two-year investigation.
He says the ‘principal reason’ why the flames shot up the 24-storey high rise was the combustible aluminium cladding used in the refurbishment.
The report also concludes the fire started as the result of an ‘electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer’ in a fourth floor flat.
Part two of the inquiry examining the circumstances and causes of the disaster begins in January.
‘We are disappointed at some of the criticism’ Full statement by London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said: ‘On behalf of London Fire Brigade I want to express our deepest sorrow at not being able to save all those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. The suffering of the bereaved, survivors and community will never be forgotten by any of us in the Brigade.
‘The Inquiry’s report details from the start that fire spread to the top of the building within 20 minutes. It was an unprecedented residential building fire, precipitated by significant failings of the building’s fire safety measures which created impossible conditions that residents and the emergency services must never be placed in again.
‘We will now carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety. Many of the recommendations are welcome and will need to be fully understood not only by London Fire Brigade, but by government, every fire and rescue service and every residential building owner and manager across the country.
‘The report is focused on our response and it is right for our actions to be fully examined by the Inquiry. We welcome the Chairman’s recognition of the courage, commitment and bravery of firefighters on the night, but we are disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others. On the evacuation of Grenfell Tower we note the Chairman states* he has received no expert evidence to guide him on reaching his conclusion and that a qualitative judgement on the Brigade’s approach might be better reserved for Phase 2.
‘We are also disappointed that measures we have been calling for are not in the recommendations, including the wider use of sprinklers in both new and existing buildings.
‘We have made, and will continue to review and make changes to our policies, our training and our equipment. We are lobbying for major building regulation change and urgent research into ‘buildings that fail’ on fire safety, which leaves the national ‘stay put’ strategy no longer viable. We will never give up until all of the changes we are calling for to protect residents have been made.
‘We have and will continue to fully assist the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to understand what happened in order to learn and prevent such a tragedy ever happening again.’
* Chapter 28, The Incident Ground, paragraph 28.5.