by NADEEM BADSHAH
THE first phase of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry has been branded “ridiculous” and “unacceptable” by a campaigner for its criticism of firefighters’ actions on the night of the blaze.
Last week, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) was condemned for “serious shortcomings” and systemic failures in its response, including its advice to residents in the tower block to “stay put”.
The June 2017 tragedy resulted in 72 deaths, but there would have been fewer fatalities if the LFB had taken certain actions earlier, the report by inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick said.
The second phase of the inquiry in 2020 will probe the wider circumstances of the fire, including the design of the building.
Beinazir Lasharie fled her home with her husband and two children following the inferno.
Lasharie, who lived near the tower in west London, told Eastern Eye: “It is unbelievable, unacceptable. I was there when they went into the building with equipment which didn’t have the height needed for the building.
“It is scapegoating. I don’t think they should be made to [take the] blame. It is the policies behind the dangerous, flammable, cheap cladding.
“On their “stay put” advice, they didn’t know it was unprecedented, normally in a high rise building you can contain a fire.”
The former Labour councillor added: “It is ridiculous that they are being blamed for it. They got people out and evacuated my family.
“It is the politicians, the people who made the materials and didn’t equip the fire service [who are responsible]. I don’t think there is much hope of [the inquiry] being cost effective or to get to the bottom of it unless there are going to be major changes.”
Lasharie’s view was echoed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said it was not the firefighters “who diluted building regulations or put flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower.”
The inquiry has cost taxpayers at least £40 million so far, more than 100 times the savings made by swapping fire-retardant cladding on the council block for cheaper combustible panels that fuelled the fatal fire.
Most of the money went on more than 150 lawyers and legal fee earners representing the inquiry and the bereaved and survivors, according to accounts.
Meanwhile, a campaigner has expressed her frustration at the lack of progress in removing potentially dangerous cladding from buildings.
In May, the government announced a £200m fund to fix private tower blocks that are covered in aluminium composite (ACM) cladding from 170 privately owned high-rise buildings around England.
However, campaigners have said there are other types of dangerous materials that need to be replaced as well.
Ritu Saha lives in the Northpoint building in Bromley, southeast London, which is covered in
Grenfell-style cladding. She is a co-founder of the UK Cladding Action Group lobbying to make homes across the country safe.
Saha told Eastern Eye: “The worrying thing is tens or hundreds of thousands are living in [buildings with] dangerous cladding. We want to know who is responsible for this, allowing the material to be used for so many years by reputable developers.
“More than two years after Grenfell, we are still living in them. Our concern is that scope of the funding is extremely narrow. In Worcester Park and in Barking you had recent fires from non-ACM cladding and the fire spread rapidly.”
The university administrator added: “It is concerning that the government has not made a fund available for other unsafe cladding and left lease-holders to bear the huge costs. No progress has been made beyond the ACM fund. We are still living in an absolute nightmare situation.”
Reacting to the first phase of the inquiry, lawyer Aamer Anwar said the firefighters and the people of Grenfell were the true heroes “while a Conservative-led council and government valued making cuts rather than protecting life”.
He said: “Never forget that since 2010 we have seen 20 per cent of firefighters slashed and 10,000 fewer firefighters on duty.
“It would have only cost £300,000 to have fitted sprinklers in Grenfell which would have saved lives, and £4,000 would have meant a fire extinguisher on every floor.
“Yet £3m was spent on cladding the building in flammable plastic for the gentrification of the area. Who ordered that?”
Scotland Yard is continuing to investigate the Grenfell fire but said it will not bring any criminal charges until Moore-Bick’s inquiry is complete.
Prime minister Boris Johnson pledged that the government would name companies that were failing to replace unsafe cladding on their buildings. He added: “Too many building owners have not acted responsibly.”
The LFB said it was “disappointed” by some of the criticism of individuals in the inquiry.