The London Fire Brigade (LFB) is trying to “minimise” its role in the deaths at Grenfell Tower by refusing to discuss compensation with survivors, the High Court heard on Wednesday.
Legal action has been launched by nearly 1,000 survivors and relatives bereaved by the inferno in 2017, which led to 72 deaths, and around 140 emergency responders.
They are seeking compensation from defendants including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), which owned the block, Arconic, the maker of the combustible cladding sheeting blamed for fuelling the blaze, and the LFB.
On Wednesday, a hearing was held at the High Court in London to deal with the mammoth case, where it was agreed a nine-month pause should take place to allow the parties time to try to settle the claims without the need for a trial.
The LFB, however, was accused during the hearing of trying to avoid taking responsibility for the scale of the losses suffered that night.
It comes after the brigade was excoriated for its response to the fire by a public inquiry, which heard commanders took nearly two hours to order a full evacuation of the tower.
Leigh-Ann Mulcahy QC, representing RBKC and its tenant management organisation (TMO), said her clients supported the pause to try to ensure compensation agreements could be reached swiftly.
She said it would help to “avoid the additional trauma, delay and cost that will be inherent” in pursuing the litigation.
Ms Mulcahy told the hearing the London Fire commissioner suggested that RBKC and the TMO “should simply deal with all the claims” themselves, rather than assisting the process.
She said: “It is surprising and disappointing to note that, despite also being a public authority defendant and having been heavily criticised by Sir Martin Moore-Bick in phase one of the inquiry – both for its planning and response to the Grenfell fire, which it is said would have led to the saving of many more lives had a change been made earlier to the advice to ‘stay put’ – it’s unfortunate that the London Fire Commissioner is seeking to deflect all responsibility for resolving these claims on to other defendants, in particular my clients, while minimising the London Fire Brigade’s own role and accountability for the loss of life and injuries which forms the subject of these claims.”
Survivors and the bereaved remember the 72 victims four years after the fatal fire at Grenfell Tower
Credit: Guy Smallman
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She urged the commissioner, a post currently held by Andy Roe, to “do the right thing, which is to do everything in his power to assist in achieving the early resolution of these claims”.
The alleged impasse comes after Sir Martin, chairman of the inquiry into the disaster, warned in his 2019 report that the LFB was “an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire”.
He made the comments in response to Dany Cotton, the former LFB commissioner, who told the inquiry she would not change anything about the response of the brigade that night.
Sir Martin also concluded “many more lives” could have been saved if a prompt evacuation of the tower was ordered by the LFB commanders.