People who live in high-rise social housing blocks are still at “significant risk” of future fires, the Grenfell Tower inquiry has heard.
Danny Friedman QC, who represents a group of bereaved people, survivors and residents of the west London tower block, told the hearing that Britain currently has an “unstable fire regulatory system” and a fire service that is “incompetent to meet contemporary challenges”.
His comments came as the panel, led by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, heard opening statements in Phase 2, module 5, of the inquiry, which looks at the topic of firefighting.
The panel also heard opening submissions from lawyers representing London mayor Sadiq Khan, the Fire Brigades Union, the Fire Officers Association and the London Fire Commissioner, who spoke on behalf of the London Fire Brigade.
The inquiry is being held to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower on the night of June 14 2017.
The fatal blaze led to the deaths of 72 people after flames quickly spread through the 24-storey building in north Kensington.
On Monday, Mr Friedman told the panel that the fire regulatory system and fire service “need fixing.”
He added: “Until that happens, those who live in high rise social housing will continue to be at significant risk.
“Grenfell Tower showed them (to be) least likely to be protected from fire and most likely to be dependent on effective fire service response.
“The LFB (London Fire Brigade) was brave at Grenfell Tower but it was not effective.
“There was a time and a place in this inquiry to deal with deregulation and austerity.
“But the fire service leadership and the Fire Brigade Union need to be far more introspective than they currently are in acknowledging how they can be more part of the solution rather than the problem.”
Leslie Thomas QC, representing a separate group of bereaved people, survivors and residents, said the evidence disclosed to the inquiry demonstrated the London Fire Brigade is “in urgent need of reform”.
He told the panel: “Our clients are concerned that the London Fire Brigade is an institution incapable of reforming itself from within… given the implications for public safety, this overhaul cannot wait.”
Mr Thomas also called for proper funding from the Government for the fire service to help aid its transformation, adding: “Safety in lives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of austerity.”
Anne Studd QC, representing London mayor Sadiq Khan, told the inquiry that since the creation of the London Fire Commissioner, the governing body of LFB, in April 2018, there is now a “more direct oversight and scrutiny” by the mayor.
She added that 18 out of 29 recommendations made by the panel in a report from Phase 1 have been completed and Mr Khan was working to implement the remainder.
In addition, Mr Khan was calling for a “permanent annual increase in funding” to carry out fire protection activity on buildings across London until they are safer.
Martin Seaward QC, representing the Fire Brigades Union, told the inquiry the union supported some aspects for reforming the fire service but warned any further structural reform “will be seized upon by central government as an opportunity for further cuts.”
He added that any future reforms must include “proper engagement and consultation with the unions”.
Stephen Walsh QC, representing the London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe who was appointed in January 2020, said Mr Roe has been clear that large organisations “must always develop policy procedure through learning from experience”.
He added the brigade was also tackling any challenges it is facing “head on”.
“The London Fire’s Commissioner’s paramount consideration is and always has been to protect the safety of Londoners in case of fire and other emergencies.
“The interests of the bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell Tower remain at the very heart of the LFB’s continuing commitment to learn from the tragic events of June 14 and to affect meaningful change wherever possible.”
The hearing continues.