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'Emergency services were woefully unprepared': Bishop reacts to scathing Grenfell Tower fire report

by Tola Mbakwe

Fewer people might have died in the Grenfell Tower fire had residents been evacuated while it was still possible an official report into the tragedy said.

The public inquiry's first report into the blaze, due to be published on Wednesday but seen by the PA news agency, identified "systemic" failures by the London Fire Brigade (LFB).

Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick criticised the London Fire Brigade for its "stay-put" strategy when residents were told to remain in their flats by firefighters and 999 operators for nearly two hours after the blaze broke out just before 1am. The strategy was rescinded at 2.47am.

Rt Rev Graham Nichols, Bishop of Kensington, who was part of response and relief efforts, told Premier he was filled with 'admiration for the fire service and the way they responded, but on the other hand, he said there's been a feeling that if policy had been changed earlier, more people would have escaped from the fire.

"I think it illustrates something about the way we run our institutions," he said.

"Do you follow the rule of regulations write the way down to the last minute? Or do you respond to the needs of the time? 

"It seems to be obvious in some ways emergency services were overwhelmed by what happened with Grenfell Tower. Nothing had happened of that scale in London for years and they were rather woefully unprepared for it."

"And that's a great regret for them looking back on it."

Sir Martin also said "the LFB's preparation and planning for a fire such as that at Grenfell Tower was gravely inadequate."

He praised the heroics and bravery of individual firefighters, but described the "stay put" strategy as an "article of faith within the LFB so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable".

And he said those giving advice to trapped residents during 999 calls were "not aware of the danger of assuming that crews would always reach callers" -

The report also accused the brigade's commissioner Dany Cotton of "remarkable insensitivity" after she said she would not have done anything differently on the night.

Sir Martin said 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".

Cotton announced her retirement in June.

The report also concluded the fire, in which 72 people died, started as the result of an "electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer" in a fourth floor flat.

Sir Martin said Behailu Kebede, who had lived in the flat, bore no blame for the fire.

Bishop Graham said the Grenfell community has showed great resilience since the tragedy, but for many, the pain is till raw.

"There's a lot of pain around," he said.

"There's a lot of unresolved anguish in it. Until the wider questions are answered like how we look after social housing, how we live together in our communities...  till we find elements of resolution and justice I think it'll be hard to find closure for it."

He asked Christians to pray for families who still have very vivid moments of that night as they read the report.

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