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The fire chief and aftermath of Grenfell

27 June, 2019 — By John Gulliver

London fire brigade commissioner Dany Cotton

I MET Dany Cotton, London’s first woman fire chief, in south London last year at a ceremony to unveil a plaque to a black wartime firefighter, George Arthur Roberts.

She was genial, composed and confident in her new role after 30 years in the service.

Today she is under attack by victims of the Grenfell disaster who have criticised her for taking early retirement before a verdict is delivered by the inquiry into the fire.

She upset survivors by saying she “would not change anything” she did that night in June 2017. She wasn’t in opera­tional charge and didn’t arrive until about 90 minutes after the fire begun but fierce criticisms were levelled again at fire fighters who told tenants to “stay put” in their flats until rescued.

Dany Cotton is an easy target. She cannot be held solely responsible for a “stay put” policy that hadn’t taken into account “what if” the cladding, thought to be fire-proof, became inflammable?

There is a certain “institutional” mind that doesn’t dig too deeply into problems – to be found in any sphere of operation.

Here in Camden, the suspect cladding at the Chalcots estate was quickly removed by the council, but the privately financed refurbishment project on tower blocks, such as Taplow, was botched in part. Who “signed it off”? Who oversaw the project? This is still unclear. The Town Hall remains silent.

At Grenfell, the culprits are to be found among the manufacturers of the cladding, and the Kensington & Chelsea council officials who, in effect, failed in their duties.


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