PM's statement on the Grenfell Phase One report: 30 October 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a statement on the Grenfell Phase One report

Before I begin, let me say I will be making quite a lengthy speech this afternoon, reflecting the very comprehensive nature of the report.

So if Hon and Rt Hon members bear with me I am sure that I will address whatever issues they may be planning to intervene on.

Mr Speaker, the bereaved, the survivors, and the members of the north Kensington community joining us in the galleries today each have their own story to tell, their own perspective on what happened at Grenfell.

But, over the past two-and-a-half years, they have been united in their fight to uncover the truth.

It is not a fight they would ever have chosen.

But it is one that they have taken up with determination, with dedication, and with great dignity.

Yet their exceptional tenacity in seeking justice has not always been matched by their faith in the system’s ability to deliver.

This is no surprise.

After all, they have been let down many times before.

Too often overlooked and ignored in the months and years before the tragedy.

And, shamefully, failed by the institutions that were supposed to serve them in the days and weeks after it.

Since then the survivors, the bereaved and the local community have endured one unbearable milestone after another.

The funerals.

The anniversaries.

Giving and hearing evidence at the public inquiry.

The painful process of building a new life in a new home without loved ones and without treasured possessions.

And then the publication of this report today.

And all this while carrying with them the unimaginable trauma suffered that night.

I am very much aware that no report, no words, no apology will ever make good the loss suffered and the trauma experienced.

But I hope that the findings being published today, and the debate we are holding this afternoon, will bring some measure of comfort to those who suffered so much.

They asked for the truth.

We promised them the truth.

We owe them the truth.

And, today, the whole country, the whole world, is finally hearing the truth about what happened at Grenfell Tower on the 14th of June 2017.

When the sun rose over London that morning, it revealed an ugly scar of black smoke cutting across an otherwise clear blue summer sky – and, on the streets of north Kensington, a scene of horror and desperation.

Shortly before one o’clock that morning a faulty fridge-freezer had started a small fire in the kitchen of a flat on the fourth floor of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower.

The resident of that flat did everything right.

He raised the alarm, called the fire brigade, alerted his neighbours.

Within five minutes firefighters arrived to deal with what appeared to be a routine incident.

And in the normal course of events, the fire would have been contained, extinguished, and that would have been that.

But what happened that night was anything but normal.

And so, even before firefighters began to tackle the blaze on the inside of the tower, unbeknown to them flames were already beginning to race up the outside.

Just seven minutes after the first firefighters entered the kitchen on the fourth floor, a resident on the 22nd dialled 999 to report the blaze at her level, almost 200 feet higher up.

By 1:27am a column of fire had reached the roof. One whole side of the building was ablaze.

Dense smoke and searing flames, visible across the capital, began wrapping around the tower, penetrating its heart.

And by 1:30am, less than three-quarters-of-an-hour after it began, it was clear to those watching below that the inferno was completely out of control.

Grenfell Tower – filled that night with almost 300 souls in its 129 flats – was beyond saving.

The fire that shocked the nation and the world that June morning took the lives of 72 men, women and children.

The oldest, known simply as Sheila, was a poet, artist and great-grandmother, who had brought joy to many and seen and experienced much in her 84 years.

The youngest, Logan Gomes, had never even seen his own parents – he was stillborn hours after his mother made a narrow escape from the choking, noxious smoke.

Many who lived together died together: husbands and wives, parents and children, were found in each other’s arms.

Those who survived saw everything they owned reduced to dust and ash – wedding dresses, irreplaceable photographs, beloved children’s toys, all gone.

And the true scale of the trauma – the impact of the fire not only on those who survived but those who lost loved ones or witnessed its destruction – is unlikely ever to be known.

Grenfell represented the biggest loss of life in a single incident in the UK since the Hillsborough tragedy 28 years previously.

However my predecessor as Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Member for Maidenhead, was determined that there would be no repeat of the travesty that followed that disaster – which saw the friends and families of those who died forced to fight the establishment tooth and nail, year after year, decade after decade to secure justice for their loved ones.

That is why, just 15 days after the tragedy, the then Prime Minister appointed one of our most experienced and respected former judges, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to lead a rigorous, public and completely independent inquiry into what happened.

Sir Martin has today published his report on the first Phase of that inquiry, covering the events of 14 June.

The cause of the fire and its rapid spread, and the way in which emergency services and others handled the immediate response.

As the sponsoring Minister under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005, I have this morning laid copies of the report before Parliament.

I was in no doubt that the House should have the opportunity to debate it on the day of publication.

Grenfell was a national tragedy – and this is a report of great national importance.

However I recognise that Sir Martin has produced a very substantial piece of work, almost a thousand pages across four volumes.

And the vast majority of Hon and Rt Hon members will not yet therefore have had the opportunity to digest and analyse it in any great detail.

I believe that Members do have an important role to play in scrutinising such reports and the government’s response to them.

So let me reassure the House that we will seek to schedule a further debate on Sir Martin’s findings at the earliest suitable opportunity so that members can debate the report in detail.

This may obviously be after the election – but we will ensure it will happen.

But of course what happened in the hours that the fire raged is only half the story.

Phase two of the inquiry, which will start taking oral evidence early in the new year, will look at the wider context.

And this will include the nature and application of building regulations, the way in which local and central government responded to the fire, and the handling of concerns raised by tenants over many years.

Phase one sets out WHAT happened; phase two will explain WHY.

And such a complex process will inevitably take time.

Longer than any of us would wish.

But, as I said, we owe it to the people of Grenfell Tower to explain, once and for all and beyond all doubt, exactly why the tragedy unfolded as it did.

And, with the standard set by this first report, I am confident that is exactly what will happen.

Sir Martin’s work is exhaustive in its detail.

He provides an authoritative and often harrowing minute-by-minute account of the fire and its terrifying spread.

Led always by the facts, his recommendations are clear and numerous.

And where there are failings to be highlighted, Sir Martin does so without fear or favour.

Nowhere is that clearer than in Sir Martin’s verdict on the single biggest cause of this tragedy.

He leaves no doubt that the cladding on the exterior of Grenfell Tower was the defining factor in the rapid and all-consuming spread of the blaze.

It was the cladding – the aluminium composite material rain screen and the combustible insulation behind it – that ignited because of the fire in flat 16.

It was the cladding that allowed the flames to climb so rapidly up the outside of the tower, causing compartmentation to fail.

And it was the cladding that turned into molten plastic, raining fire on the streets of north Kensington and causing the blaze to travel down and down the building as well as up.

In short it was the cladding that turned a routine and containable kitchen fire into a disaster of unprecedented proportions that cost 72 people their lives.

Sir Martin is clear that the cladding on Grenfell Tower was fitted in breach of building regulations.

And why this was allowed to happen – and who was responsible for it – will be covered in phase two of his inquiry.

But we cannot afford to stand by and wait for his full conclusions.

As the report says, it is essential that all similar cladding is removed as quickly as possible.

That is why the previous Government established a fund to pay for the removal of such systems from tall residential buildings.

I’m pleased to say that all such buildings owned by central and local government have now had their cladding removed, and are undergoing work to remove it or at the very least have such work scheduled.

In the private sector progress is slower.

Too many building owners have not acted responsibly.

While the people living in those privately owned buildings are safe – round-the-clock fire patrols and other temporary measures ensure that is the case – I’m in no doubt they need a long-term and lasting solution.

Nearly all private high rise residential buildings where such cladding remains are now in line to have remedial work scheduled.

Where that is not case, the government will work with local authorities to take enforcement action if landlords refuse to deal with the problems themselves.

I think the House would agree they’ve had enough time.

There are no more excuses.

Make those buildings safe or face the consequences.

The cladding on Grenfell Tower caused the fire to spread out of control and to behave in ways nobody had seen before.

And this unprecedented fire created an unprecedented challenge for the many men and women sent to fight it.

Mr Speaker, since 2017 much has been written, from many perspectives, about the way in which the London Fire Brigade handled the unfolding disaster.

So let me be very clear from the start.

After examining all the evidence and listening to hundreds of witnesses and experts, Sir Martin does not call into doubt the actions or bravery of any of the rank-and-file firefighters dispatched to Grenfell Tower.

No one or any of us in this House or the Other Place.

As mayor of this great city I saw for myself the courage and commitment demonstrated by the men and women of the London Fire Brigade.

And as Sir Martin report bears that out, telling of firefighters exhibiting and I quote “extraordinary courage and selfless devotion to duty” as they pushed themselves “to and even beyond the limits of endurance”, facing choking smoke and temperatures as high as a thousand degrees Celsius.

Their work that night was nothing short of phenomenal.

However, Sir Martin concludes that the firefighters on duty that night were “faced with a situation for which they had not been properly prepared”.

He finds that the London Fire Brigade’s planning and training for such an incident were “gravely inadequate” and that on the night of the fire there were “serious deficiencies” I quote in command and control.

The report highlights a lack of co-ordination between emergency services – what Sir Martin calls a “serious failure” of stated policies.

And I think this will be the point that will be of most concern to those who lost loved ones – he finds that the failure to order an evacuation of the tower once the fire was clearly out of control most probably led to the deaths of individuals who could otherwise have been saved.

The so-called “stay put” policy is the bedrock on which all plans for fighting fires in tall residential buildings are based.

Building regulations are supposed to mean that fires cannot spread beyond individual flats, that they are compartmented.

When that is the case, it is indeed safest for most residents to stay in their homes until the fire is extinguished.

But at Grenfell, that was the not case.

The fire spread – both widely and rapidly – up, and down and across the tower.

The inquiry found that, by 1:30am, it was clear that compartmentation had failed.

By 1:50am it was still not too late to order an evacuation.

Yet, according to Sir Martin, senior officers simply could not conceive of a situation where compartmentation could fail so comprehensively.

In the report, “stay put” is described as such an article of faith within the fire service that senior officers were reluctant to let the reality before them override their training.

And as a result, the decision to order an evacuation was not taken until 2:35am – by which time the tower’s single staircase was already filling with impenetrable smoke.

Even after this time, poor and confused lines of communication meant that operators in the 999 control room were not aware that the advice had changed.

Swamped by the sheer volume of calls and dealing with a challenge well outside their experience and training, some continued to give conflicting advice to callers trapped inside the tower.

Sir Martin notes that many operators did not realise how all-encompassing the fire had become until well after 5am, when a lull in calls allowed them to check their phones and see images of the burning building for the first time.

Information gleaned from callers inside the tower was faithfully recorded, but only rarely made its way to firefighters who could act upon it.

While brave firefighters led many people to safety from inside the tower, Sir Martin concludes the chaos and confusion meant that some calls for help were not responded to until it was too late.

Sir Martin cautions against making judgements at a distance, and I agree with him wholeheartedly

It is very easy for us, on these green benches, to have 20:20 hindsight.

And we are not about to run into the heart of a fire that is blazing more than 200 feet into the night sky.

And while I believe it is vital that individuals are held accountable for their errors, we must do so carefully.

It is clear from this report that the firefighters on the ground were in a position they should never have been in…

Doing their damnedest to tackle a fire that should never have been allowed to happen.

But that does not absolve us of responsibility.

We must ensure that the failures identified by the inquiry are corrected.

For not only does Sir Martin highlight that mistakes made by the London Fire Brigade in responding to the Lakanal House fire were repeated, he also raises concerns that the London Fire Brigade is “at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire”.

It is vital that they do so.

And I’m sure everyone at the London Fire Brigade will want to do so.

Because, as an MP, as mayor or as a journalist, I have never met a firefighter who was anything less than totally committed to public safety.

And I will be working with the London Fire Brigade, the mayor’s office, and local authorities across London to ensure the lessons of Grenfell are learned and Londoners are made safer for it.

I can confirm that, where Sir Martin recommends responsibility for fire safety be taken on by central government, we will legislate accordingly.

And, more widely, we plan to accept, in principle, all of the recommendations that Sir Martin makes of central government.

We will set out how we plan to do so as quickly as possible.

But I can assure the House – and all those affected by the Grenfell tragedy – that where action is called for, action will follow.

Mr Speaker, for the survivors, the bereaved, and the local community this report will prove particularly harrowing.

Yet I hope it will strengthen their faith in Sir Martin’s desire to determine the facts of the fire – and this government’s commitment to airing those facts in public, no matter how difficult they may be, and acting on them.

That commitment is absolute.

Because if any good is to come of this senseless tragedy – a tragedy that should never have happened…

If it is to become a catalyst for a change in our approach to fire safety and indeed to social housing more widely, then we must get to the truth about what happened and why.

We must expose and fix the failings that allowed an otherwise safe building to become so dangerous…

That allowed a small kitchen fire to become a devastating inferno…

That led to so many people being told to stay in their homes when they could and should have been fleeing to safety.

The inquiry is a vital part of that.

I would like to thank Sir Martin and his team for all their work so far, and I know that all current and former ministers, civil servants and all public sector workers will fully co-operate with phase two.

But while I know that in uncovering the truth is very important to the survivors and bereaved, it is not the only aspect of the post-Grenfell story that requires our attention.

So we will continue – as the previous Prime Minister promised – to support the affected families, long after the television cameras are gone.

We will continue the work of the Grenfell Ministerial Recovery Group, which brings together the efforts of all parts of Government, central and local, in meeting the needs of the community.

We will continue work to ensure that a beautiful and appropriate memorial is created on the site of the tower – a process that is being led by the bereaved and the local community.

We will continue to make sure that those affected by the fire have an active and engaging role to play in implementing the lessons of Grenfell – including working closely with the Ministry of Housing to develop the policies in our social housing white paper.

We will continue to implement the findings of the Hackitt review of building regulations.

And I have asked the civil servants responsible for implementing Sir Martin’s recommendations to provide me with regular and frequent updates on their progress.

I will not allow the lessons of this tragedy to fall through the cracks.

Mr Speaker, the night of 14 June was a horrendous night.

But in the darkness we have also seen the best of humanity.

The residents who sacrificed their own lives to save their children or neighbours.

The local community that rallied around in such an incredible fashion, holding the survivors in a tight embrace as the authorities failed to step up.

And the people here with us today.

The bereaved and the survivors.

Those who would have every reason to hide away, but who have instead fought to uncover the truth about what happened that terrible night.

Who have forced themselves to relive, time and again, the kind of trauma that most of us, mercifully, cannot begin to imagine.

And who have dedicated so much of their lives in so many ways to ensuring that those who died on the 14th June 2017 will always be remembered.

To them I say once again that the truth will out.

That justice will be done.

And that Grenfell Tower and the people who called it home will never be forgotten.

Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street
The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP