London Fire Brigade heavily criticized for Grenfell Tower blaze

Smoke rises from a fire in the Grenfell Tower building in west London. A report is due to be released Wednesday Oct. 30, 2019. (AP/ File Photo)
Updated 29 October 2019

London Fire Brigade heavily criticized for Grenfell Tower blaze

  • Some activists said they brought fire-safety concerns to the local government body responsible for the building even before the blaze
  • There was no immediate reaction to the fire report, since it was leaked

LONDON: A report on a deadly apartment block fire in London condemned the London Fire Brigade and concluded that fewer people would have died if the building were evacuated more quickly.
Britain’s Press Association said the leaked report, which was to be published Wednesday, also accused brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton of “remarkable insensitivity” for testifying that she would not have done anything differently in the early hours of the June 14, 2017 blaze that killed 72 people at Grenfell Tower.
Inquiry chairman Martin Moore-Bick criticized a fire department policy that led to residents in the public housing building being told to stay in their apartments to await rescue. The order remained in place for nearly two hours after the blaze broke out just before 1 a.m., and was not rescinded until 2.47 a.m. as the building was engulfed in flames.
“That decision could and should have been made between 1:30 a.m. and 1:50 a.m. and would be likely to have resulted in fewer fatalities,” he said.
Moore-Beck said the “principal reason” the flames shot up the sides of Grenfell Tower was the presence of relatively new combustible aluminum composite cladding with polyethylene cores, which acted as a “source of fuel.” While he had not planned to determine whether the building complied with fire regulations at this stage in the investigation, Moore-Beck said there was compelling evidence that the tower’s external walls “actively promoted” the fire.
The report concluded the fire started as the result of an electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer but noted the resident of the apartment where the fire broke out bore no blame for the tragedy that killed so many people and displaced scores of families.
Some activists said they brought fire-safety concerns to the local government body responsible for the building even before the blaze.
There was no immediate reaction to the fire report, since it was leaked.
Those most directly involved in the Grenfell Tower tragedy were given an advance look at the document, but were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements until the report is officially released. Several organizations, including the London Fire Brigade, said they would only be able to respond on Wednesday when the report became public.


Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

Updated 34 min 51 sec ago

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

  • Hong Kong police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march
  • The protests had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks

HONG KONG: Police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who gathered in a central Hong Kong park, but later spilled onto the streets in violation of police orders.
Out in numbers before the demonstration began, police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march. Several units of police in riot gear were seen chasing protesters and several arrests were made.
A water cannon truck drove on central streets, flanked by an armored jeep, but was not used.
Organizers initially applied for a permit for a march, but police only agreed to a static rally in the park, saying previous marches have turned violent.
Once protesters spilled onto the streets, some of them, wearing all-black clothing, barricaded the roads with umbrellas and street furniture, dug up bricks from the pavement and smashed traffic lights.
The “Universal Siege Against Communism” demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of protests against the government since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The protests, which have since broadened to include demands for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police handling of the demonstrations, had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks.
In an apparent new tactic, police have been showing up ahead of time in riot gear, with officers conducting “stop and search” operations near expected demonstrations.
“Everyone understands that there’s a risk of stop-and-search or mass arrests. I appreciate Hong Kong people still come out courageously, despite the risk,” said organizer Ventus Lau.
On Jan 1, a march of tens of thousands of people ended with police firing tear gas to disperse crowds.
The gathering in the park was initially relaxed, with many families with children listening to speeches by activists.
In one corner, a group of volunteers set up a stand where people could leave messages on red cards for the lunar new year to be sent to those who have been arrested. One read: “Hong Kongers won’t give up. The future belongs to the youth”.
Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,000 people, many on charges of rioting that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years. It is unclear how many are still in custody.
Anger has grown over the months due to perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city, which was handed over to China by Britain in 1997 in a deal that ensured it enjoyed liberties unavailable in the mainland.
Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for fomenting unrest.