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FIREFIGHTERS’ union FBU warned the government about dangerous cladding almost two decades before the “entirely avoidable” Grenfell Tower fire, general secretary Matt Wrack said today.
He slammed cross-party “complacency” about fire policy a national scandal and said that the union told the Commons 19 years ago that certain cladding was a threat to life.
The warning followed a fire on June 11 1999 at the 14-storey Garnock Court block of flats in north Ayrshire.
William Linton, who was disabled and elderly, died as a result of the blaze that spread to the top floors within 10 minutes due to the cladding.
It led to the Scottish building regulations being strengthened to help prevent fire, but England and Wales did not follow suit.
At the time, the FBU said cladding could act as a “vehicle for assisting uncontrolled fire spread” which “poses a threat to the life safety of the residents” above the fire.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Wrack said: “Actually, that’s a prediction of what happened at Grenfell Tower. We didn’t expect it to happen on that scale, but we did warn of the possibility of that happening.
“And I think the scandal which lies behind it is that nobody has actually acted on the warning that was given after that fire in 1999.”
Mr Wrack was at the launch of the FBU report Background to an Atrocity, which includes a history of where government policy has gone wrong and when ministers “failed to listen” over the past 30 years.
The report calls for a new national body to be established to provide leadership on all fire matters after the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council was abolished in the 1980s.
It also points out that cuts to fire services continue even after the Grenfell Tower fire despite fire deaths being on the rise.
A total of 72 people died as a result of the Grenfell fire in June last year.
Yet, the report adds, nearly 12,000 firefighters have been axed since 2010.
Mr Wrack was joined by shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, whose constituency takes in the site of the covered-up and charred Grenfell Tower.
Justice for Grenfell group’s Moyra Samuels said that some of the north Kensington community were feeling increasingly frustrated with central government and its “lack of courage and compassion to ban cladding,” as well as Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for failing to oversee “dramatic change.”
Michael Mansfield QC, representing a group of bereaved and survivors at the Grenfell public inquiry, has submitted a list of “urgent” recommendations to ensure the safety of high-rise tenants across the country, which includes an immediate ban on cladding systems containing materials not classed as “non-combustible.”
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said that the government “intends to ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings and has been consulting on this basis.”
Lamiat Sabin is the Morning Star’s parliamentary reporter.
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