By David Hennessy
Willie Thomson, an Irish survivor of the Grenfell Tower fire says another tragedy like it could happen again, fire chief Dany Cotton should be sacked with no pension and the people responsible for the blaze should face criminal proceedings.
The fire that broke out at the 24-storey tower on 14 June 2017 killed 72 people. Willie and his family survived but others paid the price for following the instructions to stay put. Last week’s report into the fire found the ‘stay put’ policy should have been abandoned sooner and cost lives. Cladding that did not meet safety standards has been identified as the reason why the fire could not be contained, instead spreading quickly through the building.
Willie told The Irish World: “Grenfell could happen again.
“The private sector has been given a lot of money to take cladding off their buildings. It was highlighted yesterday in parliament, the cladding’s not been taken down even though the owners of these high rise buildings have been paid to take it down.
“Unless someone puts real pressure on them to get this cladding off every building, Grenfell could happen again.
“Part of Grenfell United’s goal is to have the cladding taken off every building so that Grenfell can’t happen again. The private sector are very, very slow. After receiving the money to take the cladding off the buildings, they’re extremely slow in doing it.
“It’s legal to have this cladding on buildings up to six floors, we need to push for that to be made illegal as well. Don’t put the thing on the buildings and this can’t happen.”
The cladding was put on when the building was refurbished in 2015, “They were regenerating the area and I guesss Grenfell wasn’t pretty enough for them so they stuck the cheapest material they could find. They had to know it was flammable but didn’t care, they just stuck it on it. It can’t be not made public that the interior was just as bad.
“I think the best highlight to come out of the report was the chairman saying the building wasn’t fit for purpose so basically the building was illegal. It’s a huge step forward.”
The London Fire Brigade’s Commissioner Dany Cotton has said she won’t resign despite the loud calls for her to do so. She also offended many people when she said she would not do anything differently: “She should be sacked, absolutely. No two ways about it. Dany Cotton should be sacked. There should be no pension, there should be nothing for her. If I had my way, she would be in jail. Her remarks were beyond contempt. She is the lowest form of life. She should be sacked. Lots of the fire officers on the night should be sacked, they just didn’t do their job.
“London Fire Brigade, London Police, Ambulance service all made it a major incident but all made it a major incident at different times. It proves that there was no communication between any of them. They were working singularly instead of as a team. Everything that could go wrong went wrong on the night.
“I think this report has highlighted all those failures. If it helps to avoid another Grenfell, that’s our aim too.”
Reynobond PE, a cheaper alternative to fire-resistant zinc cladding, was used to save money: “Our aim is to get these people in court and have them found guilty.
“The people responsible for this will be in court. They’re all blaming each other: ‘They manufactured this material, we just bought it’. They’ll be all in court.
“We’ve got to sit there and face them, we’ve got to sit in court with them. There can’t be no video court. They’ve got to stand up in that court room.”
Willie learned of the fire when a neighbour came to his door at roughly 1am to tell him about it. Willie cited the protocol to stay put as fires would be contained. However, when he saw smoke coming from the lift shaft, he knew he had to get himself and his family out of the tower block he had lived in since 1987. Leaving via a narrow staircase, the only way out, they met fire fighters trying to get up.
While watching the building burn at roughly 1.30am, Willie could see that the stay put policy should be abandoned and it should have been a rescue mission. The policy was not abandoned until 2.47am.
“It was very likely more lives could have been saved. 2.47am was over an hour later. People died in that hour.
“It’s hard to get rid of it (the nightmares and images from that night). You should never be looking at your friends shouting, screaming and nobody doing anything.”
Willie was happy overall with the report that came out last week and says other survivors are, broadly speaking, of the same opinion: “He (Inquiry Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick) gave praise to those who deserved praise. There wasn’t many that deserved praise in our opinion and he heavily criticised those who deserved criticism.
“He highlighted the systematic failure of the three major institutions: The Fire Brigade, the Metropolitan Police and the London Ambulance Service. He pointed out the mistakes. He didn’t hold any punches back so definitely it’s a really good report.”