Fire chief who quit over Grenfell says lessons from disasters overseas were not learned

A fire chief who quit after heavy criticism over the Grenfell Tower blaze has said lessons were not learnt from previous disasters overseas because senior officers assumed UK regulations meant one "could never happen here".

Dany Cotton, who led the London Fire Brigade (LFB) at the time of the 2017 tragedy in London, said the sharing of information about major fires between brigades in the UK had also been "generally poor".

She stepped down from the role in December 2019 after her response to the Grenfell fire was fiercely criticised by both survivors and Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the chairman of the public inquiry.

On Tuesday, Ms Cotton returned to give evidence to the inquiry about how the LFB approached its training and preparations in the years before the inferno killed 72 people.

She told the hearing of her time serving on the LFB’s operation directorates co-ordination board, which helps to oversee training and development, and indicated that there had been a failure to grasp the potential significance of fires abroad.

The inquiry has previously heard that the Grenfell fire had similarities to a 2015 blaze at the Marina Torch in Dubai, in which flames also spread up external cladding.

Ms Cotton said Graham Ellis, another fire chief at the LFB, "used to monitor, through an international forum, some of the operational incidents that were occurring".

She continued: "He was very interested in seeing what’s happening, and sometimes they would be the subject of conversation. But I have to say, predominantly the view was ‘thank goodness that could never happen in the United Kingdom because we have different regulations’.

"So although he would share information about fires overseas, the conversation that would predominate would always be around ‘thank goodness that could not be us’."

She denied, however, the suggestion by Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, that this represented a "missed opportunity".

Ms Cotton became commissioner of the LFB in January 2017, months before the Grenfell Tower fire that June.

She was criticised in the inquiry’s first report in 2019 for her comments during evidence about the night of the fire, when she said she would not change anything about the brigade’s response. Sir Martin said in his report that Ms Cotton had displayed "remarkable insensitivity".

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