Families of Grenfell Tower victims welcome fire chief's early retirement as 'a step forward'

Ellena Cruse
Commissioner Dany Cotton, left will step down earlier than expected after a public inquiry criticised the LFB's response to the Grenfell fire: Pa/ Getty Images

The families of Grenfell Tower victims have welcomed the early retirement of London's fire chief as a "step forward".

Dany Cotton, London Fire Brigade's commissioner, is to leave her role at the end of this month in the wake of criticism over the service's response to the fire.

She will retire earlier than expected, as she had been due to retire in April 2020 after 32 years of service.

The capital’s first female fire chief had previously resisted calls from Grenfell families to resign following a critical public inquiry report.

Nabil Choucair, who lost six family members in the fire, said: “It’s a shame that it’s taken pressure from the families."

Dany Cotton faced pressure from bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell fire to resign after a public inquiry (PA)

“If she cared and understood, she would have done it a long time ago. It should not have taken this long, it’s a disgrace.”

Flora Neda, who lost her husband in the blaze, said she was “happy” about the news.

“It makes us feel not quite as hopeless, it gives us hope that justice will be done,” she said.

Three billboards by Campaign group Justice4Grenfell drive to and from Grenfell Tower in west London on the day the first report from the public inquiry into the fire which claimed 72 lives is published (PA)

A representative of the Grenfell Next of Kin group said they had met with London Mayor Sadiq Khan last month and thanked him for “hearing our voices” and for his swift action.

“He has exercised wisdom and the right judgment after careful consideration and we are grateful,” she said.

“This is quite a milestone really. In the scheme of things, it’s a small step forward.

“It was really upsetting and frustrating it took this long. It wasn’t a lot to ask.”

The fire at Grenfell Tower (JEREMY SELWYN)

The first report from the Grenfell Inquiry found that the London Fire Brigade (LFB)’s preparation for a tower block fire such as that at Grenfell was “gravely inadequate” and its lack of an evacuation plan was a “major omission”.

Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick said more lives could have been saved in the June 2017 fire had the brigade’s “stay-put” policy been abandoned sooner.

Ms Cotton welcomed the report’s recommendations, saying they would be “carefully and fully” considered by senior officers.

A burned out flat inside the tower

Commenting on her retirement, Ms Cotton said she was “proud” and “honoured” to have served alongside London fire service staff during her career.

She added: “I will never forget tragedies like the Clapham Junction rail disaster or the acts of terrorism that we have faced, but Grenfell Tower was without doubt the worst fire we had ever experienced.

“The brigade has and will keep making the changes it can make and continue its fight for all of the other changes that are needed, to prevent such a terrible incident and loss of life from happening again.”

LFB said it had agreed with City Hall to bring forward Ms Cotton’s retirement “to enable a timely handover” to the next commissioner.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan thanked Ms Cotton, saying her replacement would be appointed “to drive forward the changes being made within the brigade, and to deliver on the recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report”.

The LFB said interviews for the role of commissioner would take place this month.

Grenfell United, a group for bereaved families and survivors, said: “This change in leadership is needed to keep Londoners safe.”

It added: “The phase one report has important recommendations for the LFB. The incoming commissioner must ensure that they move swiftly to ensure those recommendations are implemented.”

Tribute messages on a wall near the Grenfell Tower. (PA)

A spokeswoman for campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell said: “If the suggestion is that actually she’s stepped down so that somebody else can take over to drive forward the changes that have been suggested from phase one, then that’s positive.

“However, if she steps down and no change happens, especially because there’s not the political will at central government level, then four months has made very little difference.”

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