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A FORMER fire chief who supported cuts to stations, engines and firefighter numbers has been appointed to the witness panel of the Grenfell Tower inquiry.
The decision to hire ex-chief fire officer (CFO) Steve McGuirk as the first of two days of hearings began yesterday has sparked fury from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
Mr McGuirk was in a top role when the service was dismantled meaning it was less able to provide a fast, fully crewed response to fires and other incidents, the union said.
He was also a member of the then Chief Fire Officers Association’s presidential team, which advised central government on the very safety issues that are now being scrutinised in the public inquiry into the Grenfell fire.
Both he and Joyce Redfearn — another panel member, who is a retired clerk to the Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Authority — were also deputy lieutenants for Greater Manchester (ceremonial appointments representing the Queen), links that were not disclosed when the panel was announced.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “We need someone who supports much-needed investment into the diminishing fire and rescue service.
“Instead we have a former CFO who has effectively agreed that cutting jobs and fire engines, and closing down fire stations, is justified — he has said as much.
“To place him on the panel of an inquiry into the worst fire since WWII, during which the availability of fire-service resources will inevitably be explored, is irresponsible to say the least.”
Following the FBU’s complaint, the inquiry has promised the union the opportunity to challenge Mr McGuirk’s evidence.
The FBU has also sought permission for an operational firefighter expert to be put on the panel to provide additional evidence and to give an independent peer review of Mr McGuirk’s evidence.
The union wants assurances from the inquiry team that all of the assessors and experts have been asked to declare any involvement in or association with firms that may have installed cladding or insulation windows to high rise residential blocks.
The union has also asked that the first phase of the inquiry proceed without further delay, and in tandem with the police investigation, instead of awaiting its outcome.
In the two-day hearing Sir Martin Moore-Bick will examine the best way for witnesses to the disaster to give evidence.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of “failing” survivors of the fire after survivors’ group Grenfell United said last week that 118 families would still be in emergency accommodation over Christmas or staying with friends.
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