The Grenfell Tower Fire: Benign Neglect and the Road to Avoidable Tragedy

Tony Prosser and Mark Taylor

Everybody is aware of the tragic events of the early hours of July 14th, 2017, and many words have been written, but none as insightful as this book.

The authors, Tony Prosser and Mark Taylor are both retired Senior Officers form the West Midlands Fire Service, England’s second biggest Metropolitan brigade, and have a wealth of experience in fighting fires of all types and sizes. They now run a successful business, Artemis Training and Development, training Fire Officers across England and Wales in all levels of Command and Control before assessing and awarding National Skills for Justice qualifications to successful candidates.

Given their experience it is not surprising that this Forensic examination of the incident is so well evidenced.

The book doesn’t just take a look at the fire. As the title suggests it looks at the timeline of events that should have predicted such a fire would take place. It looks at previous incidents which highlighted the factors which led to the fires in high rise blocks spreading beyond the compartments which were designed to confine them.

By looking at the history of Social Housing, Fire Safety in Domestic Dwellings, Building Regulations and the introduction of the Regulatory Reform Act, the book plots the timeline of the domino effect, which ultimately led to the final domino tumbling on that July night in 2017.

Before looking at the incident the authors look at the training of those who had to fight it. Not the individual personnel on the fireground that night, but the national collective. This incident could have happened in any City in the UK, and so the national requirements of Firefighter recruitment, progression training, professional qualifications, and the roles carried out in the rank structure of the modern Fire Service, are all looked at in a factual and unbiased way.

The book looks at the effect the Baine Report of 2002 had on the structure of the Fire Service in England and Wales and how that has influenced the weight and speed of response to incidents attended by the Fire Service.

To help to understand the way the fire spread, and why so many failings in the structure contributed to the speed and development of it, there is a section devoted to the Construction of high-rise Buildings, and the fire safety measures employed in them. 

Another chapter is devoted to high-rise firefighting, the problems encountered by fire crews and the procedures they should carry out.

This allows the reader to have some insight into what the fire crews expected at a fire in a domestic property within a high-rise building, and how they would approach the incident under what, up till that night, had been usual circumstances.

At the beginning of the chapter that looks at the incident, the authors describe how they have attempted to portray the events by saying,

“We have therefore attempted to consider the fire service’s operations of that night in the context of what was happening in the UK FRS as a whole, and from the perspective of a competent, reasonably well- informed UK Firefighter”

Something they have achieved in a way that all readers will find explains the actions of the Fire Crews in a matter of fact manner, using data and evidence which was supplied to Phase One of the Public Enquiry.

The Public Inquiry did not take into consideration what any reasonably, and well-informed firefighter would have done on that night. Prosser and Taylor have, they have interviewed Fire Officers and discussed the incident, unsurprisingly the majority of experienced Officer spoken to state that they would have made many of the same decisions, especially surrounding the evacuation policies.

The book is a time line. The first chapters of the book look at significant events before the fire in Grenfell Tower, including Fire Service training and procedures. It then looks at the incident. But perhaps the most significant chapters are the final ones entitled Aftermath, Inquires and the Blame Game and finally A Brave New World. 

These chapters look at what happened in the immediate aftermath of the fire. How different agencies and companies reacted to the incident.

They look at Phase One of the Inquiry and the outcome of the recommendations on the Fire Service.

Anybody who understands Fire Safety Legislation, will be aware of the phrase “after the horse has bolted” and its used in the book to show how things changed after some landmark incidents. Will there be a Brave New World? Or will industry and legislation just wait for the next Grenfell.

The final chapter considers the landscape in which public services operate, and what impact any changes could have on the way they prevent and respond to large scale emergencies.

It is not many, if any, “industry” books that I have read from cover-to-cover, but this one I did.

In my opinion this book should be on every fire station in the country. Prosser and Taylor have put together a well-reasoned, unbiased book, which sets out the path to Grenfell.

This is not a book which looks to apportion blame, or dissolve blame by looking for mitigating circumstances. It lays out what happened, why it happened, and why those firefighters that fought the fire acted in the way they did.

For none Fire Service readers it will explain the expectations a firefighter had of how the fire should have developed, and explains the tactics used by the crews on the scene.

There is nobody that cannot learn something from reading this book.

Pages: 390

Publisher: Pavilion Publishing and Media.

Playing With Fire Kerry Wilkinson






Seven years ago, a young lad, Alfie, has too much to drink and staggers home. He’s lost his wallet and can’t get a lift. Stopping at a derelict pub he decides to shelter from the weather and sleep inside for the night.

Unfortunately for him Martin Chadwick decides to burn the pub down that night, killing Alfie.

Martin is tried and convicted for manslaughter, and now he is being released from prison.

There have been threats against Chadwick so his release from prison is supervised by DS Jessica Daniel. In an unorthodox passage from prison Jess talks to Chadwick and finds him strangely humble.

At the same time, Private Detective Andrew Hunter is hired to find out who got a rich man’s daughter pregnant.

What follows is a series of arson attacks and some teenage suicides, but are they all connected, and if so, who is the connection.

During the investigation, Jess Daniels crosses paths with journalists and must rely on help from unexpected allies. At the same time she is dealing with issues in her private life.

The main thread of this story rotates around the arson attacks and the possible connections between them, and maybe the suicides.

Those of you who have read my bio will know that I spent 30 years in the Fire Service with 12 years as a Fire Scene Investigator.

There is a scene in this book which is the best I have ever read when describing events inside a fire.

This is reflective of the whole book, it’s a great story, well researched well written.

There is a great blend between the investigations and the private life of the main character. Jess Daniel has had a turbulent career. For those of you who haven’t read the other books in the series I would highly recommend that you put them straight to the top of your to-read-list.

Right I’m off to read more Kerry Wilkinson.

56 The Story of the Bradford Fire Martin Fletcher

56 The Story of the Bradford Fire

Martin Fletcher

bradford fire

Those of you that know a bit about me will know that I have more than a passing knowledge of fires and fire investigation, so when you read this blog you will know that it also comes with a healthy degree of expertise and knowledge.

I picked the book up last week and had read it within 48 hours, then I read it again over 3 or 4 days, just to make sure I hadn’t misread anything. This is without doubt one of the best accounts of a fire, as seen from a victims point of view, and as a piece of investigative writing,  I have ever read. Martin Fletcher if ever we meet let me buy you a coffee.

The first half of the book is autobiographical. Martin writes about his life leading up to the incident in 1985, his experiences at the fire, and his life after the fire. He reminisces about the family members he lost on the day, about decisions and actions he took on the day which ultimately led to his survival, and the grieving process he is still going through. Later in the book he mentions, fleetingly, that he suffers from PTSD but at no time in the book does he come across as self- pitying, or that he is looking for anybody’s empathy.  The second half of the book looks at his need to find out all of the facts about the fire. His mother was never happy with the outcome of the investigations surrounding the fire and subsequent Inquiry Chaired by Mr Justice Popplewell. Fletcher was too young at the time of the fire to realise what she was saying. As he grew older he began to understand her concerns. He heard story’s, and remembered remarks his father had made, about other fires in buildings belonging to the same man who owned Valley Parade at the time of the fire. He started to question the evidence given at the Inquiry when he noticed inconsistencies in the statements given by many of the people involved with the football club, the police on duty that day, and the expert fire investigators. He took months of his life to sit in research libraries to search out facts, and improve his understanding.

I have read in some newspapers that he is being berated for his campaign to have a new inquiry. I don’t see that. There is no malicious vendetta, there is no over exaggeration, there are no trumped up facts. It is a simple account laid out for all to see. Fletcher has taken facts and presented them in such a way that it should make it moralistically impossible for this incident not to be looked at again.

The book is written by a well-informed layman allowing anybody with an interest in this particular incident to read and understand the facts.  It is the remarkable story of a survivor of the incident and his troubled journey through his teens and young adulthood. It is the account of a man who is looking for answers, and to some extent finds them, but I don’t think it’s the end of his story just the first instalment.

I spent 30 years in the Fire Service, the final 12 as a specialist Fire Investigator. In 1985 fire investigation in this country was in its infancy. Some would say at that time most fire investigators were not much more than dust kickers. As a discipline and science, like all areas of forensic investigations, it has come on leaps and bounds. However there is a lot in this book that troubles me about the science, or lack of it, used in the testing of the investigators hypothesis as to the source of the ignition.

The book also raises concerns about the speed of the Inquiry, the fact that it commenced a few weeks after the fire and lasted for only a few days; where as other Inquiry’s into similar incidents, which happened pre and post the Bradford Fire, have taken years to come to fruition and months to be heard.  The fact that the Inquiry also embraced the investigation into another incident which happened on the same day, a riot in which a young boy died at Birmingham City Football Club, makes it seem more frivolous.

These days I lecture to students and professionals about fire investigation. I will recommend this book as essential reading and use it to set a project. That project will be entitled “How would you conduct this investigation if this incident happened today”. If the answer reflects the investigation which actually took place the student will fail.

As a little aside to this blog, and to explain why the Bradford Fire has always stuck in my memory let me tell you about what I was doing on the 11th of May 1985.

I was a fireman at Highgate Fire Station in the West Midlands. I can’t remember much about the morning; it would have been taken up by training and attending incidents like any other Saturday day shift.  At about 2.30 in the afternoon both of our appliances were mobilised to St Andrews, the home of Birmingham City Football Club, to a flare ignited in the stand. When we arrived we were met by Police Officers who told us there was a highly charged atmosphere in the ground and that the home fans had been fighting running battles, both inside and outside of the ground with the away team, Leeds United, fans. The officer asked us not to enter the ground as it might be inflammatory to the situation so our gaffer went in on his own to ensure there was no sign of a fire. He returned to the appliances and we drove back to the station.

Highgate Fire Station sits on top of a hill and from the mess room you could see St Andrews. Once the appliances were parked up back in the engine house we made our way up the stairs to the mess for a cup of tea. As we walked through the door the first thing we saw was the live pictures from Valley Parade showing the stand fully alight and people trying to escape. Everybody ran to the window to look at the Blues ground all of us thinking “what the hell did we leave behind”. Fortunately for us the fire was in another football ground.

As we sat transfixed by the images on the television we received another shout, “the bells went down” We were on our way back to St Andrews where a wall had collapsed during a riot that was taking place in and around the ground. This time when we arrived we had work to do, digging people out from under the rubble whilst the police tried to protect us from the missiles being hurled at us by so called football fans. This was the incident in which the young boy died and which made up the second half of the Popplewell Inquiry :-

I personally don’t  think much of that half either!!!