Firefighters and police officers who faced the horrors of the Grenfell Tower disaster are suing for at least £1 million in damages over trauma they suffered while tackling the devastating blaze.
Scores of the emergency service workers who witnessed the inferno and entered the doomed building to search for survivors have now launched legal claims at the High Court.
They are demanding compensation for the long-lasting “mental scars” of that night as well as injuries they say they have suffered as they endured searing heat and dodged debris from the burning tower block, and fear they may now be at risk of respiratory disease and cancer.
The devastating fire started in the early hours of June 14, 2017, from a faulty fridge-freezer on the fourth floor, with 72 lives lost and many more left injured, bereaved, and homeless as flames engulfed the 24-storey block.
The first phase of a public inquiry concluded that cladding on the outside of the tower – installed during a disastrous refurbishment – was responsible for the rapid spread of the fire.
In March this year, legal proceedings were initiated by 88 victims of the blaze, including former Grenfell residents and families of those who died. They are seeking damages from Kensington and Chelsea council and its arms-length Tenant Management Organisation (TMO).
Almost 100 firefighters and 29 Met Police officers and staff launched their own legal action earlier this month, filing claims at the High Court against the council, the TMO, eight firms involved in the refurbishments of Grenfell, and London Fire Brigade. The police officers are also suing the office of the Met Police commissioner.
Firefighter Christopher Batcheldor is among those seeking damages, having tearfully told the inquiry in 2018 how he had to tell Zainab Deen that she and her son would be saved despite knowing crews could not reach them.
“I basically lied to her and continued to tell her that we were coming for her”, he said, recalling the heart-breaking hour-long call during which Ms Deen’s young son died.
She told him “I want to be with my son” and the firefighter said he replied: “Don’t talk like that. We are coming for you. Don’t give up.”
Another of the firefighters, Steve O’Donoghue, braved scorching temperatures, smoke-filled stairwells, and tennis ball-sized pieces of debris to rescue a young girl from the burning building, telling the inquiry: “I can only describe the scene as Armageddon.”
Aisha Jabin was in the fire brigade control room as it was flooded with desperate 999 calls from Grenfell residents, and spoke to victim Deborah Lamprell in her final moments as she became trapped on the 23rd floor.
“As I drove home I could hear Debbie’s voice in my head and I cried a lot,” she said. “Thinking about that and hearing the baby in the background made it very, very tough and upsetting.”
Sid-Ali Atmani, who lived on the 15th floor with his wife and daughter, is leading a damages claim by survivors and the relatives of those who died.
He suffered smoke inhalation as he heroically helped a disabled man to escape from the building.
Jhangir Mahmood, from law firm Bishop Lloyd and Jackson Solicitors Limited which is bringing the claim, called on the council and the TMO to “do the right thing and admit liability and compensate our clients”.
“Our clients want justice and to move on with their lives and RBKC can and should help them in this very difficult process”, he said. “They will suffer for the rest of their lives and this can be eased by RBKC not protracting this case.”
Vincent Reynolds, from Thompsons solicitors, representing 97 firefighters, said today: “Decisions were made at Grenfell which placed profits above safety and led to the tragic events of the night of 14 June 2017. The firefighters who attended on the night, and in the days after the fire, were placed in an extraordinary, extremely dangerous and harrowing situation.
“It has affected their lives, and many continue to have nightmares about what they saw and had to do. They have suffered physical and psychological injuries, and we are concerned that some may later suffer from lung conditions or cancers, which won’t necessarily develop for a number of years.”
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Met Police Federation, said its members are making personal injury claims with the support of Scotland Yard.
“The Grenfell Tower fire was a horrific incident for every person involved, and led to 72 people tragically losing their lives”, he said. “Many of our members attended the scene on the night of the fire, and subsequently as the investigation progressed some of the members were understandably affected by what they saw that night.”
When contacted by the Standard, the council said: “Full details of these claims are yet to be served, so it would be wrong to comment further at this stage.” The TMO said it will respond within the court process once served with the papers.
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “This is an on-going legal process and for that reason we are unable to comment further at this stage.”
Scotland Yard said: “We are aware of the claims lodged in the High Court against the Commissioner in relation to the Grenfell Tower fire. It would be inappropriate to discuss further at this early stage.”
Private firms involved in the refurbishment – Rydon Maintenance, Studio E Architects, Harley Facades, CS Stokes, and CEP Architectural Facades, – have all been contacted for comment. Fire safety specialists Exova, insulation manufacturer Celotex, and Arconic Architectural Products declined to comment on the case.