November 5, 2019 / 11:29 AM / 9 days ago

UPDATE 1-UK's Rees-Mogg says 'common sense' could have saved Grenfell victims

(Adds reaction, apology)

LONDON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Prominent Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg drew criticism on Tuesday after he suggested that victims of the Grenfell Tower fire could have used common sense to ignore the instructions of the fire service and leave the burning building.

An official inquiry into the catastrophic chain of events in June 2017 that turned an ordinary kitchen fire into an inferno that killed 71 people last week found that combustible cladding contributed to the tragedy, and also questioned fire brigade advice that residents should stay put.

“If you just ignore what you’re told and leave, you are so much safer,” Rees-Mogg, leader of the UK House of Commons, told LBC radio in an interview on Monday.

“And I think if either of us were in a fire, whatever the fire brigade said, we would leave the burning building. It just seems the common sense thing to do.”

Families of the victims and opposition lawmakers criticised the remarks, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn labelling the comments “crass and insensitive” and calling for an apology.

“What possesses someone to react to an entirely avoidable tragedy like Grenfell by saying the victims lacked common sense? People were terrified, many died trying to escape,” Corbyn said.

Rees-Mogg on Tuesday said he “profoundly apologised” for upsetting survivors and victims’ relatives.

He said he had meant to say he also would have followed the fire brigade’s advice at the time, but with hindsight following the tragedy it was clear the advice went against common sense.

“What’s so sad is that the advice given overrides common sense because everybody would want to leave a burning building,” he said in comments reported by the Evening Standard.

“I would hate to upset the people of Grenfell if I was unclear in my comments. With hindsight and after reading the report no one would follow that advice. That’s the great tragedy.” (Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alex Richardson)

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