Boris Johnson has been accused of having "blood on his hands" after a Woolwich pensioner died following a flat blaze - weeks after his nearest fire station was closed down.

Maurice Cunliffe, aged 83, died in the early hours of February 27, four days after being pulled semi-conscious from a fire in his Riverview Heights flat on Eglinton Hill.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) say he was forced to wait longer while crews from Eltham, Plumstead and East Greenwich fire stations battled to reach him.

They say firefighters from Woolwich - now closed in a cost-cutting measure - would have taken around six minutes to arrive at the scene.

But on this occasion the first engine arrived 10 minutes after the call-out.
FBU regional secretary Paul Embery said the Mayor of London, who forced through the closure of 10 fire stations, had "blood on his hands".

News Shopper: Vigil held at Woolwich fire station

He said: "Mr Cunliffe, while suffering from smoke inhalation, was still alive and semi-conscious when crews discovered him, so his chances of being saved would have increased dramatically had he been pulled from the fire two or three minutes earlier.

"We have always said that, for someone trapped in a fire, seconds count, and in this case the extra time it took to reach Mr Cunliffe is likely to have been the difference between life and death."

"We always said that the cuts imposed by Boris Johnson - and supported by his loyal foot soldier in the form of the London Fire Brigade commissioner - were reckless and would cost lives. We take no satisfaction in being proved correct within seven weeks."

London Assembly Member for Greenwich and Lewisham Len Duvall has now written to the Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), demanding a full explanation on the impact of the Woolwich closure.

He said: "Less than two months after the closure of Woolwich fire station, we’re now faced with a tragic incident with an increased response time. It isn’t clear at the moment but crucially those two minutes could well have made the difference."

News Shopper asked for a response from the Mayor’s Office but were instead directed to the London Fire Brigade.

A brigade spokeswoman said: "The fire was most likely caused by a halogen heater that had been placed too close to flammable materials.

"It appears that there was no smoke alarm in the flat and so it is likely that the fire was smouldering for some time before the Brigade were alerted. 

"Eglinton Hill is situated on the border of the areas covered by Plumstead and East Greenwich fire stations. At the time of the fire, mobilising systems were unavailable at Plumstead and crews from East Greenwich and Eltham fire stations were sent.

"They arrived in 7.42 and 9.05 minutes respectively, shortly followed by both fire engines from Plumstead who were also then ordered to the scene.  As a result, a total of 21 firefighters and officers attended  this emergency incident."