The firefighter in charge for the first hour of the Grenfell Tower blaze has become a scapegoat, according to his supporters online.
Michael Dowden had previously told the inquiry into the blaze that he didn’t look at the cladding of the building.
He was questioned by Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, on what elements of the building he inspected, but the line of questioning was met with outrage online with friends and supporters of Mr Dowden saying he’d been made a ‘scapegoat’.
The hashtag #IAmMichaelDowden sprung up in response.
‘Lay off our firemen’
Noha Maher, who lost her brother in the fire, tweeted: "Lay off our firemen! Interrogate the b******s that refurbished #grenfell with that s****y cheap cladding and murdered my brother and 71 other poor souls."
The London Fire Brigades Union also gave their support, writing: “We salute our member Michael Dowden who was the first incident commander at Grenfell and was confronted by an unprecedented fire. He conducted himself with courage and professionalism in an impossible situation. We stand with him. Let's get this hashtag going. #IAmMichaelDowden”.
‘Trying to find a scapegoat’
Another user responded: “Is it me or what? Why do I get the feeling they're desperately trying to find a scapegoat for Grenfell Tower? Don't let them get away with it. Stand with our Firefighters #IAmMichaelDowden”
Firefighter Mark Lowe tweeted: "I am a firefighter of over 30yrs service. WM Michael Dowden faced an impossible task at the Grenfell inferno. He bravely led firefighters to do everything they possibly could that awful night. To question him in the way I have witnessed is shameful #IAmMichaelDowden #Grenfell."
Mr Dowden’s sister Janeadded: “The bravest man I know and so very proud to call him my brother. #IAmMichaelDowden”.
Former footballer Neville Southall added to the messages of support with a rant against the Tories. “To try and blame a member of fire service for not responding properly to a horrible fire the tories have shown s*** rolls down hill [sic]” he wrote.
Fire was ‘relentless’
On his third day of giving evidence at the inquiry, Mr Dowden said he felt “helpless” at the time of the fire.
“There probably was moments I did feel helpless, it is a very difficult place to be as an incident commander when it is just relentless,” he said.
Despite the fire climbing to the roof of Grenfell Tower by 1.29am, he said he didn’t think compartmentation had necessarily failed.
Asked if he thought it was still safe for 999 operators to tell residents to stay inside at 1.29am, he said: "Everything that I had previously experienced and everything I had understood as an incident command, yes - if a building doesn't fail."
Dowden suffered ‘sensory overload’
Mr Millet pressed him on whether the tower had failed by that point, to which he answered: "Not to the extent of what I know now, no."
Asked if he thought it had failed to any extent, he said: "Not to the internal, but something was happening to the external of that building."
Mr Dowden was also questioned on why he did not declare a major incident when the fire reached the top of the building.
"I was just totally consumed by everything that was going on around me," he said, adding he suffered "sensory overload".
He cried when he saw images of the burning tower on Tuesday and was given breaks every 30 minutes on Wednesday.