Grenfell Tower Fire Disaster Inquiry Update Report – Government “Hid” Fire Safety Risks to Buildings:
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry is a British public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people and destroyed Grenfell Tower. It was created to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower on the night of 14 June 2017.
The Inquiry opened on 14 September 2017 and is now into week 61. It can be followed on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Website with sessions streamed live at this link: https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/
The Grenfell Inquiry has heard of how consecutive governments were accountable for “collusion” with the construction industry and have been accused of “deliberately covering up” the dangers posed to combustible materials before the Grenfell Tower fire, suppressing the results of investigations into previous building cladding fires, including one which occurred at Lakanal House in 2009.
Lakanal House Fire 2009 and Former Minister Eric Pickles
Southwark Council was fined a total of £570,000 for safety failures at Lakanal House, the south London tower block in which three women and three children lost their lives in 2009. London fire brigade (LFB) brought the prosecution against the council, which was landlord of the 14-storey block of flats at the time, after inspectors visited Lakanal House in the wake of the fire.
The most egregious shortcomings identified was a failure to conduct a fire-risk assessment, deficiencies in fire-resistant structures and materials between each maisonette staircase and shared internal doors, a lack of compartmentation in false ceiling structures of shared corridors and an absence of fitted intumescent strips and smoke seals on fire doors.
The fire which occurred at Lakanal House, almost a decade before that which occurred at Grenfell Tower, resulted in a coroner, Frances Kirkham, cautioning the government that all parts of a building should be examined in fire safety inspections. The Coroner recommended re-writing the fire safety guidance that construction firms and architects rely on to ensure they meet the requirements of the building regulations as well as recommending the retrofitting of ‘sprinklers’.
Eric Pickles, the Tory Government Secretary of State responsible at the time was “dismissive” of the Inquest’s findings and Coroner’s recommendations made to eliminate or reduce future risk to life, sent to the Minister under Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules. 8 years after the Lakanal House fire tragedy in which 6 died came the Grenfell Tower fire disaster with 72 deaths!
The introduction of ‘sprinklers’ had been shelved on cost grounds and there were no changes to fire safety inspections and a review of building regulation management had not been completed either.
Minister Michael Gove Admits That Government Had Not Appreciated the Importance of Fire Safety
Last month, Michael Gove current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government admitted to MPs in the House of Commons that his department: “Will be seen to have, on a couple of occasions, not necessarily appreciated the importance of fire safety and not necessarily done everything it should have in the wake of the Lakanal House fire tragedy”. (The understatement of the decade)!
David Cameron Former PM and his ‘Anti-Health and Safety’ Agenda Needs to Be Held To Account
Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister representing a group of victims, bereaved families and survivors at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, said that former Tory Prime Minister David Cameron should appear before the Inquiry over remarks he made in 2010, when he ‘ridiculed’ health and safety as ‘red tape’, seven years before the fire. Mansfield said that Cameron should appear at the Inquiry hearing and clarify what he meant when he said he wanted to, “scrap health and safety rules that put people off”. Mansfield added that Cameron also said that “Britannia didn’t rule the waves with arm bands on”. Michael Mansfield argued that these observations were, “ridiculing and humiliating health and safety”.
In a 2014 speech to the Federation of Small Businesses the then PM David Cameron said 100 standards and building regulations were facing the ‘bonfire’ – a move which Cameron claimed would save around £60 million a year for house builders or £500 for each new home built. His announcement re-iterated the government’s deregulation agenda which included a ‘Housing Standards Review’. Cameron’s added that his wider plans included the scrapping of 80,000 pages of environmental guidance by March 2015.
Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council described Cameron’s claims, at the time, as ‘utterly reprehensible’ and more of the same poisonous political rhetoric from Number 10, devaluing regulation in a slash and burn manner with words that are damaging and irresponsible as well as misrepresenting the wishes of businesses, large and small.’
Stephanie Barwise QC another barrister representing a group of victims, survivors, bereaved relatives and former residents of Grenfell Tower said Grenfell was a “predictable victim of the unbridled passion for deregulation”. She also argued that: “Government’s response on realising the extent of the problem was to react by concealment instead of candour. The result is a prolonged period of concealment by government, which should properly be regarded as one of the major scandals of our time.”
During the next few months, a series of former government ministers and senior officials are expected to provide evidence in the Inquiry. In a response, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities stated: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy must never be allowed to happen again, and we remain absolutely committed to helping the Inquiry get to the truth. The role of central government will be considered in this module and we continue to support the Inquiry throughout its investigations.”
Footnote: David Cameron has not said whether or not he will appear at the Inquiry!
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer