Evidence that emerged during the opening days of the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has been met with shock and anger by the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC). The NFCC believes that the evidence presented during the first three days of Phase 2 shows a clear lack of concern for fire safety and a blatant disregard for people’s safety, which undoubtedly contributed to the loss of life at Grenfell Tower.
The second phase is concentrating on how – and why – the building was clad in a flammable material during its refurbishment. This follows the first phase which found the cladding system was the “principal” reason for the rapid and “profoundly shocking” spread of the fire. Several e-mails disclosed to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry suggest companies knew the components of the cladding system would fail in the event of a fire.
Roy Wilsher, chair of the NFCC, commented: “The extent of the revelations in the first few days is shocking. What we have heard so far makes it clear manufacturers and distributors were fully aware of the flammability of the cladding system components. I’m astounded as to how the building was allowed to be in this state. It was effectively a tragedy waiting to happen for those living in Grenfell Tower, and it’s indefensible that we still have such cladding systems on buildings across the country. Fire and Rescue Services are doing their upmost to minimise the risk, but 20 years of building safety failure is not the responsibility of fire and rescue.”
Wilsher continued: “This situation left the London Fire Brigade facing an impossible task when faced with the enormity of the fire, with no prior knowledge of the materials used in the refurbishment.”
Extent of the task
The evidence given to date has reinforced the NFCC’s view that the background to the refurbishment – and the state of the building – should have been examined ahead of looking at the Fire and Rescue Service’s response.
Wilsher added: “The findings of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry were highly critical of the London Fire Brigade. However, this latest evidence reinforces our view that there was no way firefighters could know the extent of what they were facing that night. This confirms how important risk-based funding is for Fire and Rescue Services, which are facing significantly more risk than they can reasonably know. It shows that, without doubt, investment in Fire and Rescue Services is needed if we’re to play our rightful part in future building safety regimes. I believe the bereaved, the survivors and the families deserve better. I truly hope they receive the answers they need from Phase 2 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.”
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard that residents had asked the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea three months before the fire for an assessment of the tower block by an independent Health and Safety inspector. An official from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea wrote to the then-CEO of the tenant management company that they were “not minded to agree to this request” and that the company’s work had been “more than sufficient”. This has clearly shown to have been a flawed position.
Evidence presented to date
*decisions taken to use ACM cladding to make savings in the region of £450,000
*fire engineers being excluded from communications about the details of the cladding
*an internal e-mail from the insulation manufacturer where an executive admitted to a distributor it was “clearly wrong” to think it was acceptable to use combustible insulation on buildings of any height
*e-mails show that distributors of the cladding stating they would only use non-combustible cladding if ‘specifically challenged’
*in April 2016, while work on Grenfell Tower was ongoing, Arconic (the cladding manufacturer) was sent guidance stating that the UK’s established Building Regulations required “all significant elements of each and every layer of the wall to be non-combustible or of limited combustibility”