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Why is no one taking blame for Grenfell fire, QCs ask public inquiry

08 June 2018


The burnt-out kitchen of Flat 16, on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower, where the fire started behind a fridge freezer

The burnt-out kitchen of Flat 16, on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower, where the fire started behind a fridge freezer

GRENFELL TOWER was turned into a death trap because of its refurbishment, the public inquiry into the fire was told on Tuesday.

The building works, which were carried out by Kensington and Chelsea Council and the tenant management organisation, were “obviously dangerous, reprehensible, and contrary”, Danny Friedman QC said on the ninth day of the hearings.

Seventy-two people were confirmed to have died in the fire at Grenfell Tower, in west London, on 14 June last year (News, 16, 23 June 2017).

Mr Friedman, who is representing some of the survivors and the bereaved, said that his clients were watching the inquiry’s proceeding’s with “calm rage”.

“In the second decade of 21st-century London, governed by a regulatory framework designed to ensure fire safety, a local authority instigated and oversaw the refurbishment of a social-housing, high-rise tower block in such a way as to render it a death trap.

“The Royal Borough of Kensing­ton and Chelsea and the tenant management organisation did this using public funds paid to an array of contractors and sub-contractors — none of whom has yet taken any responsibility for what happened.”

Another barrister, Stephanie Barwise QC, told the inquiry that the silence from the sub-contracted firms that carried out the refurbishment was “inhumane”.

“Despite their words of condolence to the victims, these corporates have no desire to assist this inquiry, even though [it] could save lives in the immediate future.”

The corporate silence, she said, “has only served to increase their pain and uncertainty”.

She told the inquiry that it was the cladding of the tower which caused the fire to spread. “Our understanding is that the ignition of the polyethylene within the cladding panels produces a flaming reaction more quickly than dropping a match into a barrel of petrol.

“Since the turn of the century, both internationally and in the UK, fires involving external cladding systems have become almost the archetypal form of mass fire disaster.”

A report by Professor Luke Bisby, an expert in fire and structures at the University of Edinburgh, published before the fact-finding stage of the inquiry, said that evidence strongly supported the hypothesis that the cladding caused the fire to spread.

Imran Khan QC, a solicitor repre­senting other survivors and bereaved families, said that the inquiry should be widened to consider whether race, religion, and class played a part in the disaster. He sought an answer to whether the council and the management organisation were guilty of institutional racism.

On Monday, the inquiry heard of multiple, serious safety breaches at Grenfell Tower, including more than 100 non-compliant fire doors.

The hearing was told that the “stay put” policy failed by 1.26 a.m. on the night of the fire, but was changed to “evacuate” by the London Fire Brigade only at 2.47 a.m.

Dr Barbara Lane, an expert in fire safety at the engineering firm Arup, said in her evidence that “there was a total failing of the principles of ‘stay put’.”

The diocese of London has worked with Healing Minds, a group of NHS and mental-health organisations, to issue guidance for media organisations reporting on, and dealing with, those affected by trauma. The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, said on Monday that the guidelines were designed to help journalists be “as sensitive as possible” to survivors.

Read our leader comment on the inquiry here

You can also read an extract from Grenfell Hope: Stories from the community, by Alan Everett, published by SPCK

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