First phase of Grenfell inquiry concludes
THE GRENFELL Tower fire inquiry concluded its first phase, and the second may not start ‘until the end of next year’.
Earlier this year, the inquiry began looking at the ‘factual narrative’ of the events, with expert witnesses describing the various safety failures in the tower and a ‘culture of non compliance’. After the inquiry resumed once more, a fire station manager stated that ‘vital’ plans for the tower were not able to be found in the lobby of the building. It then heard from 999 operators that due to a policy not to recontact callers, residents were not told to evacuate when policy changed.
In September, one of the fire commanders stated that ‘the building let us all down’, before London Fire Brigade (LFB) commissioner Dany Cotton admitted that she had no knowledge of cladding risks despite an LFB presentation created only a year before the fire. Recently, the inquiry heard two different experts note that flames spread in ‘just over 10 minutes’ to the outside of the tower, and that cladding issues ‘have been known for decades’.
In November, the inquiry heard that the architectural ‘crown’ of cladding designed to make the tower ‘look nice’ was ‘instrumental’ in the fire’s spread around the tower, and that the fire was ‘most likely started by overheated wiring’ within a fridge freezer. Yesterday, the inquiry heard that LFB had ‘failed residents and firefighters’, and that a post Grenfell audit of the building’s management company found only ‘minor weaknesses’ in its approach.
Evening Standard reported that the second phase ‘is unlikely to start’ until the end of 2019, according to chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, because there are ‘more than 20,000 documents still to disclose’, with this ‘probably not’ completed before next autumn. This second phase will examine the ‘wider issues surrounding the fire’.
Sir Martin stated: ‘Given the scale of the preparations that have to be carried out, I think it is unlikely that it will be possible to start phase two hearings before the end of next year. However, careful and detailed preparation which enables us to focus on the aspects of the programme that are of real significance should make it possible to ensure that the proceedings, once begun, can be completed within a reasonable time.’
He added that the inquiry is also negotiating to relocate to west London after ‘repeated concerns’ from survivors and families of victims about the ‘unsuitability of the current central London space’. Sir Martin commented that ‘I am pleased to tell you that we have found some premises in west London which have recently become available and which would provide us with what we need, involving a large hearing room’.
Since the inquiry began, it has sat for almost 100 days and collected and disclosed 20,000 documents, with 686 firefighter statements submitted and 88 officers giving oral evidence. In turn, 307 statements were received from the bereaved, survivors and local residents, with 35 giving evidence in person, and an interim report will be produced ‘as soon as possible, having regard to the volume of information that has to be digested’.
Jonathan O'Neill, managing director of the FPA, responded: 'The Fire Protection Association welcomes the thorough job being done by the Grenfell Inquiry, but we believe the latest timescale is wholly unacceptable for the Grenfell residents, who need closure as soon as possible. We recommend additional resources are found, as a matter of urgency.'
Also at the inquiry yesterday, the Fire Brigades Union gave a closing statement with its hopes for future change, and Arconic - which manufactured the cladding used on the tower - gave a 'combative' statement saying that other materials were to blame for the fire's spread.