Grenfell inquiry told of ‘culture of non-compliance’
THE INQUIRY began looking at the ‘factual narrative’ of the events, with expert witnesses describing the various safety failures in the tower.
Recently, the inquiry resumed, with hearings to ‘focus on the factual narrative of the events’, including ‘existing fire safety and prevention measures’, ‘where and how the fire started’, the ‘development of the fire and smoke’, and how they ‘spread from its original seat to other parts of the building’.
Two extra panel members were to be added during the second stage, Prime Minister Theresa May changing her mind after ‘originally opposing’ appointing people with ‘the skills to examine the cultural and community reasons behind the fire’. She also noted it was ‘on course’ to receive 400,000 documents, with 183,000 of 330,000 received thus far reviewed by the inquiry team.
A ‘significant volume’ of documentation ‘will be disclosed’ during the first phase, and earlier this year, chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick appointed assessors to look at housing, local government and technical matters. Two days of hearings took place dealing with ‘case management issues’ including proposed timetables, ‘matters concerning witnesses and the disclosure of evidence’.
Sir Martin is also looking to produce an initial report explaining the ‘immediate cause and spread’ of the fire, as well as an ‘assessment of the evacuation process’. In January, the inquiry was preparing for its first evidential hearings, and had written to core participants to update them on the next steps, while a full list of 532 core participants was made available.
The Guardian reported on the ‘litany of serious safety breaches’ revealed during the hearings, including over 100 non compliant fire doors, a firefighting lift ‘that didn’t work’ and a stay put policy which ‘totally failed’. These breaches were down to a ‘culture of non-compliance’, with more combustible material found ‘than previously thought’, including ‘flammable parts to the window frames’ that spread the fire to the external cladding.
Risers that were meant to channel water to the upper floors ‘failed to work properly’, while a smoke extraction system for each floor’s lobby area ‘did not work either and did not meet building regulations’. Due to ‘thick black smoke’, firefighters were also unable to use these lobbies as bridgeheads or search bases, and this also prevented residents from leaving their flats.
Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, warned organisations called to give evidence not to ‘indulge in a merry-go-round of buck passing’, giving them a deadline to provide written statements and stating that they must ‘identify exactly their role on the chain of events leading to Grenfell Tower becoming ... a major hazard’.
The response of the fire service ‘would be placed under severe scrutiny’ in coming weeks as well, with a statement read out by London Fire Brigade (LFB) commissioner Dany Cotton, who expressed her view that ‘I have never seen a building where the whole of it was on fire, nobody has ever seen that, it was incredible, it was so alien to anything I had ever seen’.
Mr Millet asked if ‘such a building envelope fire was foreseeable and what contingency plans might have been made’ by LFB, as firefighters faced questions on ‘what policy they have, if any, for assessing materials used on buildings, whether this was applied and what they do if the compartmentation restricting fire spread fails’.
On stay put, he added that ‘it may be that the formal maintenance of that advice until 2.47am made all the difference between life and death’, though insisted that the belief that many would have survived if it had been revoked earlier was ‘very far from beyond argument’. All five expert reports into the fire, its spread and the regulatory environment were also published on the first day.
Jose Torero, an academic and fire safety expert, concluded that – in regards to building regulations – ‘systems that introduce obvious dangers can be incorporated by designers in a routine manner’, while Arup’s Dr Barbara Lane said the cladding installed was ‘non-compliant with the functional requirement of the building regulations.
‘I have found no evidence yet that any member of the design team or the construction ascertained the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system materials, nor understood how the assembly performed in fire. I have found no evidence that building control were either informed or understood how the assembly would perform in a fire.
'Further, I have found no evidence that the [tenant management organisation] risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system, nor have I found evidence that the LFB risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding’. Fire engineer Colin Todd also stated that it appeared the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding ‘had never been subject to a full scale British Standard fire test’.
Dr Lane also noted that she had found all of the fire doors between the fourth and 24th floors were ‘not compliant with fire test evidence relied upon at the time of installation’, and that this would have contributed to smoke and fire spread into lobbies, with many of the doors failing in 20 minutes instead of the 60 minutes required.
Mr Millett showed ‘detailed plans’ revealing that the top floor had a metal gate that ‘prevented entry onto the roof’, while the design of the ‘crown’ of the building after the refurbishment ‘appeared to have helped spread the fire around the facades’, allowing it to ‘jump laterally’ before molten cladding fell on cladding below ‘starting new fires’.