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disaster inquiry

'Stay put' policy and building cladding blamed in report into Grenfell Tower inferno

72 people lost their lives in the tower block blaze.

Guardian News / YouTube

Updated 9.55pm

CLADDING ON LONDON’S Grenfell Tower was not tested in fire conditions and did not comply with building-safety guidance, according to an expert’s report released today into last year’s inferno that killed 72 people.

This and other safety failures meant the policy of telling residents to stay in their homes had “effectively failed” within half an hour of the blaze’s outbreak – yet it remained in place for nearly two hours, fire safety engineer Barbara Lane concluded.

She blamed the cladding for causing “multiple internal fires” and large quantities of overwhelming smoke at the 24-storey building.

“I conclude that the entire system could not adequately resist the spread of fire,” she wrote in her lengthy report commissioned by the independent inquiry into the tragedy.

Seventy-one people died in the west London fire, which broke out shortly before 1am on June 14, 2017, likely caused by a faulty fridge. A baby whose mother was in the tower was still-born hours later.

The cladding was installed during refurbishment in between 2012 and 2016, and has long been suspected of helping to spread the blaze.

“There were multiple catastrophic fire-spread routes created by the construction form and construction detailing,” Lane said.

She added: “There was therefore an early need for a total evacuation of Grenfell Tower.”

Introducing the expert report, inquiry lawyer Richard Millett said that advice for residents to “stay put” may have cost lives.

He described how 187 occupants of the tower – about 64% – had evacuated by the time this was changed at 2:47am.

Withdrawing the advice may have been a “mere formality in light of the number of occupants that had escaped safely before that time”.

Flat 16 A look at Flat 16, where the fire started. Guardian / Livestream Guardian / Livestream / Livestream

“On the other hand, it may be that the formal maintenance of that advice until 2:47 am made all the difference between life and death,” he said.

Culture of non-compliance

“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,” Lane wrote.

She also found “no evidence” that local building authorities “were either informed or understood how the assembly would perform in a fire”.

Lane also reported that a “culture of non-compliance” had plagued Grenfell Tower, with basic fire safety measures missing or defective.

Her damning assessment was one of five expert reports released Monday by the public probe detailing how the inferno started, why it spread so quickly and the effectiveness of the fire protection measures in the 24-storey building.

Earlier, in the first few hours of evidence, the inquiry heard from Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, an expert in fire investigations at Dundee University, that the fire started at fridge freezer in Flat 16.

It is then thought to have spread out of the kitchen window and re-entered Flat 16 through a bedroom window, then spreading through the flat. She said:

On the basis of the available evidence, it is more likely than not that the area of origin of the fire was in, or around, the tall fridge freezer in the southeast part of the kitchen.

“The cause of the fire remains undetermined although, based on the available information, it is more likely than not be be an accidental cause rather than a deliberate act.”

  • You can watch the live stream of the evidence here

A submission from Harley Facades, the firm that installed exterior cladding on the tower, will also be read, according to a provisional schedule.

It is suspected the cladding installed during a recent refurbishment helped spread the blaze.

Mind The Gap: A Review Of The Voluntary Sector Response To The Grenfell Tragedy David Mirzoeff via PA Images David Mirzoeff via PA Images

Seventy-one people including a pregnant woman died in the fire of 14 June 2017, which was caused by a faulty fridge and devastated the residential block in west London in the early hours of the morning.

Grenfell United, the main body for survivors and bereaved families, said today marked “the beginning of a long road to justice” for those affected by the tragedy.

“It is going to be difficult to see some organisations trying to defend their actions,” it added in a statement.

But we have trust that as the evidence emerges over the coming months, this inquiry will reveal the truth about how our community was treated before, during and after the fire.

With feelings still raw about the disaster and the way it was handled, the independent inquiry opened last month with seven days of emotive statements from relatives of those who died.

It will take evidence in two phases, with the first fact-finding stage focusing on the sequence of events, before the remainder of the issues are addressed later in the year.

Martin Moore-Bick, the chairman of the inquiry, vowed to provide answers to victims’ families as the tributes ended last week.

“As we move to the next stage of the inquiry, my team and I are determined to provide the answers that you seek,” he said.

© – AFP, 2018

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