The Studio E Architects-designed refurbishment of Grenfell Tower failed to meet building regulations, the judge leading the inquiry’s long-awaited report into the fire has said
The probe’s first phase report into the blaze that killed 72 people in June 2017, published this morning (30 October), is heavily critical of the fire brigade’s ‘gravely inadequate’ response to the fire.
Inquiry chairman Martin Moore-Bick’s 1,000-page report, informed by 50,000 pages of evidence, found that fewer people would have died had the fire brigade taken certain actions earlier.
But it also pointed to failures in the 2016 upgrade, in particular the cladding, which it found was the ‘principal reason’ for the fire’s rapid spread.
The aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding acted as a ‘source of fuel’ while the fire’s progress was also accelerated by combustible materials in the insulation and the window surrounds, Moore-Bick said.
The ‘decorative’ architectural crown of the tower was also played a ‘significant role in enabling the fire to spread around the building’, the report found.
The document also states that there was ’compelling evidence’ that Grenfell Tower’s external walls – reclad during the Studio E-designed refurbishment – did not comply with the building regulations requirement to ‘adequately resist the spread of fire’.
‘On the contrary, they actively promoted it’, the report notes.
There is compelling evidence that Requirement B4(1) was not met in this case
He said: ’There is compelling evidence that Requirement B4(1) was not met in this case. It would be an affront to common sense to hold otherwise.’
Moore Bick said that phase 2 of the inquiry would examine why those responsible for the design of the refurbishment considered the tower would meet that ‘essential requirement’.
As for the cause of the fire, the inquiry concludes that an ‘electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer’ in Flat 16 started the fire, the precise nature of which investigators were unable to establish.
However, Moore-Bick said the exact cause was ‘of less importance than establishing how the failure of a common domestic appliance could have such disastrous consequences’.
The report also found there were ’systemic failures’ in the fire brigade’s response to the fire, including no ‘contingency plan’ for the evacuation of the tower and it also found they failed to revoke the ‘stay-put’ policy advice when the stairs remained passable.
‘Had it done so, more lives could have been saved,’ it said.
The first phase was supposed to focus solely on the events the nights of the fire, while the refurbishment of the building will be examined in phase 2.
However, the report’s attack on the fire brigade has led critics to argue that the inquiry is ‘back to front’ and that the rescue service was being treated as a scapegoat for the failures of the building.
Following the leak of the report yesterday, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Matt Wrack, told the BBC: ’The truth is that the fire spread the way it did because it was wrapped in flammable cladding. The firefighters turned up after that had happened, after the building had already been turned, in reality, into a death trap.
‘Firefighters’ actions on the night, which were remarkable in the circumstances, are now being scrutinised. Nobody is trying to avoid scrutiny, but we think that the ordering of the inquiry is completely back to front.’
While the refurbishment of the building will be further examined in phase 2, Moore Bick made a series of recommendations (see below) on how fire safety of high-rises can be improved.
He has however stopped short of calling for the retrofitting of sprinklers in all tall buildings explaining he had not yet studied the evidence on this point.
In a letter to the prime minister, Moore-Bick said: ‘The report contains a number of recommendations which I am confident will improve the safety from fire of those who live in high-rise buildings.
‘They require urgent action to be taken by the government and others who have responsibility for the oversight and direction of the emergency services, in particular the London Fire Brigade. I look forward to their implementation without delay.’
He also called on the government to progress with remedial work to strip ACM cladding from buildings as ‘vigorously as possible’ and said ‘particular attention’ should be paid to decorative features composed of combustible materials.
While stopping short of recommending the measure, Moore Bick also said the government should consider whether England should follow Scotland’s example and lower the threshold for what is considered a high-rise building from 18 metres to 11.
Phase 1 recommendations on fire safety
Building owners should be required by law to develop evacuation plans for all high-rise buildings
Fire service knowledge of materials
Owners and managers of residential towers should be ordered by law to inform the local fire service about the design and construction of its external walls and materials. All fire services should ensure that personnel at all levels understand the risk of fire taking hold in the external walls of high-rises
High-rise residential building owners and managers should be required by law to provide their local fire service with up to date plans, in both paper and electronic form, of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems. Buildings should have their own information box with up to date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by fire service.
Floor numbers should be clearly marked on each landing within the stairways and in a prominent place in all lobbies.
High-rise building owners and manager should be required by law to carry out regular inspections of any lifts designed to be used by firefighters in an emergency and carry out regular tests of mechanisms which allow firefighters to take control of the lifts.
Owners and managers of residential building which contain separate homes should carry out urgent inspection of all fire doors and that they be required by law to carry out checks at least every three months to ensure they are in working order.