Grenfell inquiry hears culture of carelessness led to tragic blaze

Support us and go ad-free

Lawyers representing the victims of the Grenfell Tower said a culture of carelessness led to the tragic 2017 blaze which claimed 72 lives.


Stephanie Barwise QC, who is representing a group of bereaved families, victims and local residents at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, claimed professionals responsible for the cladding did not look at existing guidance and regulations for fire safety.

She said that while the inquiry often heard professionals use “a lack of clarity in regulations” as a line of defence, that argument is “flawed”.

Barwise argued that the two main documents used to gauge fire safety are flawed but were “cleared to produce a satisfactory outcome” by expert witnesses Paul Hyett and Professor Jose Torero Cullen.

Speaking at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, she said in a closing statement on Monday:

The non-compliance of the Grenfell facade was not caused by a lack of clarity and the guidance, since the designers and contractors were generally not conversant with it.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free
Tower block fire in London
A banner with a green heart is wrapped around the Grenfell Tower one year after the blaze, which claimed 72 lives (Victoria Jones/PA)

None of the designers or contractors can say with any credibility they were not warned.

Melting plastic

Barwise added that evidence showed contractors and designers knew they were dealing with materials which contained a plastic.

Most school children know that plastic melts when heated. No credence should be given to contractors and designers who claim ignorance.

Despite being a legacy, and very high profile project for the Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea (RBKC), and the only building it had ever over clad, the refurbishment of Grenfell was hastily conceived by an inept design team with a hapless lead consultant, Studio E, inexperienced in high rise and cladding projects.

Inadequate measures

Speaking on behalf of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Martin Seaward QC added that a culture of deregulation is also to blame for the lack of caution exercised.

He said:

Enforcement measures were inadequate, as has been rightly admitted by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in respect to building control.

Mistakes were made, as has been rightly admitted by the Local Authority Building Control (LABC). The construction industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself, because ultimately, the profit motive prevails over safety and quality.

Seaward added:

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) submits that this is the natural result of central government’s deregulatory agenda, which has publicly and we say recklessly, demeaned health and safety on the principle the business interest should not be fettered.

He said that a culture of profit allowed players in the industry to cut corners, including not reading important guidance such as Part B of the building regulations in England, which deals with fire safety matters within and around buildings.

Cursory attention

Seaward continued:

Most of the players in module one had often not even read Part B of the building regulations or ADB at all, or only given it cursory attention and lacked an understanding of its most basic concepts.

The products used in the cladding system were chosen seemingly without any certainty, without any proper consideration of compliance with the building regulations nor of their fire performance.

One is left asking, did any of the design team read ADB 2013 and BR 135 and apply them to the proposed refurbishment before construction began? None of the architects, fire engineers or cladding specialists did.”

Grenfell fire anniversary
Smoke continues to billow out of the tower block on the day of the blaze in June 2017 (PA)

Barwise added:

A quick squint at the test route option and BR 135 would have warned them of the dangers of combustible material on high rises.

BR 135 is a criteria used to assess the fire performance of cladding systems.

ADB is an official guide to building regulations. The Government made amends to it in the wake of Grenfell to clarify the requirements which would resist fire spread.

Ban on non-combustible materials

Barwise also urged the panel to be firm with the industry when making its recommendations and suggesting a ban on non-combustible materials.

It may be that the only safe, short-term solution is to resort to a prescriptive approach whereby predominantly only non-combustible materials can be used.

This is not a viable long-term solution, but given the current lack of competence across certain sectors of industry established in module one, there may be no other choice.

She also called the manufacturers’ and certifiers’ behaviours throughout the hearing an “affront to the dead”.

The inquiry heard:

The manufacturers’ and certifiers’ contemporaneous behaviours are now exacerbated by their lack of candour and ability to reflect fully on their behaviour.

The otherwise widespread lack of candour is an affront to the dead, the bereaved, and the former residents of Grenfell.

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us