Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 report published
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Marc Bloomfield
London Fire Brigade (LFB) has been strongly criticised in the phase 1 report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, published this week (30 October 2019).
Seventy-two people died in a blaze that swept through the tower block in west London on 14 June 2017. In a filmed statement posted online to mark the launch of the report, the chair of the inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, explained that the origin of the fire was an electrical fault in a fridge freezer in flat 16. The principal reason why the fire had spread so quickly was due to aluminium panels with combustible material that had been used as external cladding in the refurbishment of the building (Grenfell Tower Inquiry: phase 1 report overview, page 4, para 2.13).
While, in the report, Sir Martin pays tribute to the bravery of individual firefighters, he describes the LFB’s planning and preparation for fires in tower blocks such as Grenfell as ‘gravely inadequate’ (page 5, para 2.18). The inquiry also found that the LFB was overly reliant on a ‘stay put’ strategy that assumed that tower block fires can be contained to single flats (known as compartmentation) (page 6, para 2.17). The report states that as the fire took hold, it should have been clear that compartmentation had failed as the fire was spreading through the combustible external cladding. Sir Martin believes ‘[t]he best part of an hour was lost’ before the LFB commander on the ground decided to revoke the ‘stay put’ advice and to tell people to leave their flats (page 6, para 2.19(b)).
In his filmed statement, Sir Martin said it was clear that the lessons from the Lakanal House fire had not been learnt (see also pages 7–8, para 2.20 of the report overview). Six people died in that fire, which broke out at the tower block in south London 10 years ago.
Responding to the report, Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, argued that it was wrong to blame the LFB’s ‘stay put’ policy. She said that this policy was supposed to be the subject of a review after the Lakanal fire, ‘[b]ut there has been no published review and “stay put” remains government policy to this day’.
Sailesh Mehta, a barrister who specialises in fire law, criticised the inquiry. Writing in the Times Brief on 31 October, he said: ‘The inquiry will not look at the financial reasons for building regulation officers’ lack of sufficient scrutiny of the refurbishment works that were the main cause of a fairly ordinary fire becoming an uncontrollable blaze.’ He also pointed out that the budget for prosecutions of fire safety breaches has been slashed and that despite London having some of the tallest buildings in the world, due to budget cuts, the LFB does not have the necessary equipment to tackle fires in them.
In a statement to the House of Commons on the report, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said if the Grenfell tragedy ‘is to become a catalyst for change in our approach to fire safety and, indeed, to social housing more widely, we must get to the truth about what happened and why’ (Hansard HC Debates vol 667 col 383, 30 October 2019). He also pledged to ‘remove similar cladding on all buildings as soon as possible’ (col 379) and said the government was providing the necessary funds to do so.
The second phase of the enquiry will focus on the background and decision-making process that led to the building being clad in highly combustible material (see page 21, paras 34.3–34.3 of the report overview).

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