A BARRISTER for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire told the public inquiry that a ‘total neglect of safety’ was at the heart of the disaster. Local residents, survivors and the families of those who died are demanding that all flammable materials are banned.’
Stephanie Barwise QC, who represents some of the bereaved and survivors of the 2017 fire which claimed the lives of 72 men, women and children, said the refurbishment of the tower, which contributed to the blaze, was ‘hastily conceived by an inept design team led by hapless lead consultants’.
She said contractors were ‘reckless’ and some practiced ‘fraud’.
The inquiry began hearing final statements about Grenfell’s refurbishment prior to the fire, on Monday.
Barwise said: ‘It may be that the only answer – in the short term at least, pending stricter product regulation and the necessary advances in competence … is to insist that non-combustible materials are used.’
The Tories have so far only banned combustible materials on blocks above four storeys high.
Leaseholders in hundreds of other high-rise blocks condemned as unsafe are preparing a mass protest at Westminster on Thursday to demand the government protects them from an estimated £15bn nationwide bill to fix post-Grenfell fire safety faults.
Barwise strongly criticised all of the companies involved in the refurbishment, completed in 2016, to add a waterproof and insulating cladding system to Grenfell’s exterior.
Architect Studio E was a ‘hapless’ lead consultant, leading an ‘inept’ design team, she said. Many of the professionals and contractors involved did not read government fire safety guidance, the inquiry heard.
‘Grenfell demonstrates the existence of a culture of non-compliance within certain sectors of the construction industry. Put bluntly, there is a kind of recklessness, as to whether or not compliance is achieved,’ Barwise said.
The inquiry heard that contractor Rydon and cladding installers Harley saved £327,000 by using a cheap combustible aluminium cladding panel which was more likely to spread fire, and Rydon ‘secretly pocketed’ additional savings.
Barwise reserved particular criticism for Celotex and Kingspan which manufactured insulation used at Grenfell, and Arconic which made the cladding.
Their ‘widespread lack of candour is an affront to the dead, to the bereaved, and to the former residents of Grenfell,’ she said.
Kingspan continued to sell its combustible K15 insulation boards until 2020 on the back of a discredited test which ‘did not reflect the product being sold.
‘Kingspan’s fingerprints are all over this disaster,’ she said.
The Building Research Establishment, BRE, was ‘complicit’ with fraudulent manufacturers, according to the QC who urged the inquiry to recommend a ban on the use of any material on tall buildings which can burn.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea admitted a ‘series of failures’ in the way it oversaw the body managing its houses and flats, the independent Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), and that there weren’t enough council officers to oversee it.
Local youth from North Kensington on a march on the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire – the inquiry has heard that the refurbishment contractors were ‘reckless’