The long-awaited phase one report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will be made public on Wednesday. Peter Apps runs through the key issues to look out for
Sir Martin Moore-Bick will publish his long-awaited first phase report on Wednesday, and core participants will receive a strictly embargoed copy of the report later today.
Its findings could have huge ramifications for the way the winding legal fall-out from the fire develops, as well as immediate practical implications for those who own, manage or live in high-rise buildings.
Here Inside Housing looks over some of the key issues at stake.
Was the refurbishment non-compliant? And why?
Survivors of the fire have been urging Sir Martin to make a clear ruling that the refurbishment, which added dangerous cladding to the walls of their homes, did not comply with building regulations.
This is seen to be crucial in a longer battle about potential criminal convictions for the deaths, and some legal teams representing the survivors view this as the crucial first step.
What is important to both the Grenfell story and the myriad battles over liability for cladding failures elsewhere is what Sir Martin says about why it did or did not comply.
The headline performance standard in our building regulations requires the walls of a building to “adequately resist the spread of flame”. It is self-evident that Grenfell’s did not. But the question becomes more tangled when the official guidance, Approved Document B, is considered.
For example, there has been a row since the immediate aftermath of the fire about whether the ‘linear route’ to compliance in the guidance requires cladding to be Class 0 rated or the higher standard of limited combustibility.
If Sir Martin says that the panels did not meet the required Class 0 standard, this will be a disaster for the government, which has insisted this is not how its guidance should be interpreted.
This would have major repercussions for the narrative about political failure that is expected to form a part of phase two. It will also be extremely significant for ongoing rows about who pays for cladding replacement elsewhere.
Equally, if he says that the full combination of materials on the tower did not comply, the working out is crucial. Is it because they lacked a supporting desktop study? Will he refer to a withdrawn ‘large-scale test’, which the insulation passed in combination with cement fibre boards?
Will he go into the design and installation of the cladding itself? Will, for example, the architectural crown that is alleged to have helped flames spread around the building be singled out? How much emphasis will be placed on evidence about missing or incorrectly fitted fire breaks? What will he say about the design of the windows, which appear to have provided multiple routes for fire in and out of flats?
All these questions will set the first boundaries for who can ultimately be held accountable, and for what.
Should the stay put advice have changed earlier?
Inquiry expert Barbara Lane has said that the ‘stay put’ policy effectively failed at 1.26am when the fire began tearing up the cladding.
At this stage, the stairwell and some of the lobbies were still relatively free of smoke, and escape from most flats appears to have been a possibility. Dozens of residents, even some from upper floors, were leaving the tower without major injury.
But by the time the stay put policy was abandoned at either 2.35am (in the control room) or 2.47am (on the ground), chances of escape were much lower. Before this point 177 residents had made it out of the building alive, leaving 117 in the building. Only 46 more made it out alive – and all of them had to battle through horrendous conditions to escape.
The findings on this point have major implications for fire strategy and building management. The expert evidence has been that firefighters had no reliable means to communicate the changed advice to residents. Most other buildings in the UK are in the same position in this regard, with fire alarms actively discouraged by guidance. Will Sir Martin have anything to say on this? Could landlords be required to fit alarms, perhaps manual or smart ones, as a result?
How much criticism will be placed on the individual firefighters who decided not to change the policy (relatively junior watch manager Michael Dowden was incident commander at 1.26am) and how much will be reserved for the fire service and its political leaders that did not give him the tools to react?
Finally, the findings on stay put will again set the boundaries for future battles. It is possible that corporate participants could seek to avoid liability down the line by arguing that they are not responsible for deaths that occurred after the stay put policy should have been lifted.
Dany Cotton gives evidence to the inquiry (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Few quotes have angered survivors of the fire as much as one by Dany Cotton, commissioner of the London Fire Brigade (LFB), in which she claimed that the Grenfell Tower fire was like “a spaceship landing on the Shard”.
It is hard to know where to start with this: cladding fires had happened all over the world before Grenfell, and although none of them were as deadly, there had been warnings that an out-of-control facade fire on a high-rise building was possible.
Moreover, the LFB had several warnings: there was the coroner’s recommendations after the Lakanal House fire, which covered things like the frequent turnover of incident commanders and the application of ‘stay put’ advice in an out-of-control building fire.
There was also official guidance published in 2014, the government’s ‘generic risk assessment 3.2’, which warned fire authorities that stay put policies “may become untenable due to unexpected fire spread”.
Finally, the brigade itself had written to councils about the danger of cladding fires only months before, following a blaze spread by window panels at Shepherd’s Court.
Grenfell Tower was unprecedented but arguably not unforeseeable. Will Sir Martin take a view on how prepared the fire service should have been? And what will this mean for fire authorities elsewhere, and how will it change their relationship with the owners of large buildings?
Robert Black gives evidence to the inquiry (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Robert Black, former chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, gave evidence towards the end of the phase one hearings last year.
Firefighters wanted a list of residents and plans of the building, but the organisation was unable to provide it for hours. When Mr Black did receive the list, he did not forward it to fire services for more than two hours.
On the night, incident commander Andy Roe also told a council liaison officer that a failure to provide building plans was a “major deficiency and will be highlighted”. The council was also criticised by the fire service for the wait in getting a structural engineer to the site of the fire.
Social landlords would be well advised to pay close attention to these findings and to ask themselves whether they would have been able to do any differently. A recommendation about what sort of information a building owner should be able to provide during a major fire is not out of the question.
Further expert evidence
Including some additional evidence from emergency call handlers, bereaved and relatives
Other witness evidence
Police, ambulance, gas suppliers, council, TMO and call room operators give evidence
Day 70: the police evidence
The bereaved, survivors and relatives’ evidence
Day 53: stay put advice 'felt like trap'
The firefighters’ evidence
Day 50: the LFB commissioner
Day 36: QC defends inquiry process
Day 28: 'the building beat us'
Day 12: "it was like a war zone"
The expert reports: authors give evidence to inquiry
Day eight: where the fire started
Day seven: what was in the cladding?
Day six: the cause and spread of the fire
Day five: expert highlights key issues
Day four: firefighters defend response to fire
The commemoration hearings