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What to look out for in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report

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

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Picture: Lucy Brown
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The long-awaited phase one report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will be made public on Wednesday. @PeteApps runs through the key issues to look out for #ukhousing

Compliance, stay put and the response of KCTMO: @PeteApps runs through some of the key things for the social housing sector to look out for in this week’s inquiry report #ukhousing

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.


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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.

Should the fire service have been more prepared?

Should the fire service have been more prepared?

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?

What should the representatives of the council and KCTMO have done differently?

What should the representatives of the council and KCTMO have done differently?

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.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Closing statements

 

Day 85: victims' lawyers attack the fire brigade

 

Further expert evidence

Including some additional evidence from emergency call handlers, bereaved and relatives

 

Day 84: further evidence from survivors and relatives

Day 83: swift evacuation of tower possible if residents alerted

Day 82: initial fire was extinguished but then returned to the flat

Day 81: overheating fridge-freezer most likely cause of fire

Day 80: fire doors installed did not match product tested

Day 79: resident advised to stay put despite fire in flat

Day 78: insulation and cladding material below required standard

Day 77: molten plastic spread blaze down tower

Day 76: 'stay put' should be dropped when fire spreads across floors

 

Other witness evidence

Police, ambulance, gas suppliers, council, TMO and call room operators give evidence

 

Day 75: call room operators give evidence

Day 74: further evidence from TMO officers

Day 73: TMO boss failed to pass information to firefighters

Day 72: fire finally extinguished when gas switched off

Day 71: further questions over stay put advice

Day 70: the police evidence

 

The bereaved, survivors and relatives’ evidence

 

Day 69: video shows smoke billowing through fire door

Day 68: KCTMO removed self closing mechanism and never replaced it

Day 67: gaps in cladding fixed with duct tape

Day 66: 'don't fix broken system with a sticking plaster'

Day 65: survivor dragged disabled man down nine floors to safety

Day 64: KCTMO 'did not replace broken fire door'

Day 63: foam insulation inside cladding 'exposed' says survivor

Day 62: father gives harrowing account of son's death

Day 61: council’s management organisation slammed for faulty electrics

Day 60: stay put advice ‘led to deaths’, residents say

Day 59: residents describe problems with new windows

Day 58: survivor describes how daughter saved his life

Day 57: firefighter evidence ‘a slap in the face’, says survivor

Day 56: relations with contractor were ‘toxic’

Day 55: resident 'never happy' with stay-put advice

Day 54: tenant gives evidence about housing association

Day 53: stay put advice 'felt like trap'

Day 52: resident saved by son's phone call

 

The firefighters’ evidence

 

Day 51: firefighter feared encouraging residents to jump

Day 50: the LFB commissioner

Day 49: fire chief reveals frustration over lack of building plans

Day 48: internal fire spread 'bigger story' than cladding

Day 47: fire officer considered evacuating crews over building collapse fears

Day 46: 'we were improvising' senior firefighter admits

Day 45: firefighter urged for abandonment of 'stay put' policy

Day 44: firefighter recalls radio signal difficulties

Day 43: call hander 'uncomfortable' with insisting residents stay put

Day 42: residents only told to leave if they called fire brigade back

Day 41: breathing equipment delay 'hampered rescues on upper floors'

Day 40: chiefs told firefighters to abandon policy

Day 39: firefighters reveal dramatic rescue of children

Day 38: firefighters issue aplogies to families

Day 37: council 'unable to provide tower plans'

Day 36: QC defends inquiry process

Day 35: Javid would welcome interim recommendations

Day 34: water from hose 'too weak' to reach the flames

Day 33: 'oh my god, we've been telling people to stay put'

Day 32: further fire fighter describes lack of equipment and low water pressure

Day 31: 'incredibly difficult' task of recording information outlined

Day 30: struggle to maintain control over rescue operation described

Day 29: fire service 'overwhelmed' by survival guidance calls

Day 28: 'the building beat us'

Day 27: firefighters 'forced to abandon plans to reach roof'

Day 26: poor signage hindered rescue efforts

Day 25: water pressure left firefighting equipment 'like garden hose'

Day 24: decision to abandon 'stay put' explored

Day 23: TV images 'could have assissted' rescue effort

Day 22: description of hectic scenes in the control centre

Day 21: account from the fire service 'nerve centre'

Day 20: firefighter describes 'huge volume' of calls from trapped residents

Day 19: firefighter 'given no training on cladding fires'

Day 18: evacuation would have been 'huge catastrophe'

Day 17: firefighters describe access and lift issues

Day 16: scenes of carnage likened to 9/11

Day 15: firefighters recount trauma of survival guidance calls

Day 14: firefighters describe spread of blaze

Day 13: firefighters recall radio difficulties

Day 12: "it was like a war zone"

Day 11: questions raised over fire fighters' radios

Day 10: watch manager emotional under questioning

Day nine: lead firefighter 'not trained in stay put policy'

 

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

Day three: council and contractors appear for the first time

Day two: lawyers for the survivors make their case

Day one: expert evidence released on cladding and stay put

 

The commemoration hearings

 

30 May: Grenfell Council 'recognised it should not house disabled victim above four storeys'

29 May: Anger on day six of the Grenfell Inquiry

25 May: Grenfell families 'forced to live in chimney with stay put policy'

24 May: Grenfell family complained about father being housed on 17th floor

23 May: Tributes to children on third day of Grenfell hearings

22 May: Emotions run high as Grenfell bereaved shown footage of the tower burning

21 May: Grenfell victims share tributes as inquiry opens

 

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