Saturday, 17 June 2017

Horror, Shock, Grief, Anger and Shame!

We still don’t know how many people died at Grenfell Tower and probably won’t for some time. It will certainly be dozens and dozens.  I have thought about them, the horrific way that they died and the grief of their families and friends every day since the tragedy. Sadly, adding to the distress of family members, the identification of the victims may not even be possible in some cases.

The government has announced a public enquiry and said that the terms of reference will be agreed with input from local people. But public enquiries can take years to report and so I feel justified in pre-empting the lengthy public enquiry process and expressing my opinion about the causes of this multi-fatality fire, based on what has been revealed so far by the press and the media.

It seems clear to me that this was a completely avoidable disaster and like some of the local residents I’m angry! 

The following BBC newsnight video analyses how the fire that caused this disaster developed and why it spread so quickly. At 2 min 55 seconds a fire in France shows how this happens.



The person or persons who, in the recent refurbishment, proposed to use cladding material with a flammable polyethylene central layer that would melt and de-laminate with heat, exposing the full surface of the core to the flames, is or are criminally responsible. As David Lammy MP suggests charges of corporate manslaughter may be appropriate.

For £2 per square metre more, or about £5,000 for the whole block, in the context of an £8.6 million refurbishment, panels with non-combustible cores could have been used and many lives saved.  Ian Abley comments intelligently on the background technical details

Ronnie King
Ronnie King, Honorary Secretary of the parliamentary All Party Fire Safety and Rescue Group, interviewed here by the Guardian, recounts his frustration when confronted by the inaction of government ministers concerning a review of fire regulations. Four ministers were warned that the risk was urgent and action needed to be taken.

In an earlier BBC interview he described how the use of double glazed PVC windows, the frames of which melt in a fire, allows fires to spread from one flat to another via the building exterior. He also gave the costs for retro-fitting sprinklers in existing high-rise blocks.

The next level of responsibility lies with whoever agreed to this proposal, whether it was one person or a committee. Who did what and their level of knowledge will be established by the public enquiry and the criminal investigation just opened by the Metropolitan Police.

one of several fires in Dubai
Then there is the responsibility of a series of government ministers including Liberal Democrat MP's Steven Williams and Brandon Lewis; Conservative MP's James Wharton and Gavin Barwell; and Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who by their inaction delayed the updating and tightening of fire safety standards. They ignored the numerous reports, and expert recommendations, which warned of the hazards of some cladding systems, as well as ignoring UK fires and international fires in tower blocks, notably in Dubai, that graphically demonstrated the hazards. 

Lakanal House
Sajid Javid who as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills enacted the policy of "Cutting Red Tape”, also has responsibility for creating an atmosphere of reluctance to agree to changes to regulations. Under this arbitrary political doctrine, promoted by the Cabinet Office, to get one new regulation approved, two others must be removed. This has subsequently been changed to three. To class building regulations relating to fire safety as "Red Tape" shows where we are with government attitudes to human life!

Together ministers effectively blocked all attempts to revise fire regulations.  They have also shelved, for the last four years, a detailed Coroner’s inquest report on the Lakanal House fire in Southwark in which six people died. Such a policy and attitude from the centre of government has prevented the review and updating of building regulations applying to fire safety. 

Recently on the government's website ministers congratulated themselves for reducing the duration and thoroughness of fire inspections.

These ministers will probably escape criminal liability, but they are just as responsible as those more closely involved. They should be publicly shamed and not be allowed to sleep soundly in their beds. It would be too much to hope that they might feel guilt or remorse, because they will almost certainly justify and rationalize their actions in some way. The Nuremberg defence “we were just following orders” leads you back to the policies promoted by successive Prime Ministers and the cabinet which put people's lives below business interests.

Westminster politicians have lost sight of their duty to protect people in favour of political dogma and doctrine. The UK used to be a progressive country, that since 1974 led the way with Health and Safety, but not anymore. In 2012 Cameron announced that he was committed to killing off the Health and Safety culture. Killing off not revising or reforming! Such foolish and dangerous political claptrap deserves, like Cameron himself, to be confined to the dustbin of history! He and his family should try living in a "refurbished" tower block with flammable cladding, PVC windows, no sprinkler system and only one staircase. In fact I challenge him to spend a single night on the top floor of such a building!

I end up being ashamed to be English!* 

To consider fire safety regulations as “red tape” is outrageously insulting to the families who have lost loved ones! People should not have to die to demonstrate that ignoring expert professional advice to change building regulations relating to fire resistance is criminally irresponsible!

There are systemic failures of government here which I hope the Public Enquiry will point out. There's clearly a case for taking regulation relating to fire safety out of the hands of ministers, who have failed the public, and placing it with an independent agency.

I fear for the forthcoming bonfire of EU generated regulations that currently protect us and the environment from the ravages of political dogma, financial and business interests.

*(I say English and not British since Scotland has had regulations since circa 2000 requiring external cladding used above 18 metres either to be completely non-combustible or to meet the requirements of BR 135 - 2003).


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