Grenfell Tower fire
The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14 June 2017 at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, West London. It caused at least 80 deaths and over 70 injuries. A definitive death toll is not expected until at least 2018.
Grenfell Tower burning,
pictured at 04:43 BST, 14 June 2017
|Date||14 June 2017|
|Time||00:54 BST (emergency services received first call)|
|Duration||24 hours (under control), over 60 hours (fully out)|
|Location||Grenfell Tower, North Kensington, London, UK|
|Outcome||Government taskforce taking over parts of the RBKC council function.|
|Inquiries||A public inquiry will be held on terms of reference announced 15 August 2017.|
As of 8 August 2017, 50 victims had been formally identified by the Metropolitan Police and Coroner. Authorities were unable to trace any surviving occupants for 23 of the 129 flats. Around 255 people survived.
The fire is under investigation and is the subject of a Public Inquiry. Police say they believe the fire started accidentally in a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. The rapid growth of the fire is believed to have been accelerated by the building's exterior cladding.
Emergency services received the first report of the fire at 00:54 local time. It burned for about 60 hours until finally extinguished. More than 250 firefighters and 70 fire engines from stations all over London were involved in efforts to control the fire.[note 1]
More than 100 London Ambulance Service clinicians on at least 20 ambulances and the Hazardous Area Response Team attended. London's Air Ambulance sent several teams of HEMS doctors and paramedics (by road) in support.
Many firefighters continued to fight pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated due to concerns that the tower could collapse, but the building was later determined to be structurally sound.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, criticised safety protocols, in particular those telling people to stay in their flats until rescued. This advice presumed that the building's structure could contain a fire within a single flat, but in this case the fire was spreading rapidly via the building's exterior.
Since 2013, the residents' organisation Grenfell Action Group had repeatedly expressed concern about fire safety, saying in November 2016 that only a catastrophic fire would force the block's management to adequately address fire precautions and maintenance of fire-related systems.
On 16 June 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May, who had been criticised for failing to meet Grenfell Tower residents following the tragedy, announced a £5 million fund for those affected by the fire. All those made homeless were to receive an initial down payment of £5,500, with each household to be given at least £500 in cash and £5,000 paid into an account.
On 18 June the government announced that a new disaster management team was taking over, acknowledging that the initial response by the state, both locally and nationally, was inadequate. On 21 June, the government announced that 68 new flats in the local borough were to be made available to survivors.
Grenfell Tower in 2009, before refurbishment
|Town or city||London|
|Destroyed||14 June 2017|
|Renovation cost||£8.7 million|
|Owner||Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council|
|Landlord||Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation|
|Height||67.30 metres (220 ft 10 in)|
|Design and construction|
|Architecture firm||Clifford Wearden and Associates|
|Main contractor||A E Symes|
|Architect||Studio E Architects|
Grenfell Tower was in North Kensington, Inner London, in a mainly working-class housing complex surrounded by affluent neighbourhoods in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). The tower was managed on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the largest TMO in England, responsible for nearly 10,000 properties in the borough.
The KCTMO has a board comprising eight residents (tenants or leaseholders), four council-appointed members, and three independent members. The tower was built as council housing, but 14 of the flats had been bought under the Right to Buy policy. These were occupied by leaseholders, or were privately rented out by them on the open market.
The 24-storey tower block was designed in 1967 in the Brutalist style of the era by Clifford Wearden and Associates, with the council approving construction in 1970 as part of the Lancaster West redevelopment project.[note 2]
Construction, by contractors A E Symes of Leyton, under the council housing system, ran from 1972 to 1974. The 67.30-metre (220 ft 10 in) tall building contained 120 one- and two-bedroom flats. The upper 20 of 24 storeys had six dwellings and 10 bedrooms each. The lower four storeys were used for non-residential purposes. Later, two floors were converted to residential use, bringing the total to 129 apartments, housing up to 600 people.
Like many towers in the UK, Grenfell only had a single central staircase. Unlike many other countries, UK regulations do not require a second.
The original lead architect for the building, Nigel Whitbread, said in 2016 that the tower had been designed with attention to strength following the Ronan Point partial collapse of 1968 "and from what I can see could last another hundred years."
Grenfell Tower underwent a major renovation which was publicised in 2012 and completed in 2016. Overseen by Studio E Architects, the £8.7 million refurbishment was undertaken by Rydon Ltd of Forest Row, East Sussex, in conjunction with Artelia for contract administration and Max Fordham as specialist mechanical and electrical consultants.
As part of the project, in 2015–2016, the concrete structure received new windows and new aluminium composite rainscreen cladding, in part to improve the appearance of the building. Two types were used: Arconic's Reynobond PE, which consists of two, coil-coated, aluminium sheets that are fusion bonded to both sides of a polyethylene core; and Reynolux aluminium sheets. Beneath these, and fixed to the outside of the walls of the flats, was Celotex RS5000 PIR thermal insulation. The work was carried out by Harley Facades of Crowborough, East Sussex, at a cost of £2.6 million.
The original contractor, Leadbitter, had been dropped by KCTMO because their price of £11.278 million was £1.6 million higher than the proposed budget for the refurbishment. The contract was put out to competitive tender. Rydon's bid was £2.5 million less than Leadbitter's. An alternative cladding with better fire resistance was refused due to cost.
The renovation included a water-based heating system for individual flats.
Residents expressed significant safety concerns prior to the fire, with criticism levelled against the council for fire safety and building maintenance failures. They had also said repeatedly that in the event of a fire, their escape path was limited to a single staircase.
Exposed gas pipes were another concern raised by the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders' Association in the months before the fire - while a fire safety expert had ordered them to be covered by fire-retardant boxing, two-thirds remained exposed at the time of the fire.
There is concern that cuts to legal aid prevented tenants and tenants' groups taking legal action over their safety concerns. Robert Bourns of The Law Society said, “There have been reports that tenants of Grenfell Tower were unable to access legal aid to challenge safety concerns because of the cuts. If that is the case then we may have a very stark example of what limiting legal aid can mean.”
Following the fire, the Conservative leader of the council, Nicholas Paget-Brown said that the Grenfell Tower residents did not have a collective view in favour of installing sprinklers during the recent renovations. He also said that if they had been installed, it would have delayed the refurbishment and been more disruptive. ITV business editor Joel Hills stated that he had been told that the installation of sprinklers had not even been discussed. In a 2012 report, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association said that sprinklers could be retrofitted in Grenfell Tower for an average cost of £1,150 per flat, which would have added up to a total cost of £138,000 for the whole block.
The government is accused of having ignored warnings about fire safety in tower blocks. A former chief fire officer and secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety, Ronnie King, said ministers stonewalled requests for meetings and efforts to tighten rules. He said that the then–housing minister Gavin Barwell, refused requests for meetings. King said: “We have had replies, but the replies were to the effect that you have met my predecessor [earlier housing minister James Wharton] and there were a number of matters that we are looking at and we are still looking at it. (...) They always seem to need a significant loss of life before things are changed.” After six people were killed in the 2009 Lakanal House fire, the coroner made a series of safety recommendations for the government to consider, and the Department for Communities and Local Government agreed to hold a review in 2013. In March 2014, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group sent a letter to then–Minister for Communities Stephen Williams, which said in part:
"Surely … when you already have credible evidence to justify updating … the guidance … which will lead to saving of lives, you don't need to wait another three years in addition to the two already spent since the research findings were updated, in order to take action?
"As there are estimated to be another 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK, without automatic sprinkler protection, can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?"
After further correspondence, Williams replied:
"I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward."
Sadiq Khan, London Mayor said: "Those who mock health and safety, regulations and red tape need to take a hard look at the consequences of cutting these and ask themselves whether Grenfell Tower is a price worth paying. Nowadays, we would not dream of building towers to the standards of the 1970s, but their inhabitants still have to live with that legacy. It may well be the defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s are systematically torn down."
On 18 June 2017, the father of one of the victims, 27-year-old architect Marco Gottardi, who had moved to the building three months before, reported to the media that his son had told him he thought the building was "unsafe", although it had been recently renovated, since the renovation had followed inadequate safety guidelines.
Grenfell Action GroupEdit
A residents' organisation, Grenfell Action Group (GAG), published a blog in which it highlighted major safety problems. In 2013, the group published a 2012 fire risk assessment done by a TMO Health and Safety Officer which recorded safety concerns. Firefighting equipment at the tower had not been checked for up to four years; on-site fire extinguishers had expired, and some had the word "condemned" written on them because they were so old. GAG documented its attempts to contact KCTMO management; they also alerted the council Cabinet Member for Housing and Property but said they never received a reply from him or his deputy.
In January 2016, GAG warned that people might be trapped in the building if a fire broke out, pointing out that the building had only one entrance and exit, and corridors that had been allowed to fill with rubbish, such as old mattresses. GAG frequently cited other fires in tower blocks when it warned of the hazards at Grenfell.
In November 2016, GAG published online an article attacking KCTMO as an "evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia" and accusing the council of ignoring health and safety laws. GAG suggested that "only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of [KCTMO]", adding, "[We] predict that it won't be long before the words of this blog come back to haunt the KCTMO management and we will do everything in our power to ensure that those in authority know how long and how appallingly our landlord has ignored their responsibility to ensure the heath [sic] and safety of their tenants and leaseholders. They can't say that they haven't been warned!" The group had also published other articles criticising fire safety and maintenance practices at Grenfell Tower.
Fire and casualtiesEdit
The fire started in the early hours of Wednesday 14 June 2017. The London Fire Brigade were first called at 00:54 BST (UTC+1) and the first responders arrived six minutes after the alarm. Firefighters put out the fire in the flat within minutes. When the crew was leaving the building, firefighters outside spotted flames rising up the exterior of the building, where it began to spread at a "terrifying rate".
The fire is reported to have begun on the fourth floor. Residents alerted neighbours and began to evacuate the building. Due to Ramadan, many observing Muslim residents were awake for the pre-dawn meal of suhur, which enabled them to alert neighbours and help them to escape.
A team of more than 250 firefighters from 70 fire engines attempted to control the blaze. Firefighters entered the building to rescue people, undertaking efforts that broke their own safety protocols, but reported that they were hindered by the extreme heat. At the height of the blaze, a hundred or more firefighters were inside the building.
The fire on the exterior moved upward and to the other side, re-entering the building. Fire crews with breathing apparatus searched for people trapped in the building and carried them out; they reported thick smoke and zero visibility above the fourth floor. After three hours, the original teams of firefighters were replaced by new crews. A contingent of riot police was present; each of them attended a firefighter and held a shield horizontally above their heads to protect the two from falling heavy debris such as burning pieces of the cladding. Police equipped with red "Enforcer" battering rams also attended to provide a method of entry into locked flats.
By sunrise, the firefighters were still battling the fire and trying to spray areas where people were seen trapped. The watching crowd were pushed back from the building because of falling debris. At 04:14, officials from the Metropolitan Police Service addressed the large crowd of onlookers and urgently instructed them to contact anyone they knew who was trapped in the building—if they are able to reach them via phone or social media—to tell them they must try to self-evacuate and not wait for the fire brigade. At 05:00, the building was still burning and severely damaged.
Witnesses reported seeing people trapped inside the burning building, switching the lights in their flats on and off or waving from windows to attract help, some holding children. There were two witness accounts of parents dropping their children down to people below, including a baby who was caught after being thrown from the ninth or tenth floor, and a small boy thrown from the fifth or sixth floor.
There were also eyewitness reports that some people were jumping out, and three victims were later found to have died from "injuries consistent with falling from a height". At least one person used knotted blankets to make a rope and escape from the burning building. Frequent explosions that were reported to be from gas lines in the building were heard. Firefighters were able to rescue an elderly, partially sighted man on the 11th floor, pictured on live television waving for help, after twelve hours. At a news conference in the afternoon of 14 June, London Fire Brigade reported firefighters had rescued 65 people from the building and reached all 24 floors.
The fire continued to burn on the tower's upper floors. It was not brought under control until 01:14 BST (UTC+1) on 15 June and firefighters were still damping down pockets of fire when the Brigade issued an update on 16 June. Although fears were expressed that the building could collapse, structural engineers determined that it was not in danger and that rescue teams could enter it to search for survivors and casualties.
As of 8 August 2017, The Metropolitan Police in agreement with the Coroner, Dr. Fiona Wilcox, record 50 formally identified victims, including a stillborn baby. A total of at least 80 people are presumed dead. There are said to be about 255 survivors but some have not come forward and there is no formal register of who was in the building. The police said they were using "every imaginable source" of information "from government agencies to fast food companies" to identify casualties, but did not expect a final figure until 2018 when the search and recovery operation is over.
On 28 June, the authorities stated that there were known survivors from 106 of the tower's 129 flats; eighteen people among the occupants of these flats were reported as dead or missing presumed dead, whereas most of those killed were said to have been in the remaining 23 flats between the 11th and 23rd floors. Some people from lower floors may have tried to move up the building, and it is thought a number of people may have ended up in one flat. Some victims were identified from twenty-six 999 calls made from inside the 23 flats.
The missing include many children. The youngest of those known killed, Leena Belkadi, was 6 months old. One victim died in hospital on 15 June due to inhalation of fire fumes. Additionally, one then pregnant survivor lost her baby through stillbirth as a result of the fire.
A total of 151 homes were destroyed in the tower and surrounding area. The incident ranks as the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since the start of the 20th century, when detailed records began. The death toll is higher than the Bradford City stadium fire of 1985, which killed 56 people.
The disaster escalated as follows:
- By 05:00 BST, police reported that several people were being treated for smoke inhalation.
- By 06:30, it was reported that 50 people had been taken to five hospitals: Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, King's College Hospital, Royal Free, St Thomas's, and St Mary's Hospital.
- By 09:30, London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton reported that there were fatalities resulting from the fire, but she could not specify how many had been killed because of the size and complexity of the building. Cotton said: "This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale."
- By 12:00 the Metropolitan Police announced there were six people confirmed dead, and more than 70 in hospital, with 20 in critical condition. The first person announced dead was Mohammed al-Haj Ali, a Syrian refugee. A large number of people were reported missing.
- At around 17:00, the number of confirmed deaths was increased to 12, and at 11:00 on the following day (15 June 2017), it was increased to 17. Six of these victims were reported as having been found "outside the block", the other eleven were found inside.
- On 16 June 2017, police said they did not believe they would find more survivors. It was likely that some victims would never be identified due to the intensity of the fire, and the final death toll might exceed 100. Many bodies still remained in the tower. Twenty-four people remained in hospital, with 12 in critical care.
- On 17 June 2017, the police confirmed 30 fatalities and that a total of 58 persons were missing, presumed dead.
- As of 19 June 2017, the official presumed number of deaths was 79, including 74 missing people and five formally identified casualties.
- On 22 June 2017, at least three people were treated in hospital with an antidote for poisoning with hydrogen cyanide (probably released by the burning facade compounds).
- On 5 July 2017, the Metropolitan Police stated that 87 sets of human remains had been recovered from the building, although the degree of destruction caused by the fire made it impossible to be certain that the remains belonged to 87 individuals.
On 26 July, at the fourth public meeting of the Grenfell Response Team, a local volunteer reported that there had been at least 20 suicide attempts in north Kensington since the fire, one of which had been successful.
Concerns over official casualty figuresEdit
There is concern that the death toll may be higher than indicated by the official figures, due to the number of undocumented subtenants, migrants and asylum seekers believed to have been living in the building. Mayor Sadiq Khan called for an amnesty to ensure that people with pertinent information could come forward.
On 22 June 2017, Theresa May promised in the House of Commons that no immigration checks would be performed on anyone coming forward to help the authorities identify casualties, or to provide information to the criminal investigation. However, two weeks later the government said that anyone coming forward would be subject to normal immigration rules, including the possibility of deportation after twelve months. May also said that the death toll may rise further; in some cases, entire families had perished.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced on 2 July 2017 that anyone who had been illegally subletting flats in Grenfell Tower and could provide information on who had been in the building at the time of the fire would be protected from prosecution.
Members of the local community, including celebrities Lily Allen and rapper Akala, insisted that the official figures were far short of the actual death toll, which they believed to be well into triple digits. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott expressed her belief that the final number of people who had died in the disaster would be in triple digits, describing the deaths as a consequence of "second-class standards of safety" and "a direct consequence of deregulation".
David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said that the lack of updates on the number of dead and survivors was "fuelling suspicion of a cover-up", describing the official death toll of 79 as "far, far too low". Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said on 27 June 2017 that while much was being done to gain "greater clarity" on the number of dead, she remains "really concerned ... that we do not have a complete picture."
By 28 June 2017, two weeks after the fire, residents frustrated with the slow release of information by the authorities, in particular the lack of official numbers for those known to have survived and those normally resident in the tower, had formed groups conducting their own investigations into the death toll, compiling lists of survivors and people missing. A spokesperson for one of these groups, Grenfell United, estimated that more than 120 people had died in the fire.
On 2 July 2017 a Fire Brigades Union representative was reported as saying, "We know the death toll will be higher than the official figure – and we’re not talking about one or two higher. There's a strong possibility we are talking about three figures." Another firefighter said, "We've been told by our management don't speak, ideally. The coroner has said it could obstruct the investigation. I don't know how it can – what's happened has happened, but that's what we're being told."
The official Grenfell Tower Response Unit said that of the 129 households in the block, 99 had received emergency payments by 28 June, enabling a rough estimate of how many households had survivors, although payments to some families were reportedly still outstanding.
On 10 July 2017, police said that they expected the death toll to remain at about 80, stating that of an estimated 350 people living in the building, 255 had survived the blaze, and that another 14 were not in the building at the time of the fire.
At the third public meeting held by the Grenfell Response Team, on 18 July, a resident told those in charge,"I was from the tower. We have been in these meetings several times, it just feels like school meetings because you don’t want to tell the truth to the people. We definitely know how many people have died and how many people are alive now. You have got so many ways, so many possibilities in your hand to find out how many people have died. Therefore it is obvious that you don’t want to tell the truth, but everybody here knows the truth."
A resident from the fourth-floor told the media that the initial source of combustion was a neighbour's fridge which had caught fire at 00:50 BST. A small fire could be seen in his kitchen through his opened door. They immediately began knocking on doors to alert people. Within 30 minutes the fire was out of control. Flames rapidly spread via the outside of the building to cover an area from the second floor to the top.
Police announced on 23 June 2017 that the root of the fire was a model FF175BP fridge-freezer produced under the Hotpoint brand for Whirlpool. Owners of the types FF175BP and FF175BG were urged to register their appliance with the manufacturer to receive any updates. Sixty-four thousand of these models were made between March 2006 and July 2009, after which the model was discontinued. It is unknown how many are still in use.
The government ordered immediate testing of the type of fridge-freezer that was involved. Greg Clark, the business secretary, said: “The safety of consumers is paramount. The device is being subject to immediate and rigorous testing to establish the cause of the fire. I have made clear to the company that I will expect them to replace any item without delay if it is established that there is a risk in using them.”
While there was much criticism of the lack of fire sprinkler systems, Geoff Wilkinson, the building regulations columnist for the Architects' Journal, wrote on 14 June 2017 that if a gas riser was leaking or the cladding was at fault, sprinklers would have had little effect. He also said that reports of combustible material stored in the common walkways suggested poor overall management. David Siber, an advisor to the Fire Brigades Union, said sprinklers would have prevented the fire, if it started in a kitchen, from ever spreading beyond that room.
Fire brigade responseEdit
Research by John Sweeney for BBC Newsnight revealed several issues. There was insufficient mains water pressure for the hoses the fire service used and Thames Water had to be called to increase it. Also, a high ladder did not arrive for 32 minutes, by which time the fire was out of control. Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union said, "... having that on the first attendance might have made a difference because it allows you to operate a very powerful water tower from outside the building onto the building." Before Grenfell, 70% of fire brigades would have automatically sent a high ladder to tower fires.
An independent fire expert told the BBC having the ladder earlier could have stopped the fire getting out of control. The London Fire Brigade told Newsnight the first attendance procedure for tower fires has now been changed from four engines to five engines plus a high ladder unit. Firefighters said inside the building they lacked sufficient 'extended duration' breathing apparatus. They had difficulty getting vital radio messages through due to 'overuse of the system' and from the need to get the signal through layers of concrete.
There are questions as to why a 42 m (138 ft) firefighting platform had to be borrowed from Surrey for Grenfell (67 m (220 ft) high) as the London Fire Brigade does not have its own. The Surrey platform did not arrive until the fire had been burning for several hours. A London Fire Brigade spokesman said, "The commissioner has made clear her intention to fully review the brigade's resources and seek funding for any additional requirements." London mayor, Sadiq Khan promised to supply new equipment that the London Fire Brigade needed promptly and stated he would not wait for the public inquiry.
Commissioner Dany Cotton later said having more firefighters may not have helped as there would not have physically been enough room for them in the building. The single stairwell also restricted access.
Kensington and Chelsea Council was warned in 2010 that building a new secondary school very near Grenfell Tower could block access by emergency vehicles. A 2013 blog post by Grenfell Action Group stated, "There is barely adequate room to manoeuvre for fire engines responding to emergency calls, and any obstruction of this emergency access zone could have lethal consequences in the event of a serious fire or similar emergency in Grenfell Tower or the adjacent blocks." The council demolished a multi-storey car park to build the school. This added to congestion and parked cars in streets around Grenfell Tower that were already narrow and made it hard for fire engines to get to the fire.
Some residents said no fire alarms went off when the fire started and that they were alerted to the fire only by people screaming for help or knocks on the door and not by a fire alarm. Another resident said they were alerted to the fire by the sound of an alarm and the sight of smoke. Others reported that they survived by ignoring the "stay put" advice given by council notices: a directive instructing residents to remain in their flat in case of fire. The emergency services originally repeated the "stay put" advice to residents while the fire was spreading; they later reversed this advice, but by then it was more difficult to exit the building.
The London-wide Radical Housing Network, a self-described "group of groups ... fighting for housing justice across London" of which the Grenfell Action Group is a member, said that the fire was "a horrific, preventable tragedy" that was the result of a "combination of government cuts, local authority mismanagement, and sheer contempt for council tenants and the homes they live in".
Grenfell Action Group warningsEdit
After the fire, the Grenfell Action Group said that its years of complaints to warn the council, who own the building, and the KCTMO, who "supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the council's behalf", had been ignored, posting a message on its website:
Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC. ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.
The council had threatened the Grenfell Action Group with legal action in 2013 in a bid to prevent the group criticising the council, saying that such criticism amounted to "defamation and harassment".
Stay put policyEdit
In a July 2014 Grenfell Tower regeneration newsletter, the KCTMO instructed residents to stay in the flat in case of a fire ("Our longstanding 'stay put' policy stays in force until you are told otherwise") and stated that the front doors for each unit could survive a fire for up to 30 minutes.
The May 2016 newsletter had a similar message, adding that it was on the advice of the Fire Brigade:
The smoke detection systems have been upgraded and extended. The Fire Brigade has asked us to reinforce the message that, if there is a fire which is not inside your own home, you are generally safest to stay put in your home to begin with; the Fire Brigade will arrive very quickly if a fire is reported.
The standard advice for people to stay put until rescued relies on the assumption that fire services can contain a fire within the building's interior; but this is impossible if the fire is spreading rapidly via the building's exterior.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said that he wanted answers about the fire safety condition at Grenfell Tower, and criticised the official "stay put" policy: "Thankfully residents didn't take that advice but fled". He added, "These are some of the questions that have to be answered. We have lots of people in London living in tower blocks ... We can't have people's lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance."
David Lammy MP has suggested the policy should be investigated as part of the first stage of the Public Inquiry.
Dany Cotton said Grenfell was unique in terms of volume and behaviour of fire. She said it was a matter for the inquiry, but defended the general "stay put" policy for most buildings by reasoning that if residents all evacuate at once, they could block firefighters from entering. Furthermore, smoke and fire could be spread within a building by residents opening doors.
Fire safety review shelvedEdit
Former Conservative Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, faced criticism after political journalist Joe Watts wrote in The Independent that he had delayed a fire safety review, and that a report into fire safety in tower blocks had been shelved for four years; Barwell had been due to meet the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group to discuss the review in 2017, but the meeting was postponed after the snap general election was called. Barwell lost his seat in the election and was appointed Downing Street Chief of Staff shortly afterwards. In his report Watts stated that a review of fire-safety regulations had been necessary, but not undertaken, for years before Barwell took office.
Exterior cladding and insulationEdit
- exterior cladding: aluminium sandwich plates (3 mm each) with polyethylene core
- a standard ventilation gap (50 mm) between the cladding and the insulation behind it
- an insulation made of PIR (polyisocyanurate) foam plates (150 mm) mounted on the existing facade
- the existing prefabricated reinforced-concrete facade
- new double-glazed windows of unknown type and material, mounted in the same vertical plane as the PIR foam insulation plates
Both the aluminium-polyethylene cladding and the PIR insulation plates failed fire safety tests conducted after the fire, according to the police. In 2014 safety experts cautioned that the planned insulation was only suitable for use with non-combustible cladding. The Guardian saw a certificate from the building inspectors’ organisation, Local Authority Building Control (LABC), which stated that the chosen insulation for the refit should be used on tall buildings only with fibre cement panels, which do not burn. Combustible panels with polyethylene were put up on top of insulation known as Celotex RS5000, made from polyisocyanurate, which burns when heated giving off toxic cyanide fumes.
Despite the above, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea certified the Grenfell tower building work as allegedly conforming to “the relevant provisions”. Council building inspectors visited the site 16 times from August 2014 to July 2016. Kooltherm, a phenolic insulation was also used on Grenfell. Kooltherm was never tested with polyethylene core aluminium panels according to the manufacturer. The manufacturer, Kingspan, “would be very surprised if such a system … would ever pass the appropriate British Standard 8414 large-scale test”. Kooltherm’s LABC certificate claims phenolic products, “do not meet the limited combustibility requirements” of building regulations.
The combustible materials used on Grenfell Tower were considerably cheaper than non-conbustible alternatives would have been. There appear to have been intense cost pressures over the Grenfell refurbishment. In June 2017 it was revealed the project team chose cheaper cladding that saved £293,368, after the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation mentioned in an email the need for “good costs for Cllr Fielding Mellen [the council’s former deputy leader]”.
A building control officer from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea reportedly passed the cladding on Grenfell Tower on 15 May 2015, though there was a nationwide warning that the combustible insulation used should only be used with cladding that does not burn.
One hundred and eleven buildings have failed combustion tests done since the Grenfell fire. There are calls for the government to give financial assistance to councils that have to carry out expensive building renovations. Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “The tragedy at Grenfell Tower has clearly exposed a systemic failure of the current system of building regulation. The government must commit to meet the full cost to councils of removing and replacing cladding and insulation systems.
It is also imperative that this testing process moves quickly to identify what landlords should be replacing these systems with as soon as possible. With these latest test-fails affecting buildings owned by a range of different landlords across the country, the government also needs to make sure there is capacity within the housebuilding industry to take quick action to carry out the scale of remedial work that looks likely to be needed.”
Fire safety experts have said that the building's new external cladding was a possible cause of the rapid spread of the fire. Experts said the gap between the cladding and the insulation worked like a chimney to spread the fire. The cladding could be seen burning and melting, causing additional speculation that it was not made of fire-resistant material. One resident said: "The whole one side of the building was on fire. The cladding went up like a matchstick."
Concerns about the dangers of external cladding were raised years before, following a fire in 1991 at flats in Knowsley Heights, Liverpool. Recent major high-rise fires that have involved flammable cladding are listed below.
Records show that a contractor had been paid £2.6 million to install an "ACM rainscreen over-clad" during the recent refurbishment at Grenfell Tower. ACM stands for "aluminium composite material", also known as a sandwich panel, the combustibility of which depends on the choice of insulation core material.
One of the products used was Arconic's Reynobond, which is available with different types of core material—polyethylene, as reportedly used in Grenfell Tower (Reynobond PE), or a more fire-resistant material (Reynobond FR). The Reynobond cladding reportedly cost £24 per square metre for the fire-retardant version, and £22 for the combustible version.
According to Arconic's website and brochure for the mainland European market at the time of the fire, the Reynobond PE cladding used was suitable only for buildings 10 metres or less tall; the fire-retardant Reynobond FR was suitable for buildings up to 30 metres tall; and above the latter height, such as the upper parts of Grenfell Tower, the non-combustible A2 version was supposed to be used (“As soon as the building is higher than the firefighters’ ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material”). After the fire, Arconic stopped sales of Reynobond PE worldwide for tower blocks.
Similar cladding containing highly flammable insulation material is believed to have been installed on thousands of other high-rise buildings in countries including Britain, France, the UAE and Australia. This goes against advice published by the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology.
Sam Webb, the architect who investigated the Lakanal fire and who sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, said "This tragedy was entirely predictable, sadly." Webb added, "I really don't think the building industry understands how fire behaves in buildings and how dangerous it can be. The government's mania for deregulation means our current safety standards just aren't good enough."
In September 2014 a building regulations notice for the re-cladding work was submitted to the authority, and marked with a status of "Completed—not approved". The use of a "Building Notice" building control application is used to remove the need to submit detailed plans and proposals to a building control inspector in advance, where the works performed will be approved by the inspector during the course of their construction. Building inspector Geoff Wilkinson remarked that this type of application is "wholly inappropriate for large complex buildings and should only be used on small, simple domestic buildings".
On 18 June, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond stated that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was banned in the United Kingdom. Grenfell Tower was inspected 16 times while the cladding was being put on but none of these inspections noticed that materials effectively banned in tall buildings were being used. Judith Blakeman, local Labour councillor questioned the competence of the inspectors. Blakeman representing the Grenfell residents, said, “This raises the question of whether the building regulations officers were sufficiently competent and did they know what they were looking at. It also begs a question about what they were actually shown. Was anything concealed from them.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government stated that cladding with a polyethylene core "would be non-compliant with current Building Regulations guidance. This material should not be used as cladding on buildings over 18 metres (59 ft) in height." On 31 July 2017, the Department released results of fire safety testing on the cladding panels used at Grenfell Tower, which were carried out by the Building Research Establishment and assigned the polyethylene filling a category three rating, designating a total lack of flame retardant properties.
According to US-based Arconic, the polyethylene version of the material is banned in the United States for use in buildings exceeding 40 feet (12 m) in height, because of the risk of spreading fire and smoke. NPR subsequently explained that nearly all jurisdictions in the US (except three states and the District of Columbia) have enacted the International Building Code (IBC) requirement that external wall assemblies (cladding, insulation, and wall) on high-rise buildings with combustible components must pass a rigorous real-world simulation test promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association under the name NFPA 285.
To perform the test, the entire planned assembly is constructed on a standardised test rig two-storeys tall, with a window opening in the middle, and is continuously ignited with gas burners from two different angles for 30 minutes. The assembly must satisfy numerous performance criteria to pass, including a requirement that flames cannot spread more than 10 ft (3.0 m) vertically from the top of the window opening or 5 ft (1.5 m) horizontally.
A single NFPA 285 test can cost over $30,000, and it certifies only a particular assembly, meaning that any change to any part used requires a new test. To date, ACM cladding with a polyethylene core has not been able to pass the NFPA 285 test, and thus has been effectively banned on US high-rises for decades. In contrast, the UK does not mandate the use of such simulations.
Fire safety experts claim the tests the government is doing on cladding only are insufficient as the whole unit of cladding and insulation should be tested including fire stops. Fire safety experts maintain further that the tests lack transparency as the government has not revealed what tests are being done. However Christopher Booker claimed that inferior EU building fire tests which required testing each component separately were introduced in 2002 and the Building Research Establishment's standard BS 8414 which MP's recommended after a fire in Scotland was optional.
According to its datasheet, the polyisocyanurate (PIR) product — charred pieces of which littered the area around Grenfell Tower after the fire — "will burn if exposed to a fire of sufficient heat and intensity". PIR insulation foams "will, when ignited, burn rapidly and produce intense heat, dense smoke and gases which are irritating, flammable and/or toxic", among them carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. The fire toxicity of polyisocyanurate foams has been well understood for some time.
At least three survivors were treated for cyanide poisoning. Exposure to carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide simultaneously produces a higher lethality than exposure to the two gases separately.
Celotex's Rainscreen Compliance Guide when specifying Celotex RS5000 in buildings above 18 metres (59 ft) sets out the conditions under which the product was tested and for which it has been certified as meeting the required fire safety standards. These include the use of (non-combustible) 12 mm fibre cement rainscreen panels, ventilated horizontal fire breaks at each floor slab edge and vertical non-ventilated fire breaks. It states that any changes from the tested configuration "will need to be considered by the building designer".
Review of building regulationsEdit
Building regulations are to be reviewed in the light of the fire due to a number of concerns. As of July 2017 it is unclear if the problems are with the rules or their enforcement but there is concern over fire safety issues with many other buildings.
Criticism of fire safety building standardsEdit
Reinhard Ries, the fire chief in Frankfurt, Germany, was critical of lax fire regulations in the United Kingdom, contrasting the laws in Germany that ban flammable cladding on buildings higher than 22 m and require segregated fire-stairs and firefighting lifts which can be used by the fire brigade and injured or disabled people.
Russ Timpson of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network told The Telegraph that "foreign colleagues are staggered" when they learn that UK regulations permit high-rise buildings to have only a single staircase, and called on government to review the relevant regulations.
Other criticisms of UK fire regulations voiced in the aftermath of the fire include the lack of external sprinklers, mandated in Dubai and Australia for example for buildings featuring combustible cladding, the lack of internal sprinklers, which could have contained the original fire, and a 1986 change in the law under the then Conservative government that abolished a requirement that external walls should have at least one hour's fire resistance to prevent blazes from re-entering a building and spreading to other apartments.
The New York Times reported that because of the Great Fire of London, UK building codes have historically been overly focused on containing horizontal fire spread between buildings or between units in larger buildings, as opposed to vertical fire spread in high-rises.
On 21 June 2017, the Prime Minister criticised the quality of the support given to the victims in the period immediately after the fire as a "failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most".
The local council's response to the Grenfell Tower fire has been subject to widespread criticism. Council member Emma Dent Coad, also the newly elected Labour MP for the area (Kensington constituency) and a former board member of KCTMO, accused the council of having failed and betrayed its residents; characterising the fire as "entirely preventable", she added that "I can't help thinking that poor quality materials and construction standards may have played a part in this hideous and unforgivable event".
Residents have expressed concerns that the council has told them nothing, and there are fears they will be moved away from the area, as part of a "social cleansing" programme. Dent Coad asserts that residents have no confidence in Sir Martin Moore-Bick and that he should not lead the inquiry.
Nature of inquiryEdit
Moore-Bick is seen as aloof and lacking empathy; he concerned residents by suggesting only the technical causes of the fire would be investigated. Dent Coad said she still had less than “total confidence” in Moore-Bick, but “we have to work with the system we have, unfortunately.” Sources close to the inquiry suggest Moore-Bick is thinking of proposing an advisory panel. He is also inclined to recommend a two-stage inquiry: the first stage investigating the immediate causes of the fire, the second investigating broader issues over a longer period. Dent Coad said there must be a legal commitment to a second stage. "We need to look at all the broader issues. One of the concerns about a two part inquiry – like with Hillsborough – is if it’s held off for too long and then it doesn’t happen at all, so that's a concern." Dent Coad wants the first stage to, “look at accountability and recommendations straight away so that the things that have become most obvious throughout the inquiry are put into action straight away."
David Lammy favours a two-stage enquiry; the first to deal with policies and decisions of Kensington and Chelsea council and the Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), also London Fire Brigade's "stay put" policy, which it has been suggested contributed to the high death toll, the second stage to cover, "systemic failure at a local and national level when it comes to the provision, management and administration of social housing in this country.” Lammy supports an advisory panel of survivors, victims’ families and local residents “to boost confidence and trust in the inquiry.”
Inquest, a group campaigning for people who die in controversial situations, wants the inquiry to, "address the pain, trauma and individual and community damage caused by the tragedy, and the lack of public trust and confidence in the state institutions involved." Inquest suggested three areas of investigation for the inquiry, the state of affairs leading up to the fire, its cause, spread and impact, also the immediate emergency response, and the after effects of the fire including, "the role that discrimination, inequality or institutional indifference played in the systemic failures in the aftermath and the response at a local and national level."
Grenfell Tower is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the wealthiest local authorities in the country, containing some of the most expensive houses in the world, and with the highest gap between rich and poor anywhere in the country. Grenfell Tower was populated by poorer, mainly ethnic-minority residents. The Conservative-run council was criticised for neglecting the borough's poorer residents, and some have blamed their neglect as a cause of the fire.
In 2016, the council took £55 million in rent but only invested less than £40 million in council housing. One journalist described the incident as an example of Britain's inequality. Data released in June 2017 by Trust for London and New Policy Institute shows large divides between rich and poor in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The analysis found that it is a borough with some very high incomes, as well as the highest average incomes in London, there are pockets of deprivation, particularly in the north end of the borough, including the ward in which Grenfell Tower is located.
After the council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown was interviewed on BBC's Newsnight, he was criticised for his remark that "many residents felt that we needed to get on with the installation of new hot water systems, new boilers and that trying to retrofit more would delay the building and that sprinklers aren't the answer."
After the fire, volunteer people and groups worked to help those made homeless and without possessions. The volunteers criticised council officials for doing little to coordinate these efforts. There were calls to jail those responsible for the fire. Deborah Orr wrote, "We know that fire-safe cladding was available. The idea of being energy efficient and safe was not impossible, or even undesirable in theory. But fire-resistant cladding would have raised the cost for the whole building by an estimated £5,000. That sum may be what people died for."
On 17 June 2017, MPs asked the council to explain why it had amassed £274 million of reserves, after years of underspending, and had not used any of its budget surplus to increase fire safety, given that residents had issued repeated warnings about the Grenfell Tower fire risk. The council actually used the surplus to pay top-rate council taxpayers a £100 rebate shortly before local elections which returned a Conservative council. After the fire, some former residents of Grenfell Tower still had rent payment taken out of their bank account for the burnt-out property by the council.
The council received further criticism for their lack of support on 18 June 2017. Some families were reported to be sleeping on the floor in local centres four days after the event. A leading volunteer in the relief effort said: "Kensington and Chelsea are giving £10 to the survivors when they go to the hotels – a tenner – there is money pouring in from all these amazing volunteers. We can't get access to this money."
MP David Lammy likened the lack of government coordination to Victorian England. London mayor Sadiq Khan said "years of neglect" by the council and successive governments were responsible for what had been a "preventable accident". There are calls for the council leader and some others to resign.
Dawn Foster, contributing editor on housing for The Guardian, said that this was an "atrocity" that "was explicitly political" and "a symbol of the United Kingdom's deep inequality". Data released in June 2017 by Trust for London and New Policy Institute shows large divides between rich and poor in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The analysis found that whilst Kensington and Chelsea is a borough with some very high incomes, as well as the highest average incomes in London, there are pockets of deprivation, particularly in the north end of the borough, including the ward in which Grenfell Tower is located.
Patrick Cockburn of The Independent criticised deregulation of the building industry by the government, which he described as "cutting red tape". This was contrasted with the increasing complexity of processes faced by prospective benefits claimants including those with mental health issues. Cockburn said long enquiries were not necessary to establish what went wrong; the tower's cladding was inflammable and no sprinklers had been installed. Cockburn said that "The Government is clearly frightened that the burned bodies in Grenfell Towers will be seen as martyrs who died because of austerity, deregulation and outsourcing."
In his column on the disaster, Aditya Chakrabortty of The Guardian drew comparisons to the often lethal living and working conditions faced by the working classes and poor in Victorian Manchester, which Friedrich Engels characterised as social murder in his 1845 study The Condition of the Working Class in England. Chakrabortty asserted that "those dozens of Grenfell residents didn’t die: they were killed. What happened last week wasn’t a “terrible tragedy” or some other studio-sofa platitude: it was social murder . . . Over 170 years later, Britain remains a country that murders its poor."
Residents approved initial plans for fire resistant zinc cladding but this was later changed to cheaper aluminium cladding with combustible polyethylene core which residents did not approve, saving nearly £300,000.
On 29 June, Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council held its first full meeting since the fire. The council had tried to exclude the press and public from the meeting, citing safety concerns. Journalists sought an injunction to force the council let them attend, which was granted. The meeting was adjourned shortly after it began, with members of the council's cabinet claiming that to proceed would be prejudicial to the forthcoming public enquiry. Sadiq Khan and Robert Atkinson, Labour group leader on the council, both called for the council's entire cabinet to resign. Atkinson described the situation as "an absolute fiasco". Khan said that it beggared belief that the council was trying to hold meetings in secret when the meeting was the first chance the council had to provide some answers and show transparency. He said that some people were asking whether or not the council was involved in a cover up. Conservative council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown resigned on 30 June.
Loss of confidenceEdit
Sadiq Khan and others have called on the government to appoint commissioners to run Kensington and Chelsea council till the next elections because critics maintain confidence in the current administration has been lost. Khan said he wanted 'untainted' commissioners with a genuine empathy with residents and their situation.
Describing the council response, David Alexander, professor of disaster management at University College, London said, “North Kensington is now in a crucial transition and planning phase between the intense efforts of immediate relief and longer-term reconstruction when failures of leadership can be particularly damaging. We find that in some cases – the worst ones – it isn’t a transition at all, or rather it is a transition from nothing much to nothing else. Absence of clear strategies breeds lack of trust in authority, loss of confidence and a fear of the future that, sadly, is often well founded.”
The fire's proximity to Latimer Road tube station caused a partial closure of London Underground's Hammersmith & City and Circle lines. The A40 Westway was closed in both directions. Bus routes were also being diverted. Services on the Hammersmith & City, and Circle lines were again suspended on 17 June due to concerns about debris falling from the tower.
People from surrounding buildings were evacuated due to concerns that the tower might collapse.
Kensington Aldridge Academy sits adjacent to Grenfell Tower, inside the police cordon, and has been closed since the fire. Students have been temporarily relocated to different schools in the area for lessons and exams. This was during the annual exam period, typically late May to Early July when pupils take their GCSEs and A-Levels
Following the general election of 8 June, which resulted in no overall majority, a deal was expected to be announced between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), but DUP sources informed the BBC that the fire would delay the finalisation and announcement of this agreement. The announcement would be postponed until the following week and thus could postpone discussions on Brexit that had been scheduled to take place.
The City of London cancelled the annual Mansion House Dinner, hosted by the Lord Mayor of London due to take place the day after the fire. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had been due to address the event, but had said he would not do so following the fire.
The fire also severely affected three low-rise "finger blocks" adjoining Grenfell Tower. Their residents were evacuated due to the fire and many remained in temporary accommodation at the start of July. The blocks, Barandon Walk, Testerton Walk and Hurstway Walk, also lost access to hot water as they shared a boiler beneath Grenfell Tower that was destroyed in the fire.
Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council has made 169 offers of accommodation to the survivors, 46 of which have been accepted but only twelve households have been rehoused by 1 August. The council has secured 105 flats so far, including 68 at Kensington Row and 31 on Hortensia Road, Chelsea, and is in the process of allocating the properties.
People in the immediate area and from across London rallied to assist victims of the fire, in a response that saw people of all ages, races and social classes come together. Donations of food, water, toys, and clothes were made. St Clement's Church, Treadgold Street and St James' Church, Norlands, in the Deanery of Kensington, provided shelter for people evacuated from their homes, as did nearby mosques and temples. Notting Hill Methodist Church near to Grenfell tower became a focus of tributes and held regular vigils for the victims.
Nearby Queens Park Rangers F.C. offered their Loftus Road venue as a relief centre and have been accepting donations of food, drink and clothing from the local community, and other nearby football clubs Brentford and Chelsea also offered their stadiums as relief centres.
Following her private visit to the scene of the fire on 15 June 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a full public inquiry into the fire. Also on 15 June, the government issued information including details of a dedicated benefits line and a fund to support the survivors.
On 16 June 2017 the government announced the establishment of an interim £5 million fund for survivors of the fire and committed to ensuring that those who had lost their homes will be rehoused in the borough or neighbouring boroughs, as close as possible to Grenfell Tower, within three weeks. This was followed by an announcement on 18 June 2017 that all those made homeless would receive £5,500, with each household to be given at least £500 in cash and £5,000 paid into an account.
The government also announced details of how the £5 million fund would be spent. This included funds to support people in temporary accommodation, a discretionary fund to help with funeral costs, and funding to help with residents' legal representation. An extra £1.5 million was promised for emergency services' mental health support.
On 21 June 2017, the government announced the acquisition of 68 flats in a newly built development at Kensington Row in the same borough as Grenfell Tower, which would be used to rehouse families made homeless by the fire. The development is in Kensington, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the Tower. Not all residents in the area of the new flats welcomed the idea of those from Grenfell Tower being rehoused near them.
The same day, Theresa May said in the House of Commons that there had been a "failure of the state – local and national – to help people when they needed it most", adding, "As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure. As Prime Minister I have taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right. That is why each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a down payment from the emergency fund so they can buy food, clothes and other essentials. And all those who have lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks."
On 22 June 2017, Theresa May stated in the House of Commons that anyone affected by the tragedy, regardless of their immigration status, would be entitled to support, including healthcare services and accommodation. No immigration checks would be performed on those affected. (Two weeks later, however, the government said that anyone coming forward would be subject to normal immigration rules, including the possibility of deportation, after twelve months.) May added that it was important for those receiving payments from the fund to understand that they could keep the money – they would not have to pay it back, and it would not impact their entitlement to any other benefits.
May said that further residential buildings with flammable cladding of the type used in Grenfell Tower had been identified.
Grenfell Fire Response Team (GRT)Edit
On 18 June 2017 the government relieved Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council of responsibility for supporting the survivors, after their inadequate response to the disaster. Responsibility was handed over to the Grenfell Fire Response Team (GRT) led by a group of chief executives from councils across London. John Barradell, City of London Corporation chief executive, is leading the response team. Resources available to them include: central government, the British Red Cross, the Metropolitan Police, the London Fire Brigade and local government in London. Neighbouring councils sent in staff to improve the rehousing response.
The government also announced that they will send in a task force to take over some of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council's functions when the GRT is gradually wound down. This move from the government stops short of demands from the London mayor who called for ministers to appoint external commissioners to take over the running of the whole council.
Grenfell Tower was insured by Protector Forsikring ASA for £20 million, but the direct costs of the fire are likely to be substantially higher. According to The Times, the financial impact of the fire could reach as high as £1 billion due to a combination of litigation, compensation for deaths and injuries, rehousing and rehabilitation, the cost of demolition and rebuilding and the possibility that other tower blocks may have to be improved or evacuated.
The Queen said that her thoughts and prayers were with the affected families. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, said she was saddened and called for a cross-government meeting, and a meeting with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. The Mayor of London London Sadiq Khan issued a statement saying he was devastated and also praising the emergency services on the scene. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the emergency services for their actions, but said that questions needed to be answered about the fire. The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, went to the site fire in the morning, and counselled firefighters moving in and out of the building. In the afternoon, he spent his time with survivors, and also helped collect charity donations in various churches around his parish.[better source needed]
May made a private visit to Grenfell Tower to speak with London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton and other members of the emergency services. Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood stated that security concerns were the reason not to meet with people who lived in the tower. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg commented that May's decision not to meet those who lived in the tower might be interpreted as indicative of a lack of empathy. An editorial in The Guardian called it May's "Hurricane Katrina moment". Former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo described her meeting with members of the emergency services as "a good thing" but felt she "should have been there with the residents. She wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn't use her humanity". The government confirmed Bellwin scheme financial assistance would be available to the council.
Jeremy Corbyn visited a nearby community centre and spoke to some of the volunteers who were helping those affected by the fire.
May made a visit to some of the victims at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. On a second visit that day, May visited St Clement's Church which had been set up as a relief centre. From there she announced a £5 million fund for victims of the fire and promised that residents would be given new housing, as close to Grenfell Tower as possible, "as far as possible within the borough, or in neighbouring boroughs", within the next three weeks. Some people proceeded to shout "coward", "murderer" and "shame on you" at her. Minor scuffles broke out.
An article written by former Conservative MP Matthew Parris in The Times described her as "a good and moral person, who wants the best for her country, and is not privately unfeeling, ... in public is crippled by personal reserve". Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons subsequently visited a relief centre at the Rugby Portobello Trust, where she was confronted by residents angered by May's response, and described the prime minister as being "absolutely heartbroken" over events at Grenfell Tower.
Jeremy Corbyn visited a nearby community centre and spoke to some of the volunteers who were helping those affected by the fire. He called for private property to be "requisitioned if necessary", to provide homes for those displaced by the fire, referring to the large number of empty properties in Kensington. This proposal was characterised by The Telegraph as unlawful. In a survey, 59% of those polled by YouGov supported Corbyn's proposal.
During the afternoon of 16 June 2017, hundreds of people protested at Kensington Town Hall, demanding that victims be rehoused within the borough and that funds be made available for those rendered homeless. The actions of some protesters caused a number of council officials having to be evacuated from the Town Hall.
On her Official Birthday, the Queen released a statement in which she said it was "difficult to escape a very sombre national mood" following the Grenfell Tower fire, and terrorist attacks in London and Manchester shortly before. She led a minute's silence at the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony held at Horse Guards Parade. May met with victims at 10 Downing Street. BBC Two cancelled transmission of the documentary Venice Biennale: Sink or Swim, scheduled for 7.30pm that evening, as it features artist Khadija Saye, who was killed in the fire, and BBC One rescheduled an edition of its new series Pitch Battle because the programme contained themes and song lyrics deemed to be inappropriate so soon after the fire.
David Lammy has demanded that the police seize all documents from relevant parties that could help explain the fire's causes and assist criminal investigations. He said, "The prime minister needs to act immediately to ensure that all evidence is protected so that everyone culpable for what happened at Grenfell Tower is held to account and feels the full force of the law. We need urgent action now to make sure all records and documents relating to the refurbishment and management of Grenfell Tower are protected."
Responsibility for managing the aftermath of the fire was removed from Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council. It was transferred to a new body comprising representatives from central and other local London government, the London Fire Brigade, Metropolitan Police and Red Cross. Residents living near the tower, who had been evacuated and were also effectively homeless, accused the council's leadership of going into hiding. Some families reportedly returned home after being told that rehoming priorities were aimed at those who had lived in Grenfell Tower, amid confusion and uncertainty over whether their homes were safe.
The chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council, Nicholas Holgate, resigned. Holgate said he had been asked to leave by the local government secretary Sajid Javid; the government denied this.
The 2017 Glastonbury Festival opened with a minute's silence for the victims of the Grenfell tower fire and the Manchester Arena bombing, led by Peter Hook, co-founder of Manchester band Joy Division. Camden London Borough Council ordered the evacuation of all 800 flats of the five blocks on the Chalcots Estate following an inspection of the cladding on the buildings. Celotex Saint Gobain announced on its website that it was to stop the supply of RS5000 for use in rainscreen cladding systems in buildings over 18 metres (59 ft) tall.
Music producer Simon Cowell, a borough resident, arranged the recording of a charity single of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water", at nearby Sarm West Studios. Artists involved included Liam Payne, Stormzy, Louisa Johnson, Emeli Sandé, Pixie Lott, Rita Ora, Leona Lewis, Tulisa Contostavlos and Stereophonics singer Kelly Jones. A total of around fifty artists contributed to the single, which was released under the title Artists for Grenfell on 21 June. It sold 120,000 copies in its first day, the highest volume of opening-day sales of the 2010s, and reached number one on the UK Singles Chart on 23 June. The choir, conducted by Gareth Malone, included residents from Grenfell Tower.
Fire and structural safety reviewsEdit
In the days after the fire, local authorities across the United Kingdom undertook reviews of fire safety in their residential tower blocks, including Brighton and Hove City Council, Manchester City Council, Plymouth City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Swindon Borough Council. Around 200 National Health Service trusts across the country were urged by NHS Improvement to check the cladding on their buildings, with particular attention being paid to those buildings housing in-patients.
In London, councils affected included Brent London Borough Council, Camden London Borough Council, Hounslow London Borough Council, Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council, Newham London Borough Council, and Wandsworth London Borough Council.
There are estimated to be about 600 high-rise blocks of flats in the UK that have similar cladding and unspecified fire safety tests have been carried out on panels sent in by councils at the Building Research Establishment in Watford, on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government. By 28 June 2017, 120 high-rise buildings in 37 different local authority areas were reported to have failed fire safety tests, a 100% failure rate of samples tested. Councils had been instructed to begin with those buildings that caused the most concern, and every single one of those had failed the test.
The government's fire safety tests were criticised for looking only at the cladding and not the insulation behind it, which had burned rapidly in the Grenfell Tower fire; testing the insulation is left to councils and landlords. By 6 July, only one of 191 samples tested had passed. It was announced that large-scale tests were to be done on a 9-metre (30 ft) high wall, simulating a fire breaking out of a window.
In August, it was announced that the 52-bed trauma unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford was to close for up to twelve months due to concerns over flammable cladding on the building and other "serious and embedded" fire safety issues.
Risk of building collapseEdit
Other tower blocks are being investigated over structural safety concerns. Four 13-storey tower blocks on the Ledbury estate in Peckham have had their gas supplies cut off as a precaution. In the event of a gas explosion, they could be at risk of collapse. These blocks, containing 242 flats, were constructed using the same "large panel system" as Ronan Point, which partly collapsed in 1968. There are fears that more tower blocks across the country may also be at risk.
Authorities worldwide conducted reviews of fire safety in tower blocks.
In Australia, authorities decided to remove similar cladding from all its tower blocks. It was stated that every tower block built in Melbourne in the previous 20 years had the cladding. In Malta, the Chamber of Engineers and the Chamber of Architects urged the government to update building regulations with regards to fire safety. On 27 June, an 11-storey tower block in Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany was evacuated after it was found that the cladding was similar to that installed on Grenfell Tower.
The local borough pledged to carry out a full investigation into the fire. Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a full public inquiry, saying that people "deserve answers" to why the fire was able to spread as quickly as it did. Sophie Khan, who acted as solicitor for some families in the Lakanal House fire, told BBC Two's Newsnight that inquests would be better for the families as they would allow the families to participate and ask questions. She said the coroner was independent but a public inquiry was government-led and she wondered what information the Prime Minister knew that she wanted to hide.
Another solicitor, Louise Christian, who also acted for families in relation to Lakanal House, wrote in The Guardian that a public inquiry was the best approach. She wrote about a promised public inquiry for Lakanal House being "downgraded to an inquest" and that inquests would be delayed by a criminal investigation. She acknowledged that victims' interests are often sidelined in a public inquiry but wrote that the scope of a public inquiry is wider and that a rapid inquiry would put the government under more pressure to implement its findings immediately.
On 15 June Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy announced that a criminal investigation had been opened to establish if there is any case for charges to be brought. On 27 July 2017 Police issued a public notice to residents saying that they had "reasonable grounds" to suspect that both the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation "may have committed" Corporate manslaughter. Senior representatives of both organisations are likely to face police interviews under caution. More than 60 companies and organisations are associated with Grenfell Tower and police are keeping open all options for a range of possible charges.
David Lammy MP said corporate manslaughter would not get justice for victims and their families. He added, "Gross negligence manslaughter carries a punishment of prison time, and I hope that the police and the CPS are considering charges of manslaughter caused by Gross negligence."
In an interview with the London Evening Standard on 7 August 2017, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, said investigations are at an early stage and nothing is ruled out. Ms Saunders said it was more important to build strong cases than to rush to court and that the DPP had yet to see the evidence. Health and safety legislation and other criminal laws will be considered. If proven, the offence of Gross Negligence Manslaughter carries a maximum life sentence, with a guideline minimum of 12 years. In brief, for such a charge the prosecution must show sufficient evidence to pass a four stage "Adomako Test" proving a reprehensible breach of duty of care which caused or contributed to the victims death.
Cause and spreadEdit
On 23 June 2017 at New Scotland Yard, Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack gave details on how the investigation was being conducted. Tests were made of the fridge suspected of starting the fire, and the cladding used on the building which may have spread the fire. She announced that the police had expert evidence showing the fire was not deliberate and that it had started in a Hotpoint fridge-freezer. Owners of Hotpoint model numbers FF175BP and FF175BG were advised to contact Hotpoint Customer Services.
McCormack stated: ”Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the test started. The initial tests on equivalent aluminium composite tiles failed the safety tests.” The Department for Communities and Local Government was immediately notified of these findings so local councils could act quickly to protect the public.
Tenants repeatedly complained about electrical power surges causing appliances to smoke and such a surge may have started the fire. The Local Authority knew about complaints and had paid tenants compensation for damaged appliances. Judith Blakeman, a local Labour councilor said the surges affected many appliances including fridges. Blakeman maintains the cause of the surges was never solved.
Forensic search and recoveryEdit
Detailed investigations into the causes and possible criminal charges of manslaughter or breach of regulations are in progress. Search dogs, fingertip searches, DNA matching, fingerprinting, dental records and forensic anthropologists are being used. An external lift was fitted to the building to improve access.
The scale of the search and recovery operation is challenging. Human remains are mixed within an estimated 15.5 tonnes (17.1 tons) of debris on every floor. Time and care are being taken to maintain a judicial standard and avoid mistaken identity, which could cause further distress to surviving relatives. Disaster Victim Identification is expected by police to continue to 2018.
By way of comparison, 40% of World Trade Center victims have still not been identified. Such is the similarity, Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey said on 20 July 2017 that investigators with comparable experience from working on the New York 9/11 WTC recovery were being consulted.
Following the Newsnight report of 7 July 2017, the LFB said issues encountered in its response to the fire would also form part of the police investigation. LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton said in a Channel 4 News interview on 11 July 2017 that she expected reasonable criticism of the LFB response in the investigation and public inquiry.
BBC Radio 4 reported on 16 August 2017 that the Fire Brigade was advised by KCTMO during the refurbishment and fire officers had been shown "fire safety features". Council opposition leader Robert Atkinson, structural engineer Paul Follows and building inspector Geoff Wilkinson all expressed shock that the fire had happened given prior consultation with LFB.
London Fire Brigade denied giving approval for the work, saying its legal powers are limited. It said firefighters regularly visit buildings to gain familiarity with the layout and equipment, but that this was not the same as a detailed inspection.
There are around 250 specialists investigating possible cause and culpability, placing additional load on the Metropolitan Police when they are also dealing with recent terrorist incidents, including the London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks.
Cotton defended the heroism of emergency service workers who themselves were affected by Psychological trauma. An on-call counsellor has been made available. Around 80 firefighters and Met Police officers are reported to be suffering from their experiences.
An extra four full-time counsellors have been employed (reversing previous staff reductions) and 60 volunteer counsellors were brought in. All firefighters who attended Grenfell are being given a psychological health check. The BBC report that LFB are using its reserve budget to bring counselling staff back to 2008 levels.
On 6 July 2017, NHS England issued an open letter to GPs giving advice on symptoms for mental health conditions such as PTSD that those affected by this fire (or recent terrorism) may be experiencing.
On 29 June, Sir Martin Moore-Bick was appointed to lead the public inquiry into the fire. He pledged that the inquiry would be "open, transparent and fair." His appointment was not welcomed by some of the survivors, as Moore-Bick's background was in the Commercial Court and the Court of Appeal. They believed strongly that the investigation into the fire should be a criminal matter. Theresa May said on 29 June that she expected that Moore-Bick will want to produce an interim report "as early as possible".
On 30 June Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn had written to Theresa May saying that the Inquiry's Terms of Reference should be broad and he wrote to May once more on 17 July expressing "concern among residents and others that the judge leading the inquiry has already been directed towards a narrowly defined Terms of Reference".
On 15 August Theresa May announced the terms of reference, accepting in full Martin-Moore Bick's proposals. The Inquiry's public hearings were expected to start on 14 September 2017, with an interim report due Easter 2018. They include consideration of the actions of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council and KCTMO both before and after the fire occurred, as well as the adequacy of relevant building regulations and whether they were complied with.
There is concern that previous inquiries under Theresa May that appeared to be independent were controlled and there is uncertainty how far the Grenfell inquiry will be independent.
Grenfell Tower site manager Michael Lockwood told a public meeting on 26 July 2017 that the building is to be covered in a protective wrap supported by scaffolding during August. This is initially to protect forensic evidence but would later allow the building to be taken down towards the end of 2018. The community will be consulted on how the space should be used after demolition.
The following are similar high-rise fires that spread through exterior wall assemblies (cladding, insulation, wall) containing combustible components.
United Kingdom and Isle of ManEdit
- 1973 Summerland disaster – leisure centre fire in Douglas, Isle of Man, worsened by the ignition of flammable acrylic sheeting covering the building, led to at least 50 deaths.
- 1991 Knowsley Heights fire – a fire in a tower block in Liverpool that had recently been fitted with rain screen cladding spread from the bottom to the top of the building via the 90 mm air gap behind the cladding.
- 1999 Garnock Court fire – the fire in a tower block in Irvine, North Ayrshire, spread rapidly up combustible cladding, resulting in one death and four injured. The incident led to a parliamentary inquiry into the fire risk of external cladding and a change of the law in Scotland in 2005 requiring any cladding to inhibit the spread of fire.
- 2005 Harrow Court fire – in a tower block in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, led to three deaths.
- 2009 Lakanal House fire – in a tower block in Camberwell, South London, led to six deaths and at least twenty injured; an inquest "found the fire spread unexpectedly fast, both laterally and vertically, trapping people in their homes, with the exterior cladding panels burning through in just four and a half minutes."
- 2016 Shepherd's Court fire – in a tower block in Shepherd's Bush, West London, a faulty tumble-dryer caught fire on the seventh floor, 19 August 2016. The fire spread up six floors on the outside of the building, which is owned by Hammersmith and Fulham Council. There were no fatalities but some suffered smoke inhalation. This led to the London Fire Brigade commissioning a report which showed external panels probably spread the fire. In May 2017, LFB warned all 33 London councils to review the use of panels and "take appropriate action to mitigate the fire risk."
- 2007 fire at The Water Club (Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA) – a fire that occurred as the building was nearing completion spread rapidly up aluminium composite panel cladding with a polyethylene core, from the 3rd floor to the top of the 41-floor building.
- 2009 Beijing Television Cultural Center fire (China) – believed to have spread via insulating foam panels on the building's facade.
- 2010 Wooshin Golden Suites fire (Marine City, South Korea) – spread within 20 minutes from the 4th floor to the top of the 38-storey building, which featured flammable aluminium composite cladding with a polyethylene core, along with insulation made of glass wool or polystyrene.
- 2010 Shanghai fire (China) – destroyed a 28-storey high-rise apartment building, killing at least 58 people; flammable polyurethane insulation applied to the outside of the building was reported to have been a possible contributory factor.
- 2012 Al Tayer Tower fire (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates) – the rapid spread of the fire, which started in a first-floor balcony and spread to the top of the 40-storey (34 residential, six parking floors) tower, was attributed to aluminium sandwich panels featuring a thermo-plastic core.
- 2012 Mermoz Tower fire (Roubaix, France) – saw fire spread rapidly up flammable cladding, resulting in one death and six injured.
- 2012 Tamweel Tower fire (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) – spread across dozens of floors via flammable aluminium cladding.
- 2014 Lacrosse Tower fire (Melbourne, Australia) – a fire started on an eighth-floor balcony took just 11 minutes to travel up 13 floors to the building's roof, spreading via the same type of aluminium composite cladding as was used in Grenfell Tower.
- 2015 fire at The Marina Torch (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) – fire spreading up the cladding of several dozen storeys from the 50th floor to the top of the building. A second fire occurred on 4 August 2017, again spreading rapidly up the exterior of the building.
- 2015 fire at The Address Downtown Dubai (United Arab Emirates) – cladding fire in a supertall hotel and residential skyscraper.
- 2016 Ramat Gan high-rise fire (Ramat Gan, Israel) – a small fire in a flat quickly spread to the top of a 13-storey tower block via combustible external insulation panelling.
- 2016 Neo Soho fire (Jakarta, Indonesia) – the fire occurred while the building was still under construction and spread rapidly up dozens of floors via flammable cladding.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Grenfell Tower fire.|
- Firefighter gives first-hand account of Grenfell Tower rescue mission
- Rydon Construction case study on the refurbishment
- BBC news reports
- CTBUH Skyscraper Center – Grenfell House
- Kensington Planning Application for renovation works
- Kensington Building Regulations record for Grenfell Tower
- on YouTube
- "Tackling fire risk in high rise blocks". House of Commons Library, UK Parliament. Provides an overview of the legal framework under which fire risks in tower blocks are managed in England
- London Fire Brigade – Grenfell Tower fire update
- Met Police – UPDATE: Grenfell Tower fire investigation
- NHS Statement on fire at Grenfell Tower
- Police Public Appeal For Photos and Videos
- London fire: Who are the victims? (BBC News)
- Product Notice – Hotpoint Fridge Freezer at hotpointservice.co.uk
- Dany Cotton interview Channel 4 News 11 July 2017
- LFB Video of plastic backed fridge fire
- Grenfell Tower fire (The Guardian)