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March 31, 2022


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Grenfell Inquiry

Official admits he could have taken steps to prevent Grenfell Tower fire

Brian Martin, the head of technical policy for building regulation, has admitted at the Grenfell Inquiry that he could have potentially prevented the fire on a number of occasions.

GrenfellTower-20Brian was questioned about warnings he was given that the building industry, confused by government guidance, was using dangerous cladding.

He said: “Over the last few months I’ve been looking through evidence and documents and when you line them in the way we’ve done in the last seven days [at the inquiry] it became clear to me that there were a number of occasions where I could have potentially prevented this happening”.  

Brian also pointed to government policies deregulating the industry that left him as “a single point of failure” in an under-resourced department.


In 2001, he was told about fire tests on cladding panels which caused a “raging inferno”, but he failed to realise the significance of the results.

He was also warned about a number of fires involving cladding on tall buildings but reassured other government officials that it “should not happen in Britain” because of building regulations that ban the use of combustible insulation. However, these regulations do not specifically ban combustible cladding.

Brian admitted to becoming “entrenched in position” where he focused on his role of improving the government guidance for which he was responsible but “didn’t realise how big the problem was”.


It was only in 2006 that Brian added a section to government guidance which prevented the use of flammable “filler” materials used in tall buildings.

The inquiry heard this was done without consultation, and at the last minute.

Brian gave evidence that he intended this to cover cladding but had not been specific.

He faced repeated questions about the use of the word “filler” because it led to widespread misinterpretation of the guidance within the cladding industry.

Another section of the same guidance appeared to allow the use of the most common form of aluminium and plastic cladding.

A series of industry bodies told him the guidance was not clear, but he failed to change it, despite being in charge of the building regulations.


In 2014, he left early from a meeting with industry figures to discuss the “numerous inquiries” there had been from cladding firms about the issue.


In 2016, combustible cladding was chosen by the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project, added to the sides of the building by an installation firm, and signed off by building control inspectors.

At no point was it suggested that the combustible panels might not comply with the building regulations.

Brian told the inquiry in his closing statement that if he’d realised the scale of the problem: “I would have escalated the issue and perhaps we’d have done something to prevent what happened to the people of Grenfell Tower.”

However, he also attacked the policy of several governments which pushed for the deregulation of safety in the building industry.

From 2010, the Coalition government had a policy of cutting red tape to allow more freedom for construction firms.

This meant that instead of fire brigades or a building regulator having control over safety, companies and building owners were left to regulate themselves, with the main requirement being to ensure that building design and materials could not spread flames.

Next steps

Ministers will face tough questions in the next few weeks about the policy of deregulation.

On Wednesday, the first government minister to give evidence at the public inquiry defended his decision not to increase the regulation of fire safety despite warnings.

Northern Ireland Secretary, Brendon Lewis MP was responsible for fire safety in the years before Grenfell.

He decided the fire safety industry should regulate itself and told the inquiry he had ideological and practical concerns about increasing the role of government.

He said: “Our entire ethos was a bout devolving power from central government rather than bringing it in.”

The government at the time had an explicit policy of getting rid of “red tape”, including health and safety requirements.

The inquiry has heard that from 2005, there were growing signs that the housing industry was using “cowboys” without formal qualifications to assess buildings, with the assessor who observed Grenfell Tower being described as “professionally reckless”.

The role of the government in the Grenfell fire is now the prime focus of the long-running public inquiry, which is in its final stages.

Government lawyers have already apologised for “past failures in relation to the oversight of the system that regulated safety in the construction and refurbishment of high-rise buildings.”

A series of ministers will give evidence in the next few weeks.

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