Grenfell Tower Fire: latest Inquiry updates and full timeline

On Wednesday 14 June, 2017, 72 people were killed after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington, West London. It took firefighters over 24 hours to get the blaze under control. A public inquiry was announced by the Government the day after the fire, which is still underway. Questions about the combustible nature of the cladding on the tower quickly arose, as well as concern that the UPVC windows had also assisted the progress of the fire. The following month, the Department for Communities and Local Government established and Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by senior engineer and civil servant, Dame Judith Hackitt.

What follows here is a timeline of events, in terms of fire safety, and the subsequent government and industry efforts to address the impact of the greatest loss of life following a residential fire since the Second World War. We will continue to update this page as the inquiry develops. You can also find all related content to the event from IFSEC Global at the bottom of this page, including opinion articles and in-depth news stories on the latest legislation changes as a result of the disaster.


Latest Grenfell Tower Inquiry news

June – On the fourth anniversary of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, the Government was accused of playing “Russian roulette” with people’s lives by survivors, as they highlighted hundreds of thousands of high-rise homes continue to face fire safety defects.

May –  The Inquiry heard that the fire risk assessor who had been hired to check the safety of Grenfell Tower between 2009 and 2016 had “misleading’ qualifications in his title and “cut and pasted assessments” from reports on other building he had checked into Grenfell assessments (read the full story here). His assessments of fire doors were also put under scrutiny. While giving evidence, the Inquiry heard from the assessor that KCTMO failed to fix 23 “high-priority” actions four months after a 2016 FRA (Fire Risk Assessment) had been carried out. His assessments of fire doors were also put under scrutiny.

Earlier in the month, it was revealed that the landlord had not created plans for disabled residents, relying solely on ‘Stay Put’ strategy advice.

The Fire Safety Bill was passed as an Act of Parliament, becoming The Fire Safety Act 2021, designed to clarify who is accountable for reducing the risk of fires for multi-occupied residential buildings.

April – Much of April’s findings from the Inquiry focused upon concerns that Grenfell residents’ concerns were not listened to by the landlord and KCTMO in the months and years before the fire. Residents who raised fire safety concerns were labelled as “troublemakers”, while it was also revealed that the landlord blocked staff computers from accessing a residents’ blog which raised concerns over the building’s refurbishment work.

March Module three of Phase 2 of the Inquiry commenced, which will investigate resident communication, the management of Grenfell Tower, compliance with the Fire Safety Order and active and passive fire safety measures internal to the building. Module two, which investigated the cladding products used, finished on 25 March.

On the 29 March, the Inquiry heard that the London Fire Brigade (LFB) warned Grenfell Tower landlords about dangerous cladding two months before the fire, but that the council had taken no action other than to forward the letter to its tenant management organisation, KCTMO, saying: “FYI”. Lawyers for the bereaved said in opening statements that “RBKC prioritised cost over safety” and the council displayed an “ethos of indifference or hostility”, to the safety of residents, particularly lacking in a duty of care for vulnerable and disabled people, often dismissing resident requests.

Earlier in the month, witnesses from the British Board of Agrément had been questioned over their failure to obtain tests on the cassette version of the Reynobond 55 cladding from Arconic, as well as their certification on Kingspan’s Kooltherm K15 insulation product, which had included statements about fire performance that were “inaccurate and misleading and which had no proper evidential basis”.


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Grenfell Tower fire timeline

Pre-Grenfell

1960s – Aluminium composite material (ACM) is first developed for use in Germany, use of it spreads in the 1990s.

1962 – A new British Standard Code of Practice introduces the ‘stay put’ policy.

1973 – Despite a fire killing 50 people at leisure complex in the Isle of Man, a subsequent recommendation that a named person take responsibility for fire safety in design is not adopted.

1974 – Grenfell Tower built, part of Lancaster Estate.

1986 – The Department of the Environment warns about the use of combustible cladding though no change in regulations is made.

1991 – Fire at a tower block in Merseyside that has rainscreen cladding on it.

1995 – compulsory competitive tendering for local authority housing services is introduced. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) transfers control of its housing stock – 9,000 homes – to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).

1997 – testing lab, Building Research Establishment (BRE) is privatised and more private building inspectors enter the market.

2000 – Select Committee recommends that cladding products are ‘entirely non-combustible’ but ministers opt for ‘large-scale testing’.

2003 – government scraps the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. Local forces now set their own policies.

2005 – Fire risk assessment of buildings moves from the fire service to building owners after the implementation of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Update to Approved Document B relaxes a restriction on the use of combustible insulation on tall buildings.

2008 – KCTMO’s repairs performance criticised by residents. An independent auditor is appointed to assess and is highly critical in their report.

Aluminium company Arconic obtains ‘Class 0’ certification from construction industry approvals body, the British Board of Agrément. An expert at the Grenfell inquiry later describes the certificate as “factually inaccurate.”

Lakanal House fire spreads via window panels and because of flawed compartmentation. Six people die after being told to ‘stay put’ by the emergency services.

RBKC plans refurbishment around Grenfell including the demolition of the tower itself, which, it says, “blights” the area. The idea is later dropped.

2010 – Tenant Services Authority axed. Homes and Communities Agency is established in its place. Industry and fire sector bodies call for sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

2011 – The Government announces a ‘red tape challenge’, asking all government departments to reduce regulation. Local Government Association recommends the ‘stay put’ policy.


2012

JanuaryDavid Cameron announces plans to “kill health and safety culture”. Any new regulation requires cutting existing regulations – a ‘one in, two out’ rule.

February – Residents of Grenfell Tower are consulted on refurbishment, including being asked about cladding. A fire-resistant zinc composite material is chosen.

14 May – Fire destroys ACM cladding in a high-rise building in Roubaix, France.


2013

March – the coroner investigating the deaths at Lakanal House recommends: a review of Approved Document B “with particular regard to external fire spread”; retrofitting of sprinklers in social housing tower blocks, and clarification of the ‘stay put’ advice.

May – Communities secretary Eric Pickles says Approved Document B will be reviewed by 2016/17. Documents from KCTMO later reveal government assurances were given that no mandatory actions would be required.


2014

February – ‘stay put’ policy questioned by government’s ‘Generic Risk Assessment 3.2’ guidance on high rise fires.

April – Rydon appointed to carry out the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

June – £300,000 removed from the cladding budget after discussion between KCTMO and refurbishment partner, construction consultancy Artelia UK. Zinc panels replaced with ACM with a plastic core.

June – The Building Control Alliance advises that cladding systems with combustible materials do not need to pass a large-scale test.

July – the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology warns government of dangerous ACM cladding being used and makes recommendations that are not taken up.

November – ACM cladding on the Lacrosse Tower in Melbourne, Australia catches fire. No deaths, with residents evacuated and sprinklers in use.


2015

February – Another major ACM cladding fire, this time at the Marina Torch tower in Dubai.

July – following a fire in Canterbury, local MP Julian Brazier asks government to consider sprinklers but is told the matter has been looked into already.

July – An Inside Housing investigation reveals that just 18 of 2,925 social housing tower blocks have sprinklers installed inside flats.

September – government declines the suggestion from a cross-party a group of MPs calling for updates to Approved Document B to toughen the ‘Class 0’ requirement and reconsider the case for mandatory sprinklers, which is meeting resistance because of the ‘one in, two out’ red tape policy.

December – a local councillor presents a petition to an RBKC council to investigate the Grenfell refurbishment. An investigation follows, but it is by KCTMO itself and comments favourably on KCTMO and Rydon.

December – another massive ACM cladding fire in Dubai, this time at the Address Downtown Hotel.


2016

March – government plans to cut “a further £10bn of red tape”.

May – Grenfell Tower refurbishment ends. It used both Arconic’s ACM cladding and Celotex RS5000 insulation, neither of which has undergone full-scale testing.

July – The National House Building Council (NHBC) says that, if used with certain ACM cladding, Celotex RS5000 no longer requires a desktop study to demonstrate compliance.

19 August – fire at Shepherd’s Court, Shepherd’s Bush, London for which combustible materials in cladding blamed.

November – a Grenfell Action Group blog wars that KCTMO would only undergo proper scrutiny if a serious incident “results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents”.

November – KCTMO written to by The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority with a number of issues flagged, including non-closing fire doors to the staircase and compartmentation breaches.


2017

April – The London Fire Brigade writes to local authorities advising them to check cladding materials for fire safety in light of the Shepherd’s Court fire.

May  – housing minister Gavin Barwell, defends ‘stay put’ policy.

14 June – Grenfell Tower fire

Flames rip through the building’s cladding. 72 people die. The course of events are set out by Phase 1 of the Grenfell Public Inquiry. Key timings included:

  • 00.54 Behailu Kebede calls 999 to report a fire in Flat 16, floor 4 Grenfell Tower.
  • 00.59 First firefighters reach the tower.
  • 01.09 Fire breaks out of Flat 16 into exterior cladding and starts to climb the east facade rapidly.
  • 01.14 Firefighters enter the kitchen of Flat 16 for the first time. 
  • 01.26 MPS declares a Major Incident.
  •  01.27 Fire reaches the roof and starts to spread horizontally.
  • 01.42 The LAS declares a Significant Incident.
  • 02.00 Flames travel across the north and east elevations of the tower, and start to spread around the crown and diagonally across the face of the building, affecting flats in the south-east and north-west corners.
  • 02.35 Control room decides to revoke the “stay put” advice and tell all occupants calling 999 to leave the tower.
  • 02.50 Fire spreads horizontally across the south elevation at the crown. Commissioner Dany Cotton arrives at Grenfell Tower.
  • 03.30 Flames continue to spread across the south and west elevations of the tower. 
  • 08.07 Elpidio Bonifacio, the last survivor to leave the tower, is evacuated.

15 June – Theresa May makes visit to fire site and announces public inquiry.

16 June – Theresa May makes second visit to the site, meeting some survivors on this occasion, and announces £5m fund for fire victims.

18 June – more aid measures announced. Government hands responsibility for survivor support from Kensington and Chelsea council to Grenfell Fire Response Team (GRT) led by a group of chief executives from councils across London.

19 June – national minute’s silence for Grenfell victims

23 June – Camden council order evacuation of Chalcots Estate, comprising of 5 blocks and 800 flats after it was revealed that it was covered in flammable cladding. Construction firm Saint Gobain announces it is ceasing to supply RS5000 for use in rainscreen cladding systems in buildings over 18 metres (59 ft) tall.

29 June – retired judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick appointed to lead the inquiry.

30 June – leader of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council, Nicholas Paget, resigns.

27 July – police say they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation of corporate manslaughter.

15 August – Theresa May announces the terms of reference of the inquiry: the cause and spread of the fire; the adequacy and enforcement of building regulations and fire protection measures; the actions of the council and KCTMO prior to the fire, and the responses of the London Fire Brigade, council and national government.

23 August – government announces that Lancaster Estate would pass from KTMO to direct council control.

27 September – KTMO’s contract to manage social housing in Kensington & Chelsea is terminated by the council.

30 August – the Department for Communities and Local Government publish the terms of reference for the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Senior Engineer and Civil Servant, Dame Judith Hackitt. I’s main aims are to: a) develop improved building regulations for the future, with a focus on residential high-rise blocks, and b) to provide reassurance to residents that their homes are safe.

14 September – inquiry opens

December – procedural hearings held. Hackitt publishes her initial report, describing the entire building regulatory system as “not fit for purpose.” She argues that roles and responsibilities of those procuring, designing, constructing and maintaining buildings are unclear; that regulations and guidance can be ambiguous and inconsistent; that compliance processes for building safety are weak; that the competence across the system is patchy; that product testing is flawed and, finally, that voices of residents often goes unheard.


2018

7 January – KPMG withdraw from the inquiry after an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 71 academics and several politicians, raised a possible conflict of interest because KPMG audited the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and companies responsible for the cladding on Grenfell Tower.

Grenfell-Justice4Grenfell-20February – Campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell have created three billboards which were placed on the back of trucks and paraded around London to illustrate the lack of progress since the tragedy.

17 May – final Hackitt report published.

A new regulatory framework for High Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs) over 30 metres is recommended. This includes the creation of a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA), made up of Local Authority Building Standards, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive.

Also recommended were: a set of rigorous and demanding roles and responsibilities for “duty holders” (i.e. building owners); a series of robust gateway points that will require duty holders to show to the JCA that their plans are detailed and robust; a single, more streamlined, regulatory route to oversee building standards to ensure that enforcement can and does take place where necessary; clearer rights and obligations for residents to maintain the fire safety, working in partnership with the duty holder; continuous improvement and best practice learning through membership of an international body.

Hackitt Report

4 June – hearings from expert witnesses for Phase 1 of the public inquiry – dealing with events on the night of the fire – started. Also published were the witness statement from the resident of Flat 14 (where the fire started) and The London Fire Brigade incident logs. The latter revealed that 140 fire engines and 720 firefighters were used.

7 June – Met Police announced to be investigating the London Fire Brigade for using the “Stay Put” policy under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

14 June – the first anniversary of the fire is marked by a national moment of silence, the suspension of the Grenfell enquiry and the illumination of Grenfell Tower and various public buildings in green, the colour of the Grenfell United campaign.

25 June to 2 October – the public inquiry progresses, with issued discussed including communications problems, visibility and smoke, the stay put policy and absent fire safety. Summary of evidence:

  • Fire Brigade Commissioner, Dany Coton criticised by survivors after saying that she wouldn’t have changed the operation (27 September).
  • Lawyer for Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation suggested that 239 people could have been evacuated in seven minutes on the single stairwell.
  • The legal team of Arconic claimed that the Reynobond aluminium composite panels cladding were not culpable for the fire.
  • The Fire Brigades Union said that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea had failed to make an evacuation plan for Grenfell Tower.

30 September – government announces plan to ban all combustible cladding for all new schools, hospitals, care homes, student accommodation and residential buildings in England above 18m. The Fire Brigades Union respond that there should be an outright ban and that it apply to existing buildings.

December – the Government publishes its response to the Hackitt Report, agreeing with most recommendations in principle.

Read the full government response to the Hackitt Report.


2019

6 June – consultation on Hackitt Report opened, with period set to end on 31 July. Feedback status – pending. Visit here.

11 June – survivors and families of the victims of the fire file a major civil action in Pennysylvania, US against Arconic and Celotext on the grounds that the cladding and insulation were combustible. Whirlpool, the makers of the refrigerator that started the fire, also a defendant.

30 October – Phase 1 report from the public inquiry officially published. Among the findings were:

  • the resident of the flat where the first started was exonerated;
  • the fire spread because of the ACM cladding;
  • there was no contingency plan for evacuation;
  • the ‘stay put’ advice should have been lifted and the London Fire Brigade suffered “significant systemic failings”, with communications and chain of command deficient.
  • pictures transmitted from Grenfell could not be seen by LFB because of an encryption issue.

Recommendations stemming from Phase 1 included:

  • A law requiring owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings to provide their local fire and rescue service with information about external wall materials and building plans.
  • Fire brigade inspections of high-rise buildings to be improved and crews trained to carry out more thorough risk evaluations. Regular inspections of lifts intended to be used by firefighters are needed.
  • Communications between fire brigade control rooms, where emergency calls are received, and incident commanders must improve and there must be a dedicated communication link.
  • Government should develop national guidelines for carrying out partial or total evacuations of high-rise residential buildings.
  • Fire doors in all multi-occupancy, residential properties should be urgently inspected.
  • Improvements should be made to the data links provided by helicopters of the National Police Air Service.

Full report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report.

4 November – British Safety Council has responded to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, specifically welcoming the following recommendations from the executive summary of the inquiry and calling for the government to consider their implementation:

  1. Section 6, A and B – Legal requirement for the provision of up-to-date plans to the local fire and rescue service and provision of premises information boxes,
  1. Section 7, A and B – Legal requirement for enhanced checks of firefighting lifts and provision of information to the local fire and rescue service,
  1. Section 12, D – Provision (for all existing and future buildings) for the local fire and rescue service to send an evacuation signal to all residents of high-rise buildings,
  1. Section 15, 33:28 – Legal requirement for owners and operators of every residential building to provide information and instruction to residents in a format that can be reasonably understood by all,
  2. Section 16, A and B – Urgent inspection of all fire doors of every residential building which contains separate dwellings, as well as a legal requirement to inspect fire doors on a quarterly basis.

15 November – a fire at The Cube building of Bolton University spreads quickly via a combustible membrane.

December – Dany Cotton retires early. London Fire Brigade was condemned for ‘serious shortcomings’ and described as ‘slow’ and ‘wasteful’ in a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services HMICFRS.


2020

21 January – the government published its response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report.

As well as reviewing the progress on various recommendations (fire doors, building regulations, testing certifications etc), the report recognised that LFB had accepted the recommendations made in the Phase 1 report.

The report also summed up the current status regarding buildings with cladding:

“Since the Grenfell Tower fire, MHCLG and the Home Office have identified over 400 high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding, and we have worked with Local Authorities and fire and rescue authorities to ensure that appropriate interim safety measures are in place. In addition, MHCLG has made £600 million funding available for the replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on high-rise residential homes in the social and private sectors.”

On combustible materials, it noted: MHCLG banned the use of combustible materials on new high-rise blocks of flats in December 2018 and on 20 January 2020 went further by announcing the launch of a consultation to review the current ban, including proposals to lower the 18m height threshold to at least 11m.

28 January – Phase 2 hearings commenced to review matters beyond the night of the fire, including how Grenfell Tower ended up being covered with flammable cladding.

This phase is expected to take 18 months and involve 200,000 unseen documents. The hearing will look at:

  1. The 2015-16 refurbishment
  2. The testing, certification and marketing of the cladding panels and external insulation
  3. The management of Grenfell Tower, including how residents’ complaints were handled
  4. Central and local government responses to the disaster
  5. The response of London Fire Brigade
  6. Building regulations and enforcement
  7. Remaining expert evidence
  8. Remaining evidence from bereaved, survivors and residents

28 January – 6th February

Lawyers from Arconic (cladding firm), Studio E (refurb architects), Rydon (refurb contractor), Harley Façades (design and installation of cladding, subcontractor to Rydon), Celotex (makers of combustible installation), all make statements. Rydon’s lawyers disclosed emails showing Celotex knew their product was not safe to use with cladding. The inquiry’s Chief Lawyer, Richard Millett QC was highly critical of the witnesses for not taking any ownership of mistakes, the exception being RKBC who admitted that their building control body had made errors.

6th February – the second phase was suspended so that the Attorney General (now Suella Braverman, replacing Geoffrey Cox QC) can consider the request of witnesses to ensure themselves against self-incrimination. Cox explained to the families of the bereaved that this is within the law and was not the same as immunity to prosecution.

23 February – The Grenfell Tower public inquiry is delayed once more, due to demands from the companies involved that any evidence given should not be used to help jail them. Reports indicate this latest delay is likely to mean the full inquiry results will not be available until late 2021 or 2022.

2 March – The public inquiry hears that the architects that were chosen for the refurbishment project did “not have any experience” in similar projects. Andrzej Kuszell, founder of Studio E Architects, also admitted that the firm was chosen without a competitive procurement process or interview.

The reopening of the inquiry was also delayed in the morning by protesters, who were angry about the Government’s decision to guarantee some witnesses protection from prosecution on the basis of what they said in the inquiry. The guarantee “only applies to oral evidence from individuals and not documents and oral evidence from corporations”.

11 March – In the first budget of 2020, the newly-appointed Chanceller of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced that extra funds will be made available from the Government to support the removal of combustible Grenfell-style cladding on tower blocks. This was part of a £1 billion Building Safety Fund, set to tackle the issue of unsafe materials that continue to be in place in high-rise residential buildings.

The Building Safety Fund has now been launched. 

20 May – The Inquiry’s consultation on ‘how best to resume hearings’ amid the COVID-19 pandemic saw a ‘substantial consensus in favour’ of limited attendance hearings in July by the earliest. After hearings had been suspended in March, the inquiry gave an update that it is ‘continuing to explore whether it may be possible to resume hearings on a remote basis before restrictions are lifted’. All inquiry team members were working remotely during this time.

19 June – Following the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the National Audit Office highlighted that removal work of dangerous cladding was still outstanding on over 300 buildings, and that the Government “has a long way to go”. While the Office noted that progress had been made by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in the social housing sector, the pace continued to fall behind expectations, “particularly in the private residential sector”.

In addition to buildings covered in aluminum composite material, another 1,700 are thought to have cladding which could potentially be unsafe. It was admitted that COVID-19 had slowed progress, and the Government pointed out the recent proposed changes to Building Safety, “bringing forward the biggest change in building safety in a generation”. Grenfell campaign group, Justice4Grenfell, has also urged the Government to commit to a deadline to remove all flammable cladding.

06 July Phase 2 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry resumes following its suspension due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with limited attendance whilst social distancing rules are followed. Families of the victims and survivors outline their frustration at not being able to attend.

21 July – The latest from Phase 2 of the Inquiry has heard that the main contractor for Grenfell’s refurbishment, Rydon, “ignored email concerns that the cladding would be combustible”. According to the hearing, there is no evidence that the email was replied to from the recipient or anyone else at the company. The message was sent by Claire Williams from Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, on 12 November 2014 “seeking clarification on whether the new cladding would resist a fire,” as she referred to another cladding related incident in London which left six people dead in 2009.

As part of the aim to bring the biggest improvements to building safety in 40 years, the UK Government also announced the publication of it s Draft Building Safety Bill on the 20th July.

August – After resuming post COVID-19 suspension, the Inquiry heard a number of key developments, relating to senior engineers not raising the need for separate fire safety assessments for the cladding; a lack of thought given to evacuating disabled residents; poor communication between Studio E and the Council, and the Rydon Contracts Manager admitting the firm had ‘overlooked’ a key document regarding fire hazards of cladding materials, as well as pocketing £126,000 from the switch to ACM.

9 September – The Inquiry resumed after a break on the 7 September on a ‘limited attendance’ basis. A day later, Ray Bailey, Director of Harley Facades, accused Celotex of misleading his firm about the fire safety of the Polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam rigid insulation boards that were used on the project’s refurbishment. He said: “Celotex made a big, big deal about their products being suitable, specifically designed for buildings over 18 metres.” Harley Facades managed the technical design and installation of cladding boxes that were added to frames on the building’s exterior – designed to protect insulation panels from wet weather.

October – The Inquiry heard several damning indictments of the refurbishment process throughout October. The Tower’s landlord faced official questions for the first time, where it was reveled that they held a secret meeting with the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation and contractor, Rydon, to cut costs. According to reports, around £800,000 worth of savings were agreed upon in this offline meeting on 18 March 2014, with no minutes taken – shortly after, Rydon agreed to drop landscaping works, cut window costs and switch the cladding from zinc to an aluminium alternative.

The Inquiry also heard that Claire Williams, a Project Manager on the Grenfell refurbishment process has admitted ‘binning’ her notebooks related to the revamp. Upon clearing her desk when leaving her job almost a year after the event, she commented that she may have thrown out “two or three notebooks”, noting that she assumed everything was already documented elsewhere, despite knowing that a public inquiry was incoming – highlighted by Chairman of the Inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

November – In what was described as a “sinister” revelation, the Public Inquiry heard evidence that the companies involved in manufacturing Grenfell Tower’s cladding “abused testing regimes… deliberately misled customers about the performance of their products and circumvented regulations with clever marketing”, as reported in The Guardian. Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan, which made the cladding sheets, combustible foam insulation and remaining insulation respectively, were all found by lawyers to have either misled testers or ignored compliance which distorted the full-scale fire tests of materials. The three companies “strongly dispute the claims”, and each appeared to blame each other, as well as external factors such as the competency of the construction professionals. Three executives of Arconic are refusing to attend the Inquiry.

In an opening statement made on behalf of the victims of the fire, Stephanie Barwise QC said the manufacturers were “untroubled by the safety of their products and some of them remain so, despite the disastrous fire”. Furthermore, Jonathan Roper, an ex-employee of Celotex, gave evidence to the inquiry that the firm had been “dishonest” by “over-engineering” a cladding fire safety test to achieve a pass on its foam insulation panels. According to Roper, a former assistant product manager, a first test in February 2014 failed in 26 minutes, with the panels eventually passing after concealed fire-retardant panels were added. Roper says he was told not to mention this information in presentation slides produced for the sales team. Celotex has told the Inquiry that “the combustible nature of [its insulation] was, or should have been, known to construction professionals”.


2021

February – The Inquiry resumed on Monday 8th February following a short suspension due to a third UK lockdown in January. In the first week back, Kingspan’s Andrew Pack, Global Technical Support Manager, revealed that fire test reports on products were often kept secret by those “that do the testing”.

Employees from Arconic, the firm behind the cladding of Grenfell Tower, were questioned by the inquiry, which revealed that the firm knew of the fire risks associated with the materials used. A former sales manager noted there had been discussion about withdrawing the polyethylene core material from sale in 2013 due to a spate of high-rise fires in the UAE, but had chosen not to for financial motives. A week later, Claude Schmidt, the President of Arconic’s French arm, admitted that the firm had omitted critical test data for its panels that had failed fire tests. Data for the cassette version of the product (which had a safety rating of E and therefore fell short of the B rating required for use on buildings over 18m in England) was not shared with the British Board of Agrément in 2008 – the organisation which issued the fire safety certificate – though Schmidt denied it was a “deliberate concealment”. The Inquiry also heard that a senior executive at Arconic would likely have known that the cladding panels were unsafe for buildings above 12m in height two years before the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Meanwhile, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – the council that owned Grenfell Tower – apologised for putting profits before people’s safety. The leader of the council, Elizabeth Campbell, said: “Before 2017 the council did not find the right balance between financial benefits, and social benefits… We fell below the bar on consultation, transparency, scrutiny and policy… and for that we apologise.”

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Learning from Grenfell and other catastrophes – Embracing “systemic change”

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Fire Safety Bill becomes Fire Safety Act 2021

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Government appoints experts to review testing system for construction products

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