Grenfell Tower fire: First public inquiry hearing to open


Grenfell TowerImage copyright Reuters

A public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 80 people in June, officially opens later.

It will examine the cause and spread of the fire, high-rise regulations, and the actions of the local authority.

The head of the investigation, judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, will give a 45-minute statement which will be watched by residents and victims.

No evidence will be heard on the first day of the hearing, and an interim report is expected by Easter.

The fire in the 24-storey tower block in North Kensington, London, spread quickly in the early hours of 14 June.

A BBC investigation found that it took 30 minutes for a high ladder – used to tackle exterior blazes on high-rises building – to reach the site.

In August it was announced that the actions of Kensington and Chelsea Council, which operated the block, were to be examined by the inquiry.

The council has been criticised for its immediate response after the blaze in June, which led former leader Nick Paget-Brown to resign.

The full terms of reference for the public inquiry, which have been accepted in full by the prime minister, are:

  • The cause and spread of the fire
  • The design, construction and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower
  • The scope and adequacy of the relevant regulations relating to high-rise buildings
  • Whether the relevant legislation and guidance were complied with in the case of Grenfell Tower
  • The actions of the local authority and other bodies before the tragedy
  • The response of the London Fire Brigade to the fire and the response of central and local government in the aftermath
Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Martin had faced calls to step down as inquiry head

The inquiry has yet to decide which potential witnesses will be granted “core participant status”, which entitles them to see evidence, and suggest lines of questioning.

Sir Martin has promised an interim report from the inquiry by early 2018.

Previously the judge was called to stand down by lawyers to some of the families affected by the fire.

Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad called Sir Martin a “technocrat” who lacked “credibility” with victims.

In the immediate aftermath of the blaze questions were raised about the adequacy of regulations for tower blocks across the UK.

Cladding installed on Grenfell Tower in a recent refurbishment has come under scrutiny, with experts saying a more fire-resistant type could have been used.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption At least 80 people died at Grenfell Tower

Since the blaze tower blocks with similar cladding and foam insulation across the country have failed new fire tests.

On Wednesday London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton said Grenfell Tower was a “turning point” and called for all high-rise council buildings to be retro-fitted with sprinklers, which were not in Grenfell Tower.

A BBC Breakfast investigation which focused on half the UK’s council and housing association-owned tower blocks found just 2% have full sprinkler systems.

View the original article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41262914

Sprinklers have been compulsory in England for buildings over 30m constructed since 2007. But these regulations were not applied retroactively and therefore did not apply to Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974.

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