/Firms deny responsibility for Grenfell fire

Firms deny responsibility for Grenfell fire

Grenfell Tower memorialImage copyright
Reuters

None of the companies involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower have accepted responsibility for the deadly fire, an inquiry has heard.

Firms expressed “no trace” of accountability despite previous findings that the work did not comply with building regulations, counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC said.

His remarks were at the start of the inquiry’s second phase, which will look at issues like the block’s cladding.

The 2017 London fire claimed 72 lives.

Mr Millett’s remarks come days after a newly-appointed fire inquiry panel member quit.

Mr Millett said that, with the “sole exception” of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, all organisations had denied responsibility in “carefully crafted statements”.

“Any member of the public reading those statements and taking them all at face value would be forced to conclude that everyone involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower did what they were supposed to do and nobody made any serious or causative mistakes,” he said.

“In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else’s fault.”

Mr Millett stressed that the first part of the inquiry found the work “did not comply with certain key aspects of the building regulations”.

Families and friends of victims were present in the hearing room in Paddington, where inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick opened the second phase.

It comes after Benita Mehra resigned over her links to the charitable arm of the firm which supplied the cladding.

The Cabinet Office has defended her appointment, though it has not said if or when she will be replaced.

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Image caption

Benita Mehra said she recognised the “depth of feeling” about her appointment

Michael Mansfield QC, who represents some of the victims’ families, said there has been “a stunning silence” from the government over Ms Mehra’s resignation.

Grenfell United – a group representing survivors and bereaved families – has accused the government of failing to carry out “basic checks”, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Ms Mehra’s appointment should never have been made.

Grenfell United also called for the inquiry to change how it deals with families, saying concerns had been raised “many times” about the “indifference” shown towards the bereaved and survivors.

“We need to know that the inquiry team will change how it deals with families, remove any blockages that staff may be creating and bring this process back to putting families at the centre,” the group added.

In response, the Cabinet Office said: “There are robust processes in place to ensure the Grenfell Tower inquiry remains independent and that any potential conflicts of interest are properly considered and managed.

“As with any public appointment, due process has been followed in this case, and Benita Mehra’s appointment was approved.”

Engineer Ms Mehra was a past president of the Women’s Engineering Society, which received funding from the Arconic Foundation.

Arconic supplied the cladding on the outside of the west London tower block.

Analysis

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By BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds

The first part of the Grenfell Inquiry had the task of examining the events of just one night.

Part two could go back years in its search to explain the 2017 tragedy.

It will look and feel different. A new hearing centre, closer to the community, replaces the previous unpopular conference room in the heart of London’s legal district.

Instead of the harrowing accounts of firefighters and residents, the evidence will emerge from emails, technical specifications and planning documents.

It will be slow going, but it should get to the heart of what went wrong.

Because although the training and management of the firefighters was criticised in part one, they were not the cause of the fire.

The questions which will be answered are these:

  • Why were dangerous materials chosen to refurbish an ageing tower?
  • Who knew they could be dangerous?
  • What part did the complex system of building regulations play in the tragedy and the following crisis in fire safety?
  • And how do we prevent this ever happening again?

However dry the evidence could become, all those involved know this is about getting justice for those who died, because, at the end of this process, the public inquiry could be followed by a criminal trial.

The first phase of the inquiry found the cladding was the “principal” reason for the rapid and “profoundly shocking” spread of the fire, which killed 72 people.

In her resignation letter to the prime minister, published on Saturday, Ms Mehra said she recognised and respected the “depth of feeling” among some about her appointment.

Families had been threatening to boycott the opening of the second phase of the Grenfell inquiry over her appointment.

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Former fire commissioner Dany Cotton retired early after facing criticism

Opening submissions for the first three modules of the second phase of the inquiry are expected this week.

These include an overview of the primary refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, including the cladding, the testing and certification of the cladding, and the fire safety measures including complaints and communications with the residents.

The inquiry’s first phase concluded “many more lives” could have been saved if the advice to residents to “stay put” had been abandoned earlier.

It was highly critical of the London Fire Brigade and fire commissioner Dany Cotton, saying preparations for such a fire were “gravely inadequate”.

Ms Cotton retired early after facing calls from victims’ families to resign.

She had told the inquiry she would not have changed anything about the way her crews responded to the blaze, provoking anger from survivors and victims’ families.

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