NEWS First phase of Grenfell inquiry concludes

THE GRENFELL Tower fire inquiry concluded its first phase, and the second may not start ‘until the end of next year’. In early 2018, the inquiry began looking at the ‘factual narrative’ of the events, with expert witnesses describing the various safety failures in the tower and a ‘culture of non compliance’. After the inquiry resumed once more, a fire station manager stated that ‘vital’ plans for the tower were not able to be found in the lobby of the building. It then heard from 999 operators that, due to a policy not to recontact callers, residents were not told to evacuate when policy changed. In September, one of the fire commanders stated that ‘the building let us all down’, before London Fire Brigade (LFB) commissioner Dany Cotton admitted that she had no knowledge of cladding risks, despite an LFB presentation created only a year before the fire. Recently, the inquiry heard two different experts note that flames spread in ‘just over ten minutes’ to the outside of the tower, and that cladding issues ‘have been known for decades’. In November, the inquiry heard that the architectural ‘crown’ of cladding designed to make the tower ‘look nice’ was ‘instrumental’ in the fire’s spread around the tower, and that the fire was ‘most likely started by overheated wiring’ within a fridge freezer. Towards the end of the first phase, the inquiry heard that LFB had ‘failed residents and firefighters’, and that a post Grenfell audit of the building’s management company found only ‘minor weaknesses’ in its approach. Evening Standard reported that the second phase ‘is unlikely to start’ until the end of 2019, according to chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, because there are ‘more than 20,000 documents still to disclose’, with this ‘probably not’ completed before next autumn. This second phase will examine the ‘wider issues surrounding the fire’.

Sir Martin stated: ‘Given the scale

of the preparations that have to be carried out, I think it is unlikely that

it will be possible to start phase two hearings before the end of next year. However, careful and detailed preparation which enables us to focus on the aspects of the programme that are of real significance should make it possible to ensure that the proceedings, once begun, can be completed within a reasonable time.’ He added that the inquiry is also negotiating to relocate to west London after ‘repeated concerns’ from survivors and families of victims about the ‘unsuitability of the current central London space’. Sir Martin commented that ‘I am pleased to tell you that we have found some premises in west London which have recently become available and which would provide us with what we need, involving a large hearing room’. Since the inquiry began, it has sat

for almost 100 days and collected and disclosed 20,000 documents, with 686 firefighter statements submitted and 88 officers giving oral evidence. In turn, 307 statements were received from the bereaved, survivors and local residents, 35 of whom gave evidence in person, and an interim report will be produced ‘as soon as possible, having regard to the volume of information that has to be digested’. Sir Martin Moore-Bick explained Phase 2 and these preparations: ‘Phase 2 involves examining in some detail the design and execution of a substantial building project that took over four years to complete, as well as a range of related matters. Like all

10 FEBRUARY 2019

such projects, it generated a huge number of documents. In one sense, that is good, because much of the story will be told by the documents themselves.

‘But it also means that there are

a very large number of them to be reviewed, redacted where necessary and digested. In addition, the Inquiry will be examining the regulatory framework and the role of the relevant authorities in relation to it, as well as the response of various organs of central and local government to the disaster. Again, there will be a significant amount of material relating to these questions. ‘The Inquiry currently expects to

disclose over 200,000 documents to the core participants. It is about to start doing so, but the exercise is currently not expected to be complete until the autumn of next year... the investigation must be thorough and the work to which I have referred inevitably takes time.’ BAFE’s chief executive Stephen

Adams commented: ‘Whilst we welcome the detailed way that the Review is considering the circumstances that led to the tragedy, we would hope that timetable can be accelerated both to bring closure for the Grenfell residents and also to take forward the necessary changes, both regulatory and practical, needed to protect the public in future. It is to be hoped that the changes being driven by the Hackitt Review will not be delayed by the main inquiry.’

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