21 March 2022

Government did not try to cover up reports on cladding, Grenfell inquiry hears

21 March 2022

The Government did not try to cover up reports stating that Grenfell-style cladding was unsafe for use on high-rise buildings 15 years before the fatal fire, an inquiry has heard.

Senior civil servant Brian Martin, who had been in charge of official building regulations guidance on fire safety for 17 years by the time of the blaze which killed 72 people on June 14 2017, is giving evidence during phase two of the Grenfell inquiry.

The 2002 reports were commissioned by Anthony Burd, who was a fire safety professional at the then-Department for Environment, Trade and the Regions, and was later head of technical policy for building regulations at the then-Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) between 2007 and 2013.

Previously, Mr Burd admitted that the two September 2002 reports, which outlined how “aluminium rainscreen panels with a polyethylene core” did not pass fire safety tests, should have been made public at the time.

It sounds awful, but I think it just got missed

A review conducted by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) for the Government showed that out of 11 cladding products analysed, seven failed fire safety tests and “aluminium sheet product” was “one of the worst performing” materials.

One of the reports, from September 16 2002, states: “The aluminium sheet product satisfied class 0 requirements, but in the full scale, intermediate scale and single burning item test proved to be one of the worst performing products.”

It goes on to say that “these issues may require further consideration”.

Lead counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, asked Mr Martin why the report only went so far as to say “may require further consideration”.

Mr Martin said: “It clearly needed to be raised in stronger terms.”

He was asked if it was expressed in such “feeble” terms out of a desire to “cover up” the report’s findings.

Grenfell Tower (PA) (PA Archive)

“No, I don’t believe anyone at the department or anyone at BRE would have deliberately concealed this”, he said.

“I can’t think of any reason why either group of people would have wanted to do so.”

Mr Millett QC asked him why the report does not spell out to the Government that if nothing is done then “people might die”.

“I wish I had a better answer, I don’t know”, Mr Martin said.

The lead counsel for the inquiry then asked him why the Government did not act on the recommendation to give the fire safety issues further consideration “oblique though it may have been”.

“I don’t think there would have been any reason not to act on it”, Mr Martin said.

“And again, it sounds awful, but I think it just got missed.”

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