06 December 2021

Grenfell fire consequence of ‘unbridled passion for deregulation’, inquiry told

06 December 2021

The Grenfell Tower fire occurred partly as a result of an “unbridled passion for deregulation”, the inquiry into the deadly blaze has heard.

A desire to boost housing construction led to the industry being allowed to exploit regulations, the latest module of the probe was told.

A lawyer, representing some of those who survived the fire as well as the loved ones of some who did not, said there had been a “prolonged period of concealment by Government which should properly be regarded as one of the major scandals of our time”.

Module six of the inquiry’s second phase is looking at the regime for the testing, certification and classification of materials for use in external cladding systems, and examining the role of central Government in establishing the legislative regime and formulating guidance on how to comply with it.

Counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, said the module will look at four “essential” questions.

The Grenfell disaster is a predictable, yet unintended consequence of the combination of the laudable desire to reduce carbon emissions, coupled with an unbridled passion for deregulation

He listed these as: whether the risks from fire in high rise buildings were properly understood by Government before the Grenfell blaze; whether lessons had been learned from previous relevant incidents in the UK and overseas; which steps had or had not been taken by Government to address the risks from fire in high rise buildings; and what motivated Government in its approach to fire safety before the 2017 disaster.

Phase two of the inquiry is examining how Grenfell Tower came to be coated in flammable materials which contributed to the spread of flames, which shot up the tower in June that year, killing 72 people.

Stephanie Barwise QC, representing some of the bereaved, survivors and residents, told the inquiry: “The Grenfell disaster is a predictable, yet unintended, consequence of the combination of the laudable desire to reduce carbon emissions, coupled with an unbridled passion for deregulation, in particular a desire to deregulate and boost the housing construction industry.

“Government’s dependency on that industry resulted in Government becoming the junior partner in the relationship, thereby permitting industry’s exploitation of the regulations.

“Government’s response, on realising the extent of the problem, was to react by concealment, instead of candour.

Government's indifference to safety has been going on for decades

“The result is a prolonged period of concealment by Government, which should properly be regarded as one of the major scandals of our time.”

In other opening statements, the Fire Brigades Union said central Government had “failed woefully” in its “fundamental responsibility for the safety of its citizens”.

Martin Seaward, representing the union, said: “They’ve cut back regulations and allowed businesses to ignore fire safety rules as part of a war on health and safety culture and to prioritise profit over safety.”

He said the “philosophy of deregulation” had “blighted” efforts to improve living conditions and instead made them worse.

Survivors and those bereaved by the blaze “need to know whether a focus on public safety and the prevention of loss of life, rather than deregulation and the red tape challenge, would have made a difference on the night of the fire, or to the safety in other buildings”, a lawyer for the mayor of London told the hearing.

Anne Studd QC said the public must also be assured the inquiry’s recommendations “will be implemented in full and promptly to avoid a situation where assurances are given and are not then fulfilled”.

Ahead of Monday’s hearing, Grenfell United said the “the spotlight will finally fall on the Government” in this part of the inquiry.

In a statement, the group for bereaved and survivors said: “Government’s indifference to safety has been going on for decades and, had it not been for the loss of our families in the most public way, people would still be oblivious to how deadly their homes really are.

“While Grenfell United has campaigned for safer homes and the banning of deadly materials, Government ministers were all too happy to be wined and dined by the same companies responsible for Grenfell.”

The group said the line “between lobbying and corruption is dangerously thin and the grey area has left 72 dead”.

They added: “This ugly reality is more evident than ever, so we need to know how far the rot goes – as no-one should be exempt from real accountability.”

The inquiry was adjourned until 10am on Tuesday.

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