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Judge: Grenfell is ‘unprecedented in modern times’

14 September 2017

The judge leading the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire in June, which killed at least 80 people, has opened proceedings today with a 45-minute statement.

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

Retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick said the inquiry “can and will provide answers” to how the disaster could occur in 21st century London.

A minute’s silence was held for victims of the disaster on the first day of the inquiry.

Sir Martin said the blaze was a “tragedy unprecedented in modern times”.

"We are acutely aware that so many people died and that many of those who survived have been severely affected. We are also conscious that many have lost everything.

“The inquiry cannot undo any of that, but it can and will provide answers to how a disaster of this kind could happen in 21st Century London,” he added.

Sir Martin also told the hearing that he was unable to include a person from the local community as an adviser on the inquiry panel as it would “risk undermining impartiality”.

No evidence is being heard on the first day of the hearing and an interim report is expected by Easter 2018.

The fire started in a fridge freezer and spread quickly through the 24-storey tower block in North Kensington, in the early hours of 14 June.

In further developments in the aftermath of Grenfell:

The government has issued a call for evidence as it begins the independent review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in the wake of the fire.

The review, which was announced in July and is being led by Dame Judith Hackett, is aiming to make recommendations to ensure the regulatory system is robust enough for the future and to provide further assurance to residents that the buildings they live in are safe and will remain so.

The review is interested in anything that may impact on the lifecycle of a building and fire safety and is particularly interested in hearing from respondents on aspects of the current regulatory system, which are working well and those which could be reformed.

London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton has called for sprinklers to be retrofitted into high-rise council flats. She said she hoped fitting sprinklers would be one of the recommendations to come out of an inquiry into the Grenfell Tower block blaze - which opens tomorrow.

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

Comments

On the subject of retro-fitting sprinkler systems, this is not as straightforward as may be suggested. Many structures from the 60s and 70s do not have the necessary space in the floor zone for such systems.

Surface fitting is unlikely to provide a solution within dwellings, but may be an alternative in communal areas.

Up until some 10 years ago, sprinkler systems were generally considered to be unsuitable for habitable rooms, especially where there may be elderly or infirm occupants.

We should welcome the government's announced review, as, despite the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005, the regulations relating to fire safety in buildings remain extremely lengthy and complex.

Ian Watts MCIOB, 18 September 2017

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