By Isabel Ringrose
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Government accused of ‘cover up’ behind Grenfell fire

The inquiry into the fire has heard of a string of lethal failures
Issue 2784
Campaigners march behind a banner that reads United for Grenfell on a silent walk in west London

The fourth anniversary of the fire saw thousands march for justice (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people in 2017 has heard the government carried out a “deliberate cover-up” over the dangers from combustible materials.

The final stage of the public inquiry is now looking at the role of government figures and what happened around building regulations.

Combustible materials used for housing were not scrutinised as a result of decades of deregulation.

Stephanie Barwise QC said Grenfell was the result of the government’s “unbridled passion for deregulation” and a “prolonged period of concealment”.

Michael Mansfield QC, representing some of the bereaved and survivors, said the government saw health and safety laws “as an obstruction to businesses”.

He said former Tory prime minister David Cameron should appear at the inquiry for his part in slashing health and safety regulations. In 2012 he made a speech promising to “kill off the health and safety culture for good” describing it as “an albatross around the neck of British businesses”.

Cameron didn’t believe health and safety was “how a great nation was built” and “Britannia didn’t rule the waves with armbands on”.

The Fire Brigades Union said deregulation “contributed to the systemic failure of the building and fire safety regimes”. It says this enabled “the installation of cheap and dangerous rainscreen cladding systems all over the UK, including at Grenfell Tower”.

The inquiry also heard how, to avoid spending money to fix dangerous cladding, the Building Research Establishment prepared reports that “covered up” dangers rather than exposing them.

The budget introduced in March 2011 prohibited new regulations for the building industry. The government acknowledged this breached its duty to protect the right to life, but carried on regardless.

And information was suppressed about the combustibility of cladding used on the Lakanal House fire that killed six people in 2009. “Collusion” with the construction industry by multiple governments attempted to suppress the results of an investigation into the fire.

The investigation was then shut down by the government without explanation in a “grotesque abdication of responsibility”.

After the Lakanal fire the government promised to implement the coroner’s recommendation to encourage the use of sprinklers. But civil servants reported “a defensive line against them” had been prepared.

In the early 2000s the government also chose not to drop the weak Class 0 fire standard for cladding. Cladding lobbyists said replacing the standard would have “economic consequences”.

Instead Kingspan, the firm which created some of the flammable cladding that was used on Grenfell, pushed the National Housing Building Council to get more lenient guidance for combustible claddings.

This meant the industry effectively wrote its own rules.

A government-commissioned test on the cladding used on Grenfell in 2002 failed five minutes into the test.

On Tuesday the government said it was “deeply sorry” at the inquiry for its failures overseeing the regulatory system. But it pinned the blame on local government inspectors and said the guidance was adequate.

Grenfell United described the government statement as “deeply offensive”.

“It is a disingenuous attempt to carry on their masquerade of innocence,” it said. “We know governments knew about the deadly materials and the consequences, but covered up the risks. Let’s see how long their apology stands up against the evidence at the public inquiry in the coming weeks.”

The inquiry continues. Representatives from the Mayor of London’s office will be questioned later this week, but former mayor Boris Johnson will not be attending.

Grenfell Tower Silent Walk,  6pm, Tue 14 December, Kensington Town Hall

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