Grenfell Tower fire
Grenfell Tower on fire during the early morning of 14 June 2017
|Date||14 June 2017|
|Time||00:54 BST (first emergency call)|
24 hours (under control)|
Over 60 hours (fully extinguished)
|Location||Grenfell Tower, North Kensington, London, UK|
|Suicide, stillbirth and PTSD reported|
|Inquiries||Public inquiry hearings opened 14 September 2017|
|Coroner||Open inquests for all 72 victims are pending police investigation and public inquiry|
The Grenfell Tower fire broke out on 14 June 2017 in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London, United Kingdom. It caused 72 deaths, including two who later died in hospital. Over 70 others were injured and 223 people escaped. It is the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster and the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War. The fire is under public inquiry, police investigations and coroner's inquests.
Emergency services received the first report of the fire at 00:54 local time. It burned for about 60 hours until finally being extinguished. More than 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines were involved from stations all across London in efforts to control the fire. Over 100 London Ambulance Service crews on at least 20 ambulances attended, joined by the specialist Hazardous Area Response Team. The Metropolitan Police Service and London's Air Ambulance also assisted the rescue effort.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry began on 14 September 2017 to investigate the causes of the fire, and other related issues. Police and fire services believe the fire was started by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. The rapid spread of the fire has been attributed to the building's exterior cladding, a type in widespread use. An independent review of building regulations and fire safety was published on 17 May 2018.
- 1 Building
- 2 Fire
- 3 Reporting
- 4 Impact
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Direct causes
- 7 Emergency response issues
- 8 Criticism of fire safety regulation
- 9 Other political criticism and debate
- 10 Fire and structural safety reviews
- 11 International
- 12 Investigations
- 13 Demolition
- 14 Similar fires
- 15 See also
- 16 Notes
- 17 References
- 18 External links
Grenfell Tower is in North Kensington, Inner London, in a mainly working-class housing complex surrounded by affluent neighbourhoods in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). The tower was managed on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), then the largest tenant management organisation in England, responsible for 9,760 properties in the borough.
The KCTMO had a board comprising eight residents (tenants or leaseholders), four council-appointed members and three independent members. The tower was built as council housing, but 14 of the flats had been bought under the Right to Buy policy. These were occupied by leaseholders, or were privately rented out by them on the open market.
The 24-storey tower block was designed in 1967 in the Brutalist style of the era by Clifford Wearden and Associates, with the council approving construction in 1970 as part of the Lancaster West redevelopment project.[note 1]
Construction, by contractors A E Symes of Leyton, under the council housing system, ran from 1972-74. The 220-foot-10-inch (67.30 m) tall building contained 120 one- and two-bedroom flats. The upper 20 of 24 storeys had six dwellings and 10 bedrooms each. The lower four storeys were used for non-residential purposes. Later, two floors were converted to residential use, bringing the total to 129 apartments, housing up to 600 people.
Like many other tower blocks in the UK, Grenfell had a single central staircase. Unlike in many other countries, UK regulations do not require a second.
The original lead architect for the building, Nigel Whitbread, said in 2016 that the tower had been designed with attention to strength following the Ronan Point partial collapse of 1968 "and from what I can see could last another hundred years."
Grenfell Tower underwent a major renovation, announced in 2012 and conducted over 2015-16. The tower received new windows, a water-based heating system for individual flats and new aluminium composite rainscreen cladding. The purpose of the cladding was to improve heating and energy efficiency, and external appearance.
Two types of cladding were used: Arconic's Reynobond PE, which consists of two, coil-coated, aluminium sheets that are fusion bonded to both sides of a polyethylene core; and Reynolux aluminium sheets. Beneath these, and fixed to the outside of the walls of the flats, was Celotex RS5000 PIR thermal insulation. An alternative cladding with better fire resistance was refused due to cost.
The original contractor, Leadbitter, had been dropped by KCTMO because their price of £11.278 million was £1.6 million higher than the proposed budget. The contract was put out to competitive tender and won by Rydon Ltd, whose bid was £2.5 million less than Leadbitter's. Rydon carried out the refurbishment for £8.7 million, with Artelia on contract administration and Max Fordham as specialist mechanical and electrical consultants. The cladding was fitted by Harley Facades of Crowborough, East Sussex, at a cost of £2.6 million.
Residents had expressed significant safety concerns before the fire. Twelve years earlier, a report had criticised the emergency lighting. The Grenfell Action Group (GAG) ran a blog in which it highlighted major safety problems, criticising the council and KCTMO for neglecting fire safety and building maintenance.
In 2013, the group published a 2012 fire risk assessment by a TMO Health and Safety Officer which recorded safety concerns. Firefighting equipment at the tower had not been checked for up to four years; on-site fire extinguishers had expired, and some had the word "condemned" written on them because they were so old. GAG documented its attempts to contact KCTMO management; they also alerted the council's cabinet member for Housing and Property but said they never received a reply. In 2013 the council threatened one of the bloggers with legal action, saying that their posts amounted to "defamation and harassment".
In January 2016, GAG warned that people might be trapped in the building if a fire broke out, pointing out that the building had only one entrance and exit, and corridors that had been allowed to fill with rubbish, such as old mattresses. GAG frequently cited other fires in tower blocks when it warned of the hazards at Grenfell.
In November 2016, GAG published online an article attacking KCTMO as an "evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia" and accusing the council of ignoring health and safety laws. GAG suggested that "only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of [KCTMO]", adding, "[We] predict that it won't be long before the words of this blog come back to haunt the KCTMO management and we will do everything in our power to ensure that those in authority know how long and how appallingly our landlord has ignored their responsibility to ensure the heath [sic] and safety of their tenants and leaseholders. They can't say that they haven't been warned!" The group had also published other articles criticising fire safety and maintenance practices at Grenfell Tower. The Grenfell Tower Leaseholders' Association had also raised concerns about exposed gas pipes in the months before the fire. As with the majority of tower blocks in the UK, Grenfell Tower did not have fire sprinklers.
Meanwhile, in June 2016, an independent assessor had highlighted 40 serious issues with fire safety at Grenfell Tower and recommended action to be taken within weeks. In October, the assessor asked the KCTMO why there had been no action taken for over 20 issues in the June report. In November 2016, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority served a fire deficiency notice, listing many fire safety issues at Grenfell Tower that required action from KCTMO by May 2017. Areas of concern identified included fire doors, the smoke venting system and the firefighters' lift controls.
Previous cladding fires and responses
In 2009, the Lakanal House fire caused 6 deaths. This fire had spread unexpectedly fast across exterior cladding. The coroner made a series of safety recommendations for the government to consider, and the Department for Communities and Local Government agreed to hold a review in 2013. Over subsequent years, four ministers were warned about tower block fire risks that had been highlighted by the Lakanal House fire. Ronnie King, a former chief fire officer and secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety, said that ministers had stonewalled requests for meetings and discussions about tightening rules. King described his attempts to arrange meetings with minister Gavin Barwell: "We have had replies, but the replies were to the effect that you have met my predecessor [earlier housing minister James Wharton] and there were a number of matters that we are looking at and we are still looking at it."
In March 2014, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group sent a letter to then Minister for Communities Stephen Williams, warning that similar fires to the one at Lakanal House were possible, especially due to the lack of sprinklers in tower blocks. After further correspondence, Williams replied: "I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward."
In 2016, a non-fatal fire at a Shepherd's Bush tower block spread to six floors via flammable external cladding. In May 2017, LFB warned all 33 London councils to review the use of panels and "take appropriate action to mitigate the fire risk".
The fire started in the early hours of Wednesday 14 June 2017 at around 00:50 BST (UTC+1), when a fridge-freezer caught fire in Flat 16 on the 4th floor. The flat's resident did not have a fire extinguisher but did call London Fire Brigade and alerted neighbours on the fourth floor. The fire brigade were first called at 00:54 BST, and the first crews arrived six minutes after the alarm.
The firefighters set up a bridgehead (internal base of operations) on the second floor. Crews first entered Flat 16 at 1:07 BST. It was a further seven minutes before they tackled the kitchen blaze. Firefighter bodycam footage and other images later presented to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry showed that the fire had reached the exterior cladding via the kitchen window of the flat at 1:09 BST, before firefighters had begun to tackle the initial fire. After the fire breached the window, a firefighter on the outside tried to prevent it spreading with a water jet, though this jet could not reach higher than the fourth floor, and due to fears of causing a dangerous build-up of steam on the inside, it was not aimed directly at the window. By the time the firefighters had dealt with the first blaze, flames were quickly advancing up the building. The flames spread up the side at a "terrifying rate". By 01:29, a rising column of flames had reached the roof and the fire was out of control.
Other residents who called the fire brigade were told to stay in their rooms. This is the standard policy for a fire in a high-rise building, but relies on the assumption that the fire can be contained in one flat. Also due to this policy, the tower had no central fire alarm system. Some residents left early after being alerted by their neighbours. Due to Ramadan, many observing Muslim residents were awake for the pre-dawn meal of suhur, which enabled them to alert neighbours and help them to escape. By 01:18, 34 of 293 residents had escaped, either after being rescued by firefighters or not following the advice to stay put.
The fire on the exterior spread sideways and re-entered the building. Fire crews with breathing apparatus searched for people trapped in the building and carried them out. They reported thick smoke and zero visibility above the fourth floor, and were hindered by the extreme heat. After three hours, the original teams of firefighters were replaced by new crews. A contingent of riot police was present; each of them attended a firefighter and held a shield horizontally above their heads to protect the two from falling heavy debris such as burning pieces of the cladding. Police equipped with red "Enforcer" battering rams also attended to provide a method of entry into locked flats. The busiest phase of evacuations was between 01:18 and 01:38, when 110 escaped. At some point between 01:30 and 01:40, the stairwell became filled with smoke, making it very difficult for residents to escape without assistance from the firefighters. Evacuation rates slowed, with 20 escaping between 01:38 and 01:58. More than half of those still trapped at 01:58 were killed, while 48 were rescued between 01:58 and 03:58.
In total, 250 firefighters from 70 fire engines attempted to control the blaze, with over 100 firefighters inside the building at a given time during the operation. Dany Cotton, the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, was called out in the middle of the night to take charge,[note 2] arriving at 02:26am. Cotton admitted that the fire brigade had broken their own safety protocols, by entering a large building without knowing whether it was in danger of structural collapse. It was not until the following afternoon that structural engineers were able to assess the structure and determine that it was not in danger of collapse.
By sunrise, the firefighters were still battling the fire and trying to spray areas where people were seen trapped. The watching crowd were pushed back from the building because of falling debris. At 04:14, police addressed the large crowd of onlookers and urgently instructed them to contact anyone they knew who was trapped in the building—if they are able to reach them via phone or Twitter—to tell them they must try to self-evacuate and not wait for the fire brigade. At 05:00, the building was still burning and severely damaged. Firefighters rescued all remaining residents up to the 10th floor, but none got higher than the 20th floor during this time; only two people escaped from the highest two floors.
Witnesses reported seeing people trapped inside the burning building, switching the lights in their flats on and off or waving from windows to attract help, some holding children. Eyewitnesses reported seeing some people jumping out, and four victims were later found to have died from "injuries consistent with falling from a height". At least one person used knotted blankets to make a rope and escape from the burning building. Frequent explosions that were reported to be from gas lines in the building were heard. Firefighters were able to rescue an elderly, partially sighted man on the 11th floor, pictured on live television waving for help, after twelve hours. At a news conference in the afternoon of 14 June, London Fire Brigade reported firefighters had rescued 65 people from the building and reached all 24 floors. Seventy-four people were confirmed by the NHS to be in six hospitals across London with 20 of them in critical care.
The fire continued to burn on the tower's upper floors. It was not brought under control until 01:14 BST on 15 June and firefighters were still damping down pockets of fire when the Brigade issued an update on 16 June. The fire brigade also used a drone to inspect the building and search for casualties. The fire was declared extinguished on the evening of 16 June.
Reporting of the disaster escalated as follows:
- By 05:00 BST, police reported that several people were being treated for smoke inhalation.
- By 06:30, it was reported that 50 people had been taken to five hospitals: Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, King's College Hospital, Royal Free, St Thomas's, and St Mary's Hospital.
- By 09:30, London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton reported that there were fatalities resulting from the fire, but she could not specify how many had been killed because of the size and complexity of the building. Cotton said: "This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale."
- By 12:00 the Metropolitan Police announced there were six people confirmed dead, and more than 70 in hospital, with 20 in critical condition. The first person announced dead was Mohammed al-Haj Ali, a Syrian refugee. A large number of people were reported missing.
- At around 17:00, the number of confirmed deaths was increased to 12.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, a number of unsubstantiated reports about casualties circulated online, which were to later be debunked, including that the government had covered up details of the fire and babies' miraculous survival stories. A later investigation by BBC Panorama found no evidence that these survival accounts were credible: neither the Metropolitan Police, London Ambulance Service nor any A&E departments were able to find any record of this happening.
The fire caused 72 deaths, including one who died in hospital a day later and another who died in January 2018. The latter occurred after an official death toll was announced by police in November 2017. The incident ranks as the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster and the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War.
Police examined the remains of Grenfell Tower and used "every imaginable source" of information "from government agencies to fast food companies" to identify casualties. Their analysis of CCTV evidence concluded that 223 people (of 293 present) had escaped. This investigation took five months, with only 12 fatalities being identified on the actual day of the fire. By the following week, police had estimated that 80 people had died. This was the most widely-quoted estimate in the media for several months. On 19 September 2017, Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy suggested that the number of dead could be lower than 80 because eight people were being investigated for making fraudulent financial claims for non-existent victims. By 1 June 2018, this had led to five people being convicted of fraud. Obstacles to identifying fatalities included the fact there was no formal register of who was in the building, and the number of undocumented subtenants, migrants and asylum seekers who were believed to have been living there. Mayor Sadiq Khan called for an amnesty to ensure that people with pertinent information could come forward.
Survivors came from 106 of the tower's 129 flats; eighteen people among the occupants of these flats were reported as dead or missing presumed dead, whereas most of those killed were said to have been in the remaining 23 flats between the 11th and 23rd floors. Some people from lower floors may have tried to move up the building, and it is thought a number of people may have ended up in one flat. Some victims were identified from 26 calls to 999 made from inside the 23 flats.
The dead included many children. The youngest of those known killed, Leena Belkadi, was 6 months old. One victim died in hospital on 15 June 2017 due to inhalation of fire fumes. Additionally, one then pregnant survivor lost her baby through stillbirth as a result of the fire.
In the aftermath of the fire, members of the local community, including a residents group called Grenfell United, stated that the official figures were far short of existing estimates, with some believing that the death toll was "in hundreds". Ten days after the fire, only 18 deaths had yet been officially recorded, compared to the estimate of 80 and the eventual figure of 72. Rumours that the toll was higher than official figures persisted after the official figures were confirmed.
Psychological health and human factors
Beyond physical injury, the fire was a traumatic event which had a psychological impact on residents, emergency service workers and the public at large, as detailed below.
On 26 July 2017, at the fourth public meeting of the Grenfell Response Team, a local volunteer reported that there had been at least 20 suicide attempts in north Kensington since the fire, one of which had been successful. The mental health of many survivors has been damaged.
LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton defended the heroism of emergency service workers who themselves were affected by trauma. An on-call counsellor was made available. Around 80 firefighters and Met Police officers were reported to be suffering from their experiences. Cotton told LBC Radio that she too was undergoing counselling.
An extra four full-time counsellors were employed (reversing previous staff reductions) and 60 volunteer counsellors were brought in. All firefighters who attended Grenfell were given a psychological health check. The BBC reported that LFB used its reserve budget to bring counselling staff back to 2008 levels.
In July 2017, NHS England issued an open letter to GPs giving advice on symptoms for mental health conditions such as PTSD that those affected by this fire (or recent terrorism) may be experiencing. It is estimated that 67% of people caught up in the fire, who lost relatives were rescued or evacuated from the tower, need treatment for PTSD. Further between 26% and 48% of people living nearby who were not evacuated but witnessed the fire helplessly have PTSD. It is unclear how far this indicates reaction to the fire and how far previously existing psychiatric conditions are being uncovered.
The Metropolitan Police Service assigned 250 detectives to the fire, placing additional workload and personal stress on a force that was also investigating recent terrorist incidents, including the London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks.
Grenfell Tower was insured by Protector Forsikring ASA for £20 million, but the direct costs of the fire are likely to be substantially higher. According to The Times, the financial impact of the fire could reach as high as £1 billion due to a combination of litigation, compensation for deaths and injuries, rehousing and rehabilitation, the cost of demolition and rebuilding and the possibility that other tower blocks may have to be improved or evacuated.
Councils claim the government is not releasing funds to increase fire safety in many other tower blocks after the Grenfell fire although they promised lack of finance would not prevent essential work. The government is not paying to put sprinklers into older tall buildings though sprinklers are required in new buildings over 30 metres tall.
In the 22 November 2017 Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that an extra £28 million was being provided to help victims. He asked that local authorities without the means to make buildings safe should contact central government. Of the fire he said: "This tragedy should never have happened, and we must ensure that nothing like it ever happens again."
On 4 January 2018, BBC News reported the Met Police were asking the Home Office to pay for the investigation, which was one of the largest, most complex and most expensive in its history. A figure of £38 million was quoted.
The fire's proximity to Latimer Road Underground station caused a partial closure of London Underground's Hammersmith & City and Circle lines. The A40 Westway was closed in both directions. Bus routes were diverted. Services on the Hammersmith & City, and Circle lines were again suspended on 17 June 2017 due to concerns about debris falling from the tower.
A total of 151 homes were destroyed in the tower and surrounding area. People from surrounding buildings were evacuated due to concerns that the tower might collapse.
The Kensington Aldridge Academy, at the base of Grenfell Tower and inside the police cordon, has been closed since the fire. Students were temporarily relocated to different local schools for lessons, GCSE and A-Level exams. On the morning of the fire, 56 students attended a maths exam. By 18 September 2017, a temporary school in Scrubs Lane had been built by Portakabin in 12 weeks. The school is expected to return to its original site in September 2018.
Following the general election of 8 June, which resulted in no overall majority, a deal was expected to be announced between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), but DUP sources informed the BBC that the fire would delay the finalisation and announcement of this agreement. The announcement would be postponed until the following week and thus could postpone discussions on Brexit that had been scheduled to take place.[needs update]
The City of London cancelled the annual Mansion House Dinner, hosted by the Lord Mayor of London due to take place the day after the fire. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had been due to address the event, but had said he would not do so following the fire.
The fire also severely affected three low-rise "finger blocks" adjoining Grenfell Tower. Their residents were evacuated due to the fire and many remained in temporary accommodation at the start of July.[needs update] The blocks, Barandon Walk, Testerton Walk and Hurstway Walk, also lost access to hot water as they shared a boiler beneath Grenfell Tower that was destroyed in the fire.
People in the immediate area and from across London rallied to assist victims of the fire. Donations of food, water, toys, and clothes were made. St Clement's Church, Treadgold Street and St James' Church, Norlands, in the Deanery of Kensington, provided shelter for people evacuated from their homes, as did nearby mosques and temples. Notting Hill Methodist Church near to Grenfell tower became a focus of tributes and held regular vigils for the victims.
Nearby Queens Park Rangers F.C. offered their Loftus Road venue as a relief centre and accepted donations of food, drink and clothing from the local community, and other nearby football clubs Brentford and Chelsea also offered their stadiums as relief centres.
May made a private visit to Grenfell Tower to speak with London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton and other members of the emergency services, though not with any survivors. Following this, she announced a full public inquiry into the fire. On the same day, the government issued information including details of a dedicated benefits line and a fund to support the survivors. The government confirmed Bellwin scheme financial assistance would be available to the council.
May made a visit to some of the victims at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. On a second visit that day, May visited St Clement's Church which had been set up as a relief centre. From there she announced a £5 million fund for victims of the fire and promised that residents would be given new housing, as close to Grenfell Tower as possible, "as far as possible within the borough, or in neighbouring boroughs", within the next three weeks. Some people proceeded to shout "coward", "murderer" and "shame on you" at her. Minor scuffles broke out.
On 18 June 2017 an announcement followed that all those made homeless would receive £5,500, with each household to be given at least £500 in cash and £5,000 paid into an account.
The government also announced details of how the £5 million fund would be spent. This included funds to support people in temporary accommodation, a discretionary fund to help with funeral costs, and funding to help with residents' legal representation. An extra £1.5 million was promised for emergency services' mental health support.
The same day, Theresa May said in the House of Commons that there had been a "failure of the state – local and national – to help people when they needed it most", adding, "As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure. As Prime Minister I have taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right. That is why each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a down payment from the emergency fund so they can buy food, clothes and other essentials. And all those who have lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks."
On 22 June 2017, Theresa May stated in the House of Commons that anyone affected by the tragedy, regardless of their immigration status, would be entitled to support, including healthcare services and accommodation. No immigration checks would be performed on those affected. (Two weeks later, however, the government said that anyone coming forward would be subject to normal immigration rules, including the possibility of deportation, after twelve months.) May added that it was important for those receiving payments from the fund to understand that they could keep the money – they would not have to pay it back, and it would not impact their entitlement to any other benefits.
May said that further residential buildings with flammable cladding of the type used in Grenfell Tower had been identified.
In August 2017, it was announced that the Kensington and Chelsea TMO (KCTMO) would no longer manage the Lancaster Estate containing Grenfell Tower, which would come under direct council control. The next month, it was announced that the contract with KCTMO to maintain social housing in the borough had been terminated.
Grenfell Fire Response Team (GRT)
On 18 June 2017 the government relieved Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council of responsibility for supporting the survivors, after their supposedly inadequate response to the disaster (but O'Hagan's investigation contradicts this description). Responsibility was handed over to the Grenfell Fire Response Team (GRT) led by a group of chief executives from councils across London. John Barradell, City of London Corporation chief executive, is leading the response team. Resources available to them include: central government, the British Red Cross, the Metropolitan Police, the London Fire Brigade and local government in London. Neighbouring councils sent in staff to improve the rehousing response.
The government also announced that they would send in a task force to take over some of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council's functions when the GRT is gradually wound down. This move from the government stops short of demands from the London mayor who called for ministers to appoint external commissioners to take over the running of the whole council.
The Grenfell Action Group posting a message on its website that highlighted their earlier warnings:
Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC. ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.
The Queen said that her thoughts and prayers were with the affected families. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan issued a statement saying he was devastated and also praising the emergency services on the scene. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the emergency services for their actions, but said that questions needed to be answered about the fire and that land would have to be appropriated from the surrounding region. The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, went to the site fire in the morning, and counselled firefighters moving in and out of the building. In the afternoon, he spent his time with survivors, and also helped collect charity donations in various churches around his parish.
Jeremy Corbyn visited a nearby community centre and spoke to some of the volunteers who were helping those affected by the fire. He called for private property to be "requisitioned if necessary", to provide homes for those displaced by the fire, referring to the large number of empty properties in Kensington. This proposal was characterised by The Telegraph as unlawful. In a survey, 59% of those polled by YouGov supported Corbyn's proposal.
During the afternoon of 16 June 2017, hundreds of people protested at Kensington Town Hall, demanding that victims be rehoused within the borough and that funds be made available for those rendered homeless. The actions of some protesters caused a number of council officials to be evacuated from the Town Hall.
On her Official Birthday, the Queen released a statement in which she said it was "difficult to escape a very sombre national mood" following the Grenfell Tower fire, and terrorist attacks in London and Manchester shortly before. She led a minute's silence at the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony held at Horse Guards Parade. May met with victims at 10 Downing Street. BBC Two cancelled transmission of the documentary Venice Biennale: Sink or Swim, scheduled for 7.30pm that evening, as it features artist Khadija Saye, who was killed in the fire, and BBC One rescheduled an edition of its new series Pitch Battle because the programme contained themes and song lyrics deemed to be inappropriate so soon after the fire.
Responsibility for managing the aftermath of the fire was removed from Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council. It was transferred to a new body comprising representatives from central and other local London government, the London Fire Brigade, Metropolitan Police and Red Cross. Residents living near the tower, who had been evacuated and were also effectively homeless, accused the council's leadership of going into hiding. Some families reportedly returned home after being told that rehoming priorities were aimed at those who had lived in Grenfell Tower, amid confusion and uncertainty over whether their homes were safe.
The chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council, Nicholas Holgate, resigned. Holgate said he had been asked to leave by the local government secretary Sajid Javid; the government refuted this (Holgate was replaced by Lewisham Council CEO, Barry Quirk, on 22 June 2017).
The 2017 Glastonbury Festival opened with a minute's silence for the victims of the Grenfell tower fire and the Manchester Arena bombing, led by Peter Hook, co-founder of Manchester band Joy Division. Camden London Borough Council ordered the evacuation of all 800 flats of the five blocks on the Chalcots Estate following an inspection of the cladding on the buildings. Celotex Saint Gobain announced on its website that it was to stop the supply of RS5000 for use in rainscreen cladding systems in buildings over 18 metres (59 ft) tall.
Music producer Simon Cowell, a borough resident, arranged the recording of a charity single of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water", at nearby Sarm West Studios. Artists involved included Robbie Williams, James Blunt, Craig David, Bastille, Paloma Faith, Louis Tomlinson, Labrinth, Jorja Smith, Jessie J, James Arthur, Roger Daltrey, Ella Eyre, Anne-Marie and Ella Henderson, Liam Payne, Stormzy, Louisa Johnson, Emeli Sandé, Pixie Lott, Rita Ora, Leona Lewis, Tulisa Contostavlos and Stereophonics singer Kelly Jones. More than fifty artists contributed to the single, which was released under the title Artists for Grenfell on 21 June 2017. It sold 120,000 copies in its first day, the highest volume of opening-day sales of the 2010s, and reached number one on the UK Singles Chart on 23 June 2017. The choir, conducted by Gareth Malone, included residents from Grenfell Tower.
On 2 September 2017, the Game 4 Grenfell football match took place to raise money for those affected. It was held at Loftus Road, the home ground of Queens Park Rangers and only a mile away from the tower. It featured a line-up of professional footballers, celebrities, firefighters and survivors.
One year on
On 14 June 2018 to mark the first anniversary:
- Grenfell Tower and other public buildings were illuminated green.
- A national Moment of silence was held at noon for 72 seconds in remembrance of those who died in the fire.
- The Grenfell Inquiry was suspended for the week to allow people to grieve and attend memorials.
Grenfell Tower had 129 flats but rehousing will require over 200 dwellings. This is due to multiple households asking to be rehoused in more than dwelling, such as those with grandparents or grown-up children.
As of 13 June 2018, there are 203 households of survivors from Grenfell Tower. Of these, 83 are living in a permanent home (up from 28 in October 2017). and 101 have accepted an offer of a permanent home but not yet moved in. Of the 120 who are not in a permanent home, 52 are in temporary accommodation and 68 are in emergency accommodation (42 in hotels, 22 in serviced apartments and 4 with family or friends). Out of the 129 households who were evacuated from the surrounding buildings, 38 have returned to their homes, one is in a permanent new home, 75 are in temporary accommodation and 15 are in emergency accommodation.
The government acquired 68 flats in a newly built development at Kensington Row The development is in Kensington, in the same borough as Grenfell Tower, and about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the Tower. and 31 on Hortensia Road, Chelsea. By December 2017, the council had purchased 250 homes to meet the requirements, and by March 2018, 307 homes.
It was initially reported that the fire had been started by a faulty refrigerator. Police confirmed on 23 June that a faulty fridge-freezer had initially started the fire and named the model as a FF175BP fridge-freezer produced under the Hotpoint brand for Whirlpool. Owners of the types FF175BP and FF175BG were urged to register their appliance with the manufacturer to receive any updates. Sixty-four thousand of these models were made between March 2006 and July 2009, after which the model was discontinued. It is unknown how many are still in use.
The Department for Business commissioned a product safety investigation into the Hotpoint FF175B fridge-freezer. Independent experts examined the remains of the appliance recovered from Grenfell and exemplar models of the same type. They concluded that the design met all legal safety requirements, and there was no need to issue a recall of the model. Consumer group Which? complained that the legal requirements were inadequate.
Tenants had repeatedly complained about electrical power surges causing appliances to smoke and such a surge may have set the fridge-freezer on fire. The Local Authority knew about complaints and had paid tenants compensation for damaged appliances. Judith Blakeman, a local Labour councillor, said the surges affected many appliances including fridges. Blakeman maintains that the cause of the surges was never solved.
Exterior cladding and insulation
- exterior cladding: aluminium sandwich plates (3 mm each) with polyethylene core
- a standard ventilation gap (50 mm) between the cladding and the insulation behind it
- an insulation made of PIR (polyisocyanurate) foam plates (150 mm) mounted on the existing facade
- the existing prefabricated reinforced-concrete facade
- new double-glazed windows of unknown type and material, mounted in the same vertical plane as the PIR foam insulation plates
Both the aluminium-polyethylene cladding and the PIR insulation plates failed fire safety tests conducted after the fire, according to the police. In 2014 safety experts cautioned that the planned insulation was only suitable for use with non-combustible cladding. The Guardian saw a certificate from the building inspectors’ organisation, Local Authority Building Control (LABC), which stated that the chosen insulation for the refit should be used on tall buildings only with fibre cement panels, which do not burn. Combustible panels with polyethylene were put up on top of insulation known as Celotex RS5000, made from polyisocyanurate, which burns when heated giving off toxic cyanide fumes.
Despite the above, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea certified the Grenfell tower building work as allegedly conforming to “the relevant provisions”. Council building inspectors visited the site 16 times from August 2014 to July 2016. Kooltherm, a phenolic insulation, was also used on Grenfell. Kooltherm was never tested with polyethylene core aluminium panels according to the manufacturer. The manufacturer, Kingspan, “would be very surprised if such a system … would ever pass the appropriate British Standard 8414 large-scale test”. Kooltherm’s LABC certificate states phenolic products, “do not meet the limited combustibility requirements” of building regulations.
The combustible materials used on Grenfell Tower were considerably cheaper than non-combustible alternatives would have been. There appear to have been intense cost pressures over the Grenfell refurbishment. In June 2017 it was stated the project team chose cheaper cladding that saved £293,368, after the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation mentioned in an email the need for “good costs for Cllr Fielding Mellen [the council’s former deputy leader]”.
A building control officer from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea reportedly passed the cladding on Grenfell Tower on 15 May 2015, though there was a nationwide warning that the combustible insulation used should only be used with cladding that does not burn.
Fire safety experts have said that the building's new external cladding was a possible cause of the rapid spread of the fire. Experts said the gap between the cladding and the insulation worked like a chimney to spread the fire. The cladding could be seen burning and melting, causing additional speculation that it was not made of fire-resistant material. One resident said: "The whole one side of the building was on fire. The cladding went up like a matchstick."
Concerns about the dangers of external cladding were raised years before, following a fire in 1991 at flats in Knowsley Heights, Liverpool. Recent major high-rise fires that have involved flammable cladding are listed below.
Records show that a contractor had been paid £2.6 million to install an "ACM rainscreen over-clad" during the recent refurbishment at Grenfell Tower. ACM stands for "aluminium composite material", also known as a sandwich panel, the combustibility of which depends on the choice of insulation core material.
One of the products used was Arconic's Reynobond, which is available with different types of core material—polyethylene, as reportedly used in Grenfell Tower (Reynobond PE), or a more fire-resistant material (Reynobond FR). The Reynobond cladding reportedly cost £24 per square metre for the fire-retardant version, and £22 for the combustible version.
According to Arconic's website and brochure for the mainland European market at the time of the fire, the Reynobond PE cladding used was suitable only for buildings 10 metres or less tall; the fire-retardant Reynobond FR was suitable for buildings up to 30 metres tall; and above the latter height, such as the upper parts of Grenfell Tower, the non-combustible A2 version was supposed to be used ("As soon as the building is higher than the firefighters’ ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material"). After the fire, Arconic stopped sales of Reynobond PE worldwide for tower blocks.
Similar cladding containing highly flammable insulation material is believed to have been installed on thousands of other high-rise buildings in countries including Britain, France, the UAE and Australia. Advice published by the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology is that where such materials are used in buildings over 18m the fire performance of the cladding system as a whole must be proven by testing.(p5)
In September 2014 a building regulations notice for the re-cladding work was submitted to the authority, and marked with a status of "Completed—not approved". The use of a "Building Notice" building control application is used to remove the need to submit detailed plans and proposals to a building control inspector in advance, where the works performed will be approved by the inspector during the course of their construction. Building inspector Geoff Wilkinson remarked that this type of application is "wholly inappropriate for large complex buildings and should only be used on small, simple domestic buildings".
On 18 June, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond stated that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was banned in the United Kingdom. Grenfell Tower was inspected 16 times while the cladding was being put on but none of these inspections noticed that materials effectively banned in tall buildings were being used. Judith Blakeman, local Labour councillor questioned the competence of the inspectors. Blakeman, representing the Grenfell residents, said, "This raises the question of whether the building regulations officers were sufficiently competent and did they know what they were looking at. It also begs a question about what they were actually shown. Was anything concealed from them?"
The Department for Communities and Local Government stated that cladding with a polyethylene core "would be non-compliant with current Building Regulations guidance. This material should not be used as cladding on buildings over 18 metres (59 ft) in height." On 31 July 2017, the Department released results of fire safety testing on the cladding panels used at Grenfell Tower, which were carried out by the Building Research Establishment and assigned the polyethylene filling a category three rating, designating a total lack of flame retardant properties.
According to US-based Arconic, the polyethylene version of the material is banned in the United States for use in buildings exceeding 40 feet (12 m) in height, because of the risk of spreading fire and smoke. NPR subsequently stated that nearly all jurisdictions in the US (except three states and the District of Columbia) have enacted the International Building Code (IBC) requirement that external wall assemblies (cladding, insulation, and wall) on high-rise buildings with combustible components must pass a rigorous real-world simulation test promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association under the name NFPA 285.
To perform the test, the entire planned assembly is constructed on a standardised test rig two storeys tall, with a window opening in the middle, and is continuously ignited with gas burners from two different angles for 30 minutes. The assembly must satisfy numerous performance criteria to pass, including a requirement that flames cannot spread more than 10 ft (3.0 m) vertically from the top of the window opening or 5 ft (1.5 m) horizontally.
A single NFPA 285 test can cost over US$30,000, and it certifies only a particular assembly, meaning that any change to any part used requires a new test. As of mid-2017 ACM cladding with a polyethylene core had not been able to pass the NFPA 285 test, and thus had been effectively banned on US high-rise buildings for decades. The UK does not mandate the use of such simulations.
Fire safety experts said the tests the government is doing on cladding only are insufficient, as the whole unit of cladding and insulation should be tested including fire stops. Fire safety experts maintain further that the testing lacks transparency, as the government has not described what tests are being carried out.
According to its datasheet, the polyisocyanurate (PIR) product—charred pieces of which littered the area around Grenfell Tower after the fire—"will burn if exposed to a fire of sufficient heat and intensity". PIR insulation foams "will, when ignited, burn rapidly and produce intense heat, dense smoke and gases which are irritating, flammable and/or toxic", among them carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. The fire toxicity of polyisocyanurate foams has been well understood for some time.
Celotex's Rainscreen Compliance Guide, when specifying Celotex RS5000 in buildings above 18 metres (59 ft), sets out the conditions under which the product was tested and for which it has been certified as meeting the required fire safety standards. These include the use of (non-combustible) 12 mm fibre cement rainscreen panels, ventilated horizontal fire breaks at each floor slab edge and vertical non-ventilated fire breaks. It states that any changes from the tested configuration "will need to be considered by the building designer".
It has been asserted that cavity barriers intended to prevent the spread of fire in the gap between the facade and the building (the chimney effect) were of insufficient size and, in some cases, incorrectly installed, facilitating the spread of fire.
It has been asserted that windows and their surrounds installed as part of the refurbishment were less fire resistant than those they replaced due to the materials used and that the windows were of insufficient size necessitating larger surrounds. This would facilitate the spread of fire between the interior and exterior of the building.
Emergency response issues
Stay put policy
|Public Fire Notice from nearby KCTMO tower indicating "Stay Put" policy|
The fire safety policy for Grenfell Tower was that residents were advised to stay in their rooms ("stay put") in the event of a fire. This is the standard policy for a high-rise building in the United Kingdom. It relies on the assumption that construction standards such as concrete and fire-resistant doors will allow firefighters to contain a fire within one flat. This was not possible at Grenfell Tower, as the fire spread rapidly via the exterior.
In a July 2014 Grenfell Tower regeneration newsletter, the KCTMO instructed residents to stay in their flat in case of a fire ("Our longstanding 'stay put' policy stays in force until you are told otherwise") and stated that the front doors for each unit could survive a fire for up to 30 minutes. The May 2016 newsletter had a similar message, adding that it was on the advice of the Fire Brigade:
The smoke detection systems have been upgraded and extended. The Fire Brigade has asked us to reinforce the message that, if there is a fire which is not inside your own home, you are generally safest to stay put in your home to begin with; the Fire Brigade will arrive very quickly if a fire is reported.
The advice was repeated to residents who called the fire service. The policy was withdrawn at 02:47, when control room staff were instead told to advise residents to evacuate. At 04:14, the police told onlookers to contact anyone still trapped in the building and tell them to attempt to evacuate immediately.
Multiple survivors argued that they would have died had they followed the "stay put" advice. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, also criticised the policy: "Thankfully residents didn't take that advice but fled". He added, "These are some of the questions that have to be answered. We have lots of people in London living in tower blocks ... We can't have people's lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance." In her report, Barbara Lane concluded that the principles required for the "stay put" policy to work failed once the fire started spreading across the exterior.
Dany Cotton said Grenfell was unique in terms of volume and behaviour of fire. She said it was a matter for the inquiry, but defended the general "stay put" policy for most high-rise buildings by reasoning that if residents all evacuate at once, they could block firefighters from entering. Furthermore, smoke and fire could be spread within a building by residents opening doors. Station Manager Brien O'Keeffe later suggested to the inquiry that it would have been dangerous to tell residents to evacuate unaided once the stairwell was filled with smoke.
The use of this policy by the Fire Brigade is now under police investigation.
Fire brigade resources
Research by John Sweeney for BBC Newsnight described several issues that hampered the London Fire Brigade's response. There was insufficient mains water pressure for the hoses the fire service used and Thames Water had to be called to increase it. Also, a high ladder did not arrive for 32 minutes, by which time the fire was out of control. Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union said, "... having that on the first attendance might have made a difference because it allows you to operate a very powerful water tower from outside the building onto the building." Before the Grenfell fire, 70% of fire brigades would have automatically sent a high ladder to tower fires.
An independent fire expert told the BBC having the ladder earlier could have stopped the fire getting out of control. The London Fire Brigade told Newsnight the first attendance procedure for tower fires has now been changed from four engines to five engines plus a high ladder unit. Firefighters said inside the building they lacked sufficient 'extended duration' breathing apparatus. They had difficulty getting vital radio messages through due to 'overuse of the system' and from the need to get the signal through layers of concrete. At the inquiry one firefighter described the radios as "useless."
A 42 m (138 ft) firefighting platform was borrowed from Surrey (the tower was 67 m (220 ft) high) as none of the London Fire Brigade's aerial platforms could reach that high. The Surrey platform did not arrive until the fire had been burning for several hours. A London Fire Brigade spokesman said, "The commissioner has made clear her intention to fully review the brigade's resources and seek funding for any additional requirements." London mayor, Sadiq Khan promised to supply new equipment that the London Fire Brigade needed promptly and stated he would not wait for the public inquiry.
Commissioner Dany Cotton later said having more firefighters may not have helped as there would not have physically been enough room for them in the building. The single stairwell also restricted access.
One of the major obstacles to the firefighters was that the tower's only stairwell filled with smoke within an hour of the fire breaking out. This made it very difficult for residents to escape unaided; Barbara Lane's report noted that the rate of evacuations slowed after 01:38, and again after 01:58. Furthermore, firefighters were hindered the near-zero visibility on the stairwell. Crew Manager Aldo Diana said he was "surprised" by the amount of smoke in the stairwell, describing conditions as:
Basically you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. It was just thick black smoke. You didn't see anybody else you literally had to bump into them.
In section 19 of her report, Barbara Lane notes that smoke was reported in the lobbies of four floors as early as 01:18. By 01:58, the stairwell and seven lobbies were filled with smoke. She suggested that possible causes for this included inadequate fire doors and problems with the ventilation system.
Kensington and Chelsea Council was warned in 2010 that building a new secondary school very near Grenfell Tower could block access by emergency vehicles. A 2013 blog post by Grenfell Action Group stated, "There is barely adequate room to manoeuvre for fire engines responding to emergency calls, and any obstruction of this emergency access zone could have lethal consequences in the event of a serious fire or similar emergency in Grenfell Tower or the adjacent blocks." The council demolished a multi-storey car park to build the school. This added to congestion and parked cars in streets around Grenfell Tower that were already narrow and made it hard for fire engines to get to the fire.
Lack of sprinklers
Like the vast majority of high-rise buildings in the UK, Grenfell Tower did not have sprinklers. A BBC Breakfast investigation focusing on half of the UK's council- and housing association-owned tower blocks found that 2% of them had full sprinkler systems. Deaths were 87% lower when buildings with sprinklers caught fire. England, Wales and Scotland now require sprinklers to be installed in newly-built tall buildings, but there is no requirement to fit them in existing buildings. Dany Cotton has called for sprinklers to be retrofitted in all social housing blocks. David Siber, an advisor to the Fire Brigades Union, said that sprinklers could have prevented the fire from ever spreading beyond the kitchen where it started. Geoff Wilkinson, the building regulations columnist for the Architects' Journal, said that once the fire starting spreading through cladding, sprinklers would have had little effect.
A few days after the fire, the Conservative leader of the council Nicholas Paget-Brown was asked why sprinklers had not been installed in the tower during the recent renovation. Paget-Brown said that the Grenfell Tower residents did not have a collective view in favour of installing sprinklers during the recent renovations. He also said that if they had been installed, it would have delayed the refurbishment and been more disruptive. ITV business editor Joel Hills stated that he had been told that the installation of sprinklers had not even been discussed.
Criticism of fire safety regulation
Reinhard Ries, the fire chief in Frankfurt, Germany, was critical of lax fire regulations in the United Kingdom, contrasting the laws in Germany that ban flammable cladding on buildings higher than 22 m and require segregated fire-stairs and firefighting lifts which can be used by the fire brigade and injured or disabled people.
Russ Timpson of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network told The Telegraph that "foreign colleagues are staggered" when they learn that UK regulations permit high-rise buildings to have only a single staircase, and called on government to review the relevant regulations. Although new high-rise buildings in England are now required to have sprinklers, there is no requirement to install them in older buildings, and as a result few have sprinklers. Other criticisms of UK fire regulations highlighted included a change in the law in 1986 under a Conservative government that abolished a requirement that external walls should have at least one hour's fire resistance to prevent blazes from re-entering a building and spreading to other apartments.
The New York Times reported that because of the Great Fire of London, UK building codes have historically been overly focused on containing horizontal fire spread between buildings or between units in larger buildings, as opposed to vertical fire spread in high-rise buildings.
The Royal Institute of British Architects fears flammable cladding will not be totally banned, they further fear sprinkler systems and extra escape staircases will not be required. These three measures could have saved lives in Grenfell according to widespread beliefs.
Fire safety review shelved
Former Conservative Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, faced criticism after political journalist Joe Watts reported in The Independent that he had delayed a fire safety review, and that a report into fire safety in tower blocks had been shelved for four years; Barwell had been due to meet the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group to discuss the review in 2017, but the meeting was postponed after the snap June general election was called. Barwell had lost his seat in the election and been appointed Downing Street Chief of Staff shortly afterwards. In his report Watts stated that a review of fire-safety regulations had been necessary, but not undertaken, for years before Barwell took office.
Other political criticism and debate
There is a political tension between those who focus the blame on technical failures, such as the refrigerator fire and the installation of flammable cladding, and those who focus the blame on politically-charged explanation, such as deregulation, spending cuts and neglect.
Bagehot in The Economist and Nick Ferrari accused Labour Party politicians of exploiting the disaster for political gain. In turn, Suzanne Moore in The Guardian, Tanya Gold in the New Statesman and Owen Jones argued that trying to stop the fire from being politicized meant ignoring its causes.
Theresa May's personal response
On the day after the fire, May made a private visit to Grenfell Tower to speak with members of the emergency services, but did not meet with any of the survivors. Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood stated this was due to security concerns. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg commented that May's decision not to meet those who lived in the tower might be interpreted as indicative of a lack of empathy. An editorial in The Guardian called it May's "Hurricane Katrina moment". Former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo described her meeting with members of the emergency services as "a good thing" but felt she "should have been there with the residents. She wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn't use her humanity".
The following day, she visited survivors in hospital and a church that was serving as a relief centre; during the latter visit she was heckled by some of those present. An article written by former Conservative MP Matthew Parris in The Times described her as "a good and moral person, who wants the best for her country, and is not privately unfeeling, ... in public is crippled by personal reserve". Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons subsequently visited a relief centre at the Rugby Portobello Trust, where she was confronted by residents angered by May's response, and described the prime minister as being "absolutely heartbroken" over events at Grenfell Tower.
The local council's response to the Grenfell Tower fire has been subject to widespread criticism. Council member Emma Dent Coad, also the newly elected Labour MP for the area (Kensington constituency) and a former board member of KCTMO, accused the council of having failed and betrayed its residents; characterising the fire as "entirely preventable", she added that "I can't help thinking that poor quality materials and construction standards may have played a part in this hideous and unforgivable event". Sadiq Khan called on the government to appoint commissioners to run Kensington and Chelsea council until the May 2018 council elections.
Edward Daffam of the Grenfell Action Group said, “They didn’t give a stuff about us. We were the carcass and they were the vultures. North Kensington was like a goldmine, only they didn’t have to dig for the gold. All they had to do was to marginalise the people who were living here, and that’s what they were doing.”
Grenfell Tower is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the wealthiest local authorities in the country, containing some of the most expensive houses in the world, and with the highest gap between rich and poor anywhere in the country. Grenfell Tower was populated by poorer, mainly ethnic-minority residents. The Conservative-run council was criticised for neglecting the borough's poorer residents, and some have blamed their neglect as a cause of the fire.
In 2016, the council took £55 million in rent but only invested less than £40 million in council housing. One journalist described the incident as an example of Britain's inequality. Data released in June 2017 by Trust for London and New Policy Institute shows large divides between rich and poor in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The analysis found that it is a borough with some very high incomes, as well as the highest average incomes in London, but there are pockets of deprivation, particularly in the north end of the borough, including the ward in which Grenfell Tower is located.
The philosophical difference of providing a high standard of public housing and providing the bare minimum to house only those most in need first occurred as the Lancaster West Estate was being built. Grenfell and the finger blocks were built to Parker Morris standards; the tower provided one- and two-bedroom flats for single occupiers or families without children. The incoming Conservative government revised the standards down, using the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 to replace the mandatory Space in the Home document.
After the fire, volunteer people and groups worked to help those made homeless and without possessions. The volunteers criticised council officials for doing little to coordinate these efforts. There were calls to jail those responsible for the fire. Deborah Orr wrote, "We know that fire-safe cladding was available. The idea of being energy efficient and safe was not impossible, or even undesirable in theory. But fire-resistant cladding would have raised the cost for the whole building by an estimated £5,000. That sum may be what people died for."
On 17 June 2017, MPs asked the council to describe why it had amassed £274 million of reserves, after years of underspending, and had not used any of its budget surplus to increase fire safety, given that residents had issued repeated warnings about the Grenfell Tower fire risk. The council actually used the surplus to pay top-rate council taxpayers a £100 rebate shortly before local elections which returned a Conservative council. After the fire, some former residents of Grenfell Tower still had rent payment taken out of their bank account for the burnt-out property by the council.
Residents approved initial plans for fire resistant zinc cladding but this was later changed to cheaper aluminium cladding with combustible polyethylene core which residents did not approve, saving nearly £300,000.
The council received further criticism for their lack of support on 18 June 2017. Some families were reported to be sleeping on the floor in local centres four days after the event. A leading volunteer in the relief effort said: "Kensington and Chelsea are giving £10 to the survivors when they go to the hotels – a tenner – there is money pouring in from all these amazing volunteers. We can't get access to this money."
London mayor Sadiq Khan said "years of neglect" by the council and successive governments were responsible for what had been a "preventable accident". There are calls for the council leader and some others to resign.
Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn brought this to the attention of the House; he said these “terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners” stemmed from a “disregard for working-class communities”.
Sadiq Khan, London Mayor said: "Those who mock health and safety, regulations and red tape need to take a hard look at the consequences of cutting these and ask themselves whether Grenfell Tower is a price worth paying." Patrick Cockburn of The Independent criticised deregulation of the building industry by the government, which he described as "cutting red tape". This was contrasted with the increasing complexity of processes faced by prospective benefits claimants including those with mental health issues. Cockburn said long inquiries were not necessary to establish what went wrong. Cockburn said that "The Government is clearly frightened that the burned bodies in Grenfell Towers will be seen as martyrs who died because of austerity, deregulation and outsourcing." Writing in The Guardian, Alan Travis argued that fire safety had been compromised since the early 2000s by moving the responsibility for fire safety checks from the fire brigade to building owners and creating mandatory competition between Local Authority Building Control and private approved inspectors.
In his column on the disaster, Aditya Chakrabortty of The Guardian drew comparisons to the often lethal living and working conditions faced by the working classes and poor in Victorian Manchester, which Friedrich Engels characterised as social murder in his 1845 study The Condition of the Working Class in England. Chakrabortty stated that "those dozens of Grenfell residents didn't die: they were killed. What happened last week wasn't a 'terrible tragedy' or some other studio-sofa platitude: it was social murder . . . Over 170 years later, Britain remains a country that murders its poor." John McDonnell also said that the fire amounted to social murder.
On 29 June 2017, Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council held its first full meeting since the fire. The council had tried to exclude the press and public from the meeting, citing safety concerns. Journalists sought an injunction to force the council to let them attend, which was granted. The meeting was adjourned shortly after it began, with members of the council's cabinet saying that to proceed would be prejudicial to the forthcoming public inquiry. Sadiq Khan and Robert Atkinson, Labour group leader on the council, both called for the council's entire cabinet to resign. Atkinson described the situation as "an absolute fiasco". Khan said that it beggared belief that the council was trying to hold meetings in secret when the meeting was the first chance the council had to provide some answers and show transparency. He said that some people were asking whether or not the council was involved in a cover up. Conservative council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown resigned on 30 June 2017.
Criticism of the media
Jon Snow, a veteran television journalist, used the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival to complain that the media was "comfortably with the elite, with little awareness, contact or connection with those not of the elite" and this lack of connection was "dangerous". He demanded "Why didn't any of us see the Grenfell action blog?"
Conservative Party survey
In November 2017, a branch of the Kensington Conservative Party caused anger by sending out a survey to local residents asking them to rate how important the Grenfell Tower fire was, alongside issues such as parking and recycling.
Fire and structural safety reviews
In the days after the fire, local authorities across the United Kingdom undertook reviews of fire safety in their residential tower blocks, including Brighton and Hove City Council, Manchester City Council, Plymouth City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Swindon Borough Council. Around 200 National Health Service trusts across the country were urged by NHS Improvement to check the cladding on their buildings, with particular attention being paid to those buildings housing in-patients.
In London, councils affected included Brent London Borough Council, Camden London Borough Council, Hounslow London Borough Council, Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council, Newham London Borough Council, and Wandsworth London Borough Council.
There are estimated to be about 600 high-rise blocks of flats in the UK that have similar cladding and unspecified fire safety tests have been carried out on panels sent in by councils at the Building Research Establishment in Watford, on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government. By 28 June 2017, 120 high-rise buildings in 37 different local authority areas were reported to have failed fire safety tests, a 100% failure rate of samples tested. Councils had been instructed to begin with those buildings that caused the most concern, and every single one of those had failed the test.
The government's fire safety tests were criticised for looking only at the cladding and not the insulation behind it, which had burned rapidly in the Grenfell Tower fire; testing the insulation is left to councils and landlords. By 6 July 2017, only one of 191 samples tested had passed. It was announced that large-scale tests were to be done on a 9-metre (30 ft) high wall, simulating a fire breaking out of a window.
In August 2017, it was announced that the 52-bed trauma unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford was to close for up to twelve months due to concerns over flammable cladding on the building and other "serious and embedded" fire safety issues.
On 20 September 2017, it was revealed that combustible cladding had been identified on 57 buildings across Glasgow. It was also revealed that neither residents nor the fire service had been informed of this by Glasgow City Council. Scottish Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said that he expected Glasgow City Council to inform all relevant parties. MSP Bob Doris described the development as "deeply concerning".
In October 2017, it was revealed that Slough Borough Council was hiring a fire appliance to be on standby at Nova House, a tower block which was deemed to have unsafe cladding and was privately owned. The council was negotiating with the building's owners to take possession as it was in a better position to deal with the issues affecting the safety of the building.
Replacement of flammable cladding
Of 173 buildings tested, 165 have failed combustion tests conducted since the Grenfell fire. There are calls for the government to give financial assistance to councils that have to carry out expensive building renovations. Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
The tragedy at Grenfell Tower has clearly exposed a systemic failure of the current system of building regulation. The government must commit to meet the full cost to councils of removing and replacing cladding and insulation systems.
It is also imperative that this testing process moves quickly to identify what landlords should be replacing these systems with as soon as possible. With these latest test-fails affecting buildings owned by a range of different landlords across the country, the government also needs to make sure there is capacity within the housebuilding industry to take quick action to carry out the scale of remedial work that looks likely to be needed.
Problems with replacement cladding
On 7 July 2018, BBC News reported that new cladding previously thought to be safe, which was to replace known flammable cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower, has itself failed fire safety tests in Dubai, Australia and the UK. The new cladding is composed of separate material components which individually are considered to be of "limited combustibility." As such, the cladding as a complete system had been presumed under BS8414 standards to not be a fire risk. The discovery that this new cladding has failed fire tests undermines existing testing policy.
Review of building regulations
Building regulations are currently under review in the light of the fire due to concerns with the rules and their enforcement. There is concern over fire safety issues with many other buildings.
On 30 August 2017, the Department for Communities and Local Government published the terms of reference for the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. This independent review was led by Dame Judith Hackitt, who is a senior engineer and civil servant with experience as the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive. The review reported to both DCLG head, James Brokenshire (Sajid Javid at the time the report was commissioned) and Home Secretary, Sajid Javid (Amber Rudd at the time the report was commissioned). The two main aims of the review are firstly to develop improved building regulations for the future, with a focus on residential high-rise blocks, and secondly to provide reassurance to residents that their homes are safe.
On 18 December 2017, Hackitt published her initial report. She described the entire building regulatory system as "not fit for purpose" and made interim recommendations for significant change. The final report was published on 17 May 2018, outlining a number of key failings and recommendations. Controversially, the report did not recommend a ban on the use of combustible cladding on high rise buildings, although Hackitt did say that she would support the government if it was to attempt to legislate a ban. Recommendations will be reconsidered after the conclusion of the public inquiry. The government is consulting on a possible ban on combustible materials. It is unclear if this applies only to cladding or to insulation as well.
Review of building materials
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) commissioned “whole system” tests, which are designed to see how different cladding systems reacted in a fire. Seven combinations were tested, and six deemed dangerous. It reported in August 2017 that there were 228 buildings in the United Kingdom cladded using these methods. The seventh, a combination of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding with a limited flammability filling and stone-wool insulation, was deemed safe. There are no existing buildings in the UK using this combination, but it could be used to reclad all the buildings that are currently using the other combinations. These findings will be used to help revise the Building Regulations.
Other tower block risks
Other tower blocks are being investigated over structural safety concerns. Four 13-storey tower blocks on the Ledbury estate in Peckham have had their gas supplies cut off as a precaution. In the event of a gas explosion, they could be at risk of collapse. These blocks, containing 242 flats, were constructed using the same "large panel system" as Ronan Point, which partly collapsed in 1968. There are fears that more tower blocks across the country may also be at risk.
Leaseholders living in a tower block in Croydon have been told by a tribunal they must pay to remove Grenfell type cladding. This could lead some to financial ruin. The decision may be subject to appeal and could affect other properties where cladding failed fire tests. Steve Reed maintains faulty safety regulations were responsible for dangerous cladding being put up on many buildings and maintains the government should pay for replacement.
On 29 June 2018, the government revealed that there were still 470 high rise appartment blocks with infllammable cladding. This is a rise of 156 on the previous total as private sector properties have been included; it is expected to rise by a further 170 when they have all been accounted for.
In Australia, authorities decided to remove similar cladding from all its tower blocks. It was stated that every tower block built in Melbourne in the previous 20 years had the cladding. In Malta, the Chamber of Engineers and the Chamber of Architects urged the Maltese Government to update the building regulations with regards to fire safety. On 27 June 2017, an 11-storey tower block in Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany was evacuated after it was found that the cladding was similar to that installed on Grenfell Tower.
A month after the fire at Grenfell Tower the external cladding of the newly build 433-room Hilton Hotel at Schiphol airport in The Netherlands was partly removed, over concerns of fire safety. Allegedly due to financial problems at the supplier, the material used did not meet the approved standards. Additional to the replacement, an external video system was installed specifically to detect fires. Also a university building in Rotterdam was found to have the same cladding and was subsequently closed and refurbished. 'Dozens' of other buildings in The Netherlands allegedly suffer the same defects.
The local borough pledged to carry out a full investigation into the fire. Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a full public inquiry, saying that people "deserve answers" to why the fire was able to spread as quickly as it did.
Sophie Khan, who acted as solicitor for some families in the Lakanal House fire, told BBC Two's Newsnight that inquests would be better for the families as they would allow the families to participate and ask questions. She said the coroner was independent but a public inquiry was government-led and she wondered what information the Prime Minister knew that she wanted to hide.vAnother solicitor, Louise Christian, who also acted for families in relation to Lakanal House, wrote in The Guardian that a public inquiry was the best approach. She wrote about a promised public inquiry for Lakanal House being "downgraded to an inquest" and that inquests would be delayed by a criminal investigation. She acknowledged that victims' interests are often sidelined in a public inquiry but wrote that the scope of a public inquiry is wider and that a rapid inquiry would put the government under more pressure to implement its findings immediately.
Leilani Farha fears tenants' human rights were breached because they were not sufficiently involved in the way the building was developed, notably safety issues, before the fire and are not sufficiently involved in the investigations after the fire. Farha stated, “I’m concerned when I have residents saying to me they feel they are not being heard and that they are not always being treated like human beings. Those are the fundamentals of human rights: voice, dignity, and participation in solutions to their own situations.” Lack of safety over cladding used, over electrical circuits and access to the building for fire and rescue vehicles, could have breached human rights to safe and secure housing, Farha stated.
In July 2017, the government offered an amnesty to those who had been illegally sub-letting and a one-year immigration amnesty to those who came forward with information, though did offer a full guarantee against deportation.[clarification needed] On 31 August 2017 Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis announced that the deadline to register for the one-year immigration amnesty for displaced undocumented residents of Grenfell Tower was to be extended by three months to 30 November 2017. Sir Martin Moore-Bick (who leads the public inquiry) wrote to the Prime Minister asking her to consider the long term future for these residents beyond their value as witnesses for the inquiry. These views were echoed by campaign groups BMELawyers4Grenfell and Justice4Grenfell.
On 15 June 2017, Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy announced that a criminal investigation had been opened to establish if there is any case for charges to be brought. On 27 July 2017 Police issued a public notice to residents saying that they had "reasonable grounds" to suspect that both the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation "may have committed" corporate manslaughter. Senior representatives of both organisations are likely to face police interviews under caution. More than 60 companies and organisations are associated with Grenfell Tower and police are keeping open all options for a range of possible charges. These include manslaughter, corporate manslaughter, misconduct in public office and fire safety offences.
In an interview with the London Evening Standard on 7 August 2017, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, said investigations are at an early stage and nothing is ruled out. Mrs Saunders said it was more important to build strong cases than to rush to court and that the DPP had yet to see the evidence. Health and safety legislation and other criminal laws will be considered. If proven, the offence of Gross Negligence Manslaughter carries a maximum life sentence, with a guideline minimum of twelve years. For such a charge the prosecution must show sufficient evidence to pass a four stage "Adomako Test" proving a reprehensible breach of duty of care which caused or contributed to the victims' death.
On 7 June 2018, BBC News reported that the Met Police are investigating the London Fire Brigade for using the "Stay Put" policy. Possible criminal offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act are under consideration.
Police have started conducting interviews under caution. As of 18 July 2018, three interviews have been held, with more expected over the next few months.
On 19 September 2017, Commander Stuart Cundy briefed that eight people were being investigated for allegedly making false claims to financial support in the name of fictitious victims. By 1 June 2018, five people had been convicted for fraud offences after claiming to be victims of the fire to claim financial support. Mohammad Gamoota, 31, Joyce Msokeri, 47, Anh Nhu Nguyen, 53 Elaine Douglas, 51 and Tommy Brooks, 52, were all found guilty and given prison sentences.
New arrests were made in London on 7 June 2018 of a further nine people suspected of fraud. Four were charged a day later. Abolaji Onafuye, 54, Koffi Kouakou, 54 and Abdelkarim Rekaya, 28 were all charged with fraud while Yonatan Eyob, 25, was charged with drug and theft offences but was eventually charged with fraud on 19 July. The other five were released under investigation. Sharife Elwhabe, 37 was charged with fraud on 25 June 2018. Derrick Peters, 58, was the 11th person to be charged with fraud on 26 July 2018. A woman was then arrested on 1 August relating to fraud while Antonio Gouveia, 33, was charged with fraud on 4 August.
Forensic search and recovery
Detailed investigations into the causes and possible criminal charges of manslaughter or breach of regulations are in progress. Search dogs, fingertip searches, DNA matching, fingerprinting, forensic dentistry and forensic anthropologists have been used. An external lift was fitted to the building to improve access.
The scale of the search and recovery operation was challenging. Human remains were mixed within an estimated 15.5 tonnes (17.1 tons) of debris on every floor. Time and care was taken to maintain a judicial standard and avoid mistaken identity, which could have caused further distress to surviving relatives. Disaster Victim Identification was expected by police to continue to 2018.
Following the Newsnight report of 7 July 2017, the LFB said issues encountered in its response to the fire would also form part of the police investigation. LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton said in a Channel 4 News interview on 11 July 2017 that she expected reasonable criticism of the LFB response in the investigation and public inquiry.
BBC Radio 4 reported on 16 August 2017 that the Fire Brigade was advised by KCTMO during the refurbishment and fire officers had been shown "fire safety features". Council opposition leader Robert Atkinson, structural engineer Paul Follows and building inspector Geoff Wilkinson all expressed shock that the fire had happened given prior consultation with LFB.
London Fire Brigade said it had not given approval for the work, saying its legal powers are limited. It said firefighters regularly visit buildings to gain familiarity with the layout and equipment, but that this was not the same as a detailed inspection.
One day after the fire broke out, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a public inquiry into the causes of the fire. Two weeks later, Sir Martin Moore-Bick was appointed to lead it. He pledged that the inquiry would be "open, transparent and fair". The inquiry will run alongside the criminal investigations.
On 15 August 2017, Theresa May announced the terms of reference, accepting in full Moore-Bick's proposals. The inquiry plans to examine the cause and spread of the fire, the adequacy and enforcement of building regulations and fire protection measures, the actions of the council and KCTMO prior to the fire, and the responses of the London Fire Brigade, council and national government. Labour Party politicians and some survivors called for the inquiry to include a broader examination of national social housing policy, which was not included in the terms of reference.
The Inquiry's public hearings started on 14 September 2017.
Grenfell Tower site manager Michael Lockwood told a public meeting on 26 July 2017 that the building is to be covered in a protective wrap supported by scaffolding during August. This is initially to protect forensic evidence but would later allow the building to be taken down towards the end of 2018. The community will be consulted on how the space should be used after demolition.
The following are similar fires that spread through exterior wall assemblies (cladding, insulation, wall) containing combustible components. Most of them involved high-rise buildings.
United Kingdom and Isle of Man
- 1973 Summerland disaster – leisure centre fire in Douglas, Isle of Man, worsened by the ignition of flammable acrylic sheeting covering the building, led to at least 50 deaths.
- 1991 Knowsley Heights fire – a fire in a tower block in Liverpool that had recently been fitted with rain screen cladding spread from the bottom to the top of the building via the 90 mm air gap behind the cladding.
- 1999 Garnock Court fire – the fire in a tower block in Irvine, North Ayrshire, spread rapidly up combustible cladding, resulting in one death and four injured. The incident led to a parliamentary inquiry into the fire risk of external cladding and a change of the law in Scotland in 2005 requiring any cladding to inhibit the spread of fire.
- 2005 Harrow Court fire – in a tower block in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, led to three deaths.
- 2009 Lakanal House fire – in a tower block in Camberwell, South London, led to six deaths and at least twenty injured; an inquest "found the fire spread unexpectedly fast, both laterally and vertically, trapping people in their homes, with the exterior cladding panels burning through in just four and a half minutes."
- 2010 Shirley Towers fire - two firefighters died after tower block fire rapidly escalated.
- 2016 Shepherd's Court fire – in a tower block in Shepherd's Bush, West London, a faulty tumble-dryer caught fire on the seventh floor, 19 August 2016. The fire spread up six floors on the outside of the building, which is owned by Hammersmith and Fulham Council. There were no fatalities but some suffered smoke inhalation.
- 2007 fire at The Water Club (Atlantic City, New Jersey, US) – a fire that occurred as the building was nearing completion spread rapidly up aluminium composite panel cladding with a polyethylene core, from the 3rd floor to the top of the 41-floor building.
- 2009 Beijing Television Cultural Center fire (China) – believed to have spread via insulating foam panels on the building's facade.
- 2010 Wooshin Golden Suites fire (Marine City, South Korea) – spread within 20 minutes from the 4th floor to the top of the 38-storey building, which featured flammable aluminium composite cladding with a polyethylene core, along with insulation made of glass wool or polystyrene.
- 2010 Shanghai fire (China) – destroyed a 28-storey high-rise apartment building, killing at least 58 people; flammable polyurethane insulation applied to the outside of the building was reported to have been a possible contributory factor.
- 2012 Al Tayer Tower fire (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates) – the rapid spread of the fire, which started in a first-floor balcony and spread to the top of the 40-storey (34 residential, six parking floors) tower, was attributed to aluminium sandwich panels featuring a thermo-plastic core.
- 2012 Mermoz Tower fire (Roubaix, France) – saw fire spread rapidly up flammable cladding, resulting in one death and six injured.
- 2012 Tamweel Tower fire (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) – spread across dozens of floors via flammable aluminium cladding.
- 2014 Lacrosse Tower fire (Melbourne, Australia) – a fire started on an eighth-floor balcony took just 11 minutes to travel up 13 floors to the building's roof, spreading via the same type of aluminium composite cladding as was used in Grenfell Tower.
- 2015 fire at The Marina Torch (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) – fire spreading up the cladding of several dozen storeys from the 50th floor to the top of the building. A second fire occurred on 4 August 2017, again spreading rapidly up the exterior of the building.
- 2015 fire at The Address Downtown Dubai (United Arab Emirates) – cladding fire in a supertall hotel and residential skyscraper.
- 2016 Ramat Gan high-rise fire (Ramat Gan, Israel) – a small fire in a flat quickly spread to the top of a 13-storey tower block via combustible external insulation panelling.
- 2016 Neo Soho fire (Jakarta, Indonesia) – the fire occurred while the building was still under construction and spread rapidly up dozens of floors via flammable cladding.
- 2018 Edifício Wilton Paes de Almeida in São Paulo, Brazil was devastated by fire and collapsed. Neighbouring buildings also caught fire. The fire claimed at least 4 lives, with a further 40 people missing as of May 2018.
- Building regulations in the United Kingdom § Part B. Fire safety
- History of fire safety legislation in the United Kingdom
- Fire services in the United Kingdom
- Fire escape
- The Dalmarnock fire tests - A televised highrise fire-test, conducted in Scotland 2006
- King's Cross fire - The 1987 London fire that likewise spread upward due to the trench effect, where hot gases will adhere to nearby surfaces and inclined planes.
- Khadija Saye, a notable victim
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Grenfell Tower fire.|
- Grenfell Tower Inquiry (official website)
- London Fire Brigade Operational Response | Grenfell Tower Inquiry Transcripts of logs
- Justice4Grenfell campaign group
- Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: interim report
- Firefighter gives first-hand account of Grenfell Tower rescue mission
- Rydon Construction case study on the refurbishment
- BBC news reports
- CTBUH Skyscraper Center – Grenfell House
- Kensington Planning Application for renovation works
- Kensington Building Regulations record for Grenfell Tower
- on YouTube
- "Tackling fire risk in high rise blocks". House of Commons Library, UK Parliament. Provides an overview of the legal framework under which fire risks in tower blocks are managed in England
- London Fire Brigade – Grenfell Tower fire update
- Met Police – UPDATE: Grenfell Tower fire investigation
- NHS Statement on fire at Grenfell Tower
- Police Public Appeal For Photos and Videos
- London fire: Who are the victims? (BBC News)
- Product Notice – Hotpoint Fridge Freezer at hotpointservice.co.uk
- Dany Cotton interview Channel 4 News 11 July 2017
- LFB Video of plastic backed fridge fire
- Grenfell Tower fire (The Guardian)
- GOV.UK Grenfell Tower Documents Collection
- James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture: Jon Snow
- Grenfell Tower: The 21st floor – BBC Newsnight (TV report)
- The 21st floor - Katie Razzall - BBC Newsnight (article)
- The victims of the Grenfell Tower fire (The Guardian)
- Graphics, photographs and timeline of fire spread (BBC)
- Grenfell Tower Wall (BBC)
- Reality Check: Money promised to survivors (BBC)
- Grenfell Tower: What happened (BBC)
- Grenfell Tower Inquiry Daily Podcast (BBC)
- Grenfell Tower Inquiry hearing videos (YouTube)