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Grenfell cladding firms pass the buck

Second phase of the inquiry hears companies showing ‘no trace of responsibility’ for the horrific London fire

COMPANIES involved in the fatally flawed refurbishment of Grenfell Tower are playing the blame game: expressing “no trace of responsibility” for the fire, the inquiry’s second phase heard yesterday.

The second stage of the investigation into the 2017 disaster that killed 72 people opened at a new venue in Paddington, west London, to consider how the council housing block came to be wrapped in the cladding.

The first stage concluded that flammable aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was the “principal” reason for the rapid spread of fire up the 24-floor building.

Grenfell United, a group representing bereaved families and survivors, said that the second stage of the inquiry should “expose the people and organisations who put profit and agreed above our safety.”

The inquiry’s chief lawyer Richard Millett QC accused the corporate firms of passing the buck without accepting any blame.

Addressing inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, he said: “With the sole exception of RBKC [Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea], not a single core participant involved in the primary refurbishment of Grenfell Tower has felt able to make an unqualified submission against its own interests.

“With that solitary exception, Mr chairman, one finds in those detailed and carefully crafted statements no trace of any acceptance of any responsibility for what happened at Grenfell Tower. Not from the architects, not from the contract managers, main contractors.

“Any member of the public reading those statements and taking them all at face value would be forced to conclude that everyone involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower did what they were supposed to do and nobody made any serious or causative mistakes.

“All core participants who played a material part in Grenfell Tower have laid out a detailed case that it relied on others, and how in no way was the work it did either substandard or non-compliant [with building regulations].

“In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else’s fault.”

Studio E, the lead architect for the refurbishment that took place between 2012 and 2016, said it “did not have any knowledge that the products used on the tower were unsafe.”

Main contractor Rydon said the providers of cladding and insulation, Arconic and Celotex, misled buyers into believing their products were safe for towers despite appearing to know of the dangers.

An internal report from an Arconic director in 2011 noted the material Reynobond PE was “dangerous on facades.”

During the hearing, Rydon lawyer Marcus Taverner QC read out an internal Celotex email from November 2013 that showed that officials were aware that the insulation material CelotexRS500 with ACM cladding could “melt and allow fire into the cavity.”

After hearing the “shocking” allegations against the companies, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack called for an overhaul of the “entire system” of building and fire safety.

He said: “We have little time for buck-passing from the businesses complicit in wrapping Grenfell with flammable cladding. They must all be held to account.”

Yesterday’s opening of the second stage of the inquiry followed inquiry-panel member Benita Mehra’s resignation after the discovery that she had links to a charitable arm of the firm that supplied the tower block’s deadly cladding.

Ms Mehra tendered her resignation to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday after it was disclosed that she was a former president of the Women’s Engineering Society.

According to the society’s website, the organisation benefited last year from funding from Arconic for an apprentice conference.

Michael Mansfield QC, representing victims, was scathing. He said there has been “a stunning silence” from Mr Johnson and the Cabinet Office on the resignation of Ms Mehra and whether she would be replaced.

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