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Senior fire engineer tells inquiry she didn't think Grenfell's cladding would pose problems

A SENIOR fire engineer did not think that the cladding on Grenfell Tower would pose problems to fire safety during early discussions about the refurbishment of the block. 

Clare Barker, the former principal fire engineer at Exova, told the inquiry into the disaster today that she had not raised the need for a separate fire safety assessment to be made for the proposed cladding system.

Exova produced the fire safety strategy, a set of measures encompassing fire precautions and protections, for the proposed works of the building in 2012-13. 

The inquiry’s chief lawyer Richard Millett QC asked Ms Barker: “Given that you knew Grenfell Tower would be overclad, although not the details, did you raise the need to carry out a fire assessment specifically in relation to the proposed cladding system as the proposal then stood?”

She replied: “No.”

Mr Millett also asked: “At the time did you consider that cladding this building would present any particular issues or problems with regard to fire safety?”

She replied: “No, I didn’t.”

The hearings restarted today following a three-month break, with just witnesses and some lawyers and panel members allowed to attend due to social distancing measures. 

Families and survivors of the devastating fire which killed 72 people in 2017 expressed anger at being barred from the proceedings.

Opening the session, inquiry chairman Martin Moore-Bick said that he “greatly regrets” that survivors and family members could not attend, but added that they could “follow minute by minute” by watching the live streams.

However, this is unlikely to placate the families who have said it was difficult to understand “why people are allowed back into pubs, but were not allowed back into the inquiry.”

Labour MP Dawn Butler tweeted in support of family members excluded from the proceedings, saying the inquiry should allow them to attend.

She also said that the probe should “consider race as a contributory factor. Consider class as a contributory factor.”

Later in the hearing Mr Millett grilled Ms Barker on the fire safety draft which she had approved back in 2012. 

When asked why the plan did not take into account residents with mobility problems, Ms Barker replied: “Because if they did have mobility problems, maybe Grenfell Tower wasn’t the best place to live.” 

Exova has previously said that criticism of it was “unjustified” because it was not consulted about the combustible materials that eventually coated the concrete exterior of the west London tower block. 

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