Grenfell fire safety inspector believed cladding was ‘non-combustible’ before 2017 disaster

·3-min read
Carl Stokes, the fire safety expert for Grenfell Tower (Grenfell Inquiry)
Carl Stokes, the fire safety expert for Grenfell Tower (Grenfell Inquiry)

The fire safety expert at Grenfell Tower exaggerated his experience prior to landing the job inspecting ‘high risk’ buildings in Kensington and Chelsea, the inquiry heard today.

Carl Stokes, a former firefighter in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, entered the fire safety industry in 2009 with a claim on his CV that he had “undertaken” risk assessments.

Given evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry this morning, Mr Stoke conceded the statement was incorrect as he had only carried out audits of the work of others, as well as training.

Mr Stokes was hired to carry out fire safety assessment of ‘low’ and ‘medium’ risk buildings around Kensington and Chelsea in 2010.

His role was later extended to include ‘high risk’ buildings including Grenfell.

Asked about the misleading line on his CV, Mr Stokes initially insisted it was an accurate reflection of his experience.

“I would have undertaken risk assessments in training exercises,” he said.

When Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, suggested the statement was “incorrect”, Mr Stokes conceded: “Looking at it in hindsight, I agree with what you are saying. My writing here – I had experience of undertaking risk assessments. To undertake audits I would have undertaken risk assessments, that’s how my mind was working.”

He was contracted by the council and its tenant management organisation through his sole trader firm, CS Stokes and Associates Limited, initially to carry out inspections on high risk buildings every two years.

This was changed to every three years in 2015, as well as ad hoc inspections in response to major works.

He conducted two assessments of Grenfell in April and June 2016, following major refurbishment work which included the addition of a new cladding system. The cladding has been identified as a major cause of the rapid spread of fire in June 2017 when 72 lives were lost.

Mr Stokes believed the cladding system was “non-combustible” when he carried out the April 2016 inspection, and said he relied on Building Control signing it off as safe.

In his statement to the inquiry, Mr Stokes said he had spotted a sole cladding panel mounted on timber during a 2014 inspection, when the refurbishment work was ongoing.

On the April 2016 walk-around, he spoke to contractors about the works and noted down "OK FR No Timber " as well as "Cladding external Non Combustible Metal Fixings signed off by B/C".

“My understanding on leaving the Tower after my inspection was that the actual cladding was compliant with the Buildings Regulations and that the obvious presenting issue (the timber battens) had been dealt with as metal fixings were now being used”, he wrote.

“My working assumption throughout the Refurbishment was that there would not be any issue with the products themselves used, as they had been specified, designed and fabricated by a large number of experienced, specialist, professional contractors and suppliers, as well as then signed off by Building Control.”

Mr Stokes added: “If I had known that the cladding itself (in whatever form the materials were used), and the system used to fix it to the external face of the Tower, was even capable of spreading fire to a fraction of the way it did on the night of the 14 June 2017 (which resulted in a catastrophic failure of compartmentation), I would not have regarded the building as safe for anyone to occupy as a dwelling, or indeed for any other purpose.”

His evidence is due to continue until Thursday.

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