‘Merry-go-round of buck passing’ over Grenfell Tower blaze criticised

There has been a “merry-go-round of buck passing” by firms trying to avoid accountability for the Grenfell Tower fire, a public inquiry into the deadly blaze has been told.

The fire at the residential tower block in North Kensington, west London, in June 2017 killed 72 people and triggered a public inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

A lack of accountability, deregulation, austerity and cuts along with organisations which put profits before safety were named by Anne Studd KC, representing London mayor Sadiq Khan, as possible factors that existed before the devastating fire.

In a closing statement to the inquiry, Ms Studd said: “To any observer, this has indeed been a merry-go-round of buck passing.

“The commercial bodies have taken no responsibility and shown little if any contrition for their role in the loss of 72 lives.

“Not one single organisation or commercial body seems to be able to take responsibility for its own omissions in the context of the catastrophe as a whole, preferring to move the blame up or down the line but in any event away from their door.

“The only reasonable conclusion that can be reached by this inquiry is that this industry will not change its own culture voluntarily.”

Ms Studd suggested the long-running inquiry has heard evidence showing a lack of rigour and transparency in testing “allowed manufacturers to keep the evidence in relation to combustibility confidential even when they themselves were aware of the danger it posed”.

This absence of rigour, independence and transparency from testing, regulators and certifiers must have been “deeply traumatising” for the bereaved, survivors and residents, Ms Studd said.

She told the hearing: “An ethical industry would have put safety first but they did not. Profit took precedence and obtaining the market share was pivotal notwithstanding what the industry already knew – that this product should not be used to clad high-rise buildings.”

The inquiry was also told of “an alarming lack of training, competence and skills in the professional industries that were engaged with the Grenfell Tower refurbishment,” Ms Studd added.

There was “professional recklessness” and “a cladding industry that relied upon aggressive marketing and was not cowed by the catastrophic” official testing results.

Deregulation, coupled with austerity and cuts to public services, became a “dangerous combination”, according to Ms Studd.

She said: “The inquiry heard evidence that, between 2013-2017, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea building control department had lost 10 surveyors who had 230 years’ experience and were replaced by one graduate.”

She said the London Fire Brigade had also faced budget cuts and “the consequential reduction of resources” between 2009 and 2016.

She added: “The inquiry must look at these issues in the round. These are significant matters which had a causal effect on public officers not being able to properly fulfil their duties in relation to preservation of public safety. Proper regulation is needed and it must be secured, not left as optional.”

The inquiry panel was told to make powerful recommendations so the blaze marks “a turning point in building safety”.

Ms Studd said: “The inquiry has one opportunity left through its phase two report to make findings that give the bereaved, survivors and residents the accountability they deserve and are entitled to, albeit at a very late stage after the fire, and recommendations to prevent anything like it from ever happening again.

“No one else must endure what they have had to endure for so long.”