The Inquiry into the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire has been officially opened. The hearing began with a minute’s silence. Its chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick promised the inquiry would provide answers to how such a disaster could have happened in 21st century London. BBC News confirmed that no evidence was heard on the first day of the hearing, held at the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London, and that Sir Martin, the former Court of Appeal judge, did not take any questions afterwards.
Survivors and their legal representatives attending the hearing were disappointed at the absence of any communication with them from Sir Martin, prompting some heckling at the end of the hearing. Speaking to the BBC, Solicitor Jhangir Mahmood, who is representing several families, said there was a “huge level of mistrust” among survivors who do not believe “they have been listened to”.
Survivors are also concerned about the remit of the Inquiry and just how far-reaching it will be. The inquiry will be split into two phases. As reported by The Guardian, “Phase one will look at how the fire started and spread. It will also cover the responses of the emergency services and the evacuation of residents. Phase two will look at the design and refurbishment of the building and relevant decision-making processes. It will also include the efforts to provide food and shelter to survivors.”
Many are concerned that the Inquiry will avoid addressing important questions, such as why were concerns about safety raised before the tragic fire not listened to? There is, however, mounting pressure from the fire safety industry about the urgency for a review of the regulations for fire safety standards, particularly in high-rise residential buildings.
In a recent interview with the BBC, London’s fire commissioner, Dany Cotton said “the Grenfell Tower blaze must be a turning point”, calling for sprinklers in all high-rise council flats. She said, “sprinklers are truly the only thing that not only detects fires, they alert the people in the building to the fire, but puts the fire out as well.” On the cost of retrofitting, Dany Cotton explained, “if you are looking at a flat, you are talking about £1,500 – £2,500. If you look at the cost and the damage if you have a fire in a flat where you have to refurbish it and rehouse people, it’s a massive cost.”
A BBC Breakfast investigation which focused on half the UK’s council and housing association-owned tower blocks found just 2 per cent have full sprinkler systems, and of those, 68 per cent have just one staircase through which to evacuate. The Department for Communities and Local Government says it will consider whether to retrofit sprinklers based on the inquiry’s recommendations.
At Applications Engineering we continue to support the campaign for the retrofitting of all residential and commercial buildings with fire sprinklers.