Grenfell Tower Inquiry: every death in tragic fire avoidable with cladding risks known to many, inquiry hears

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Many of the organisations deemed responsible for the Grenfell Tower tragedy have failed to apologise or accept guilt, which the inquiry was told showed “a lack of respect” to the victims and the bereaved.

All 72 deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire could have been avoided, the inquiry into the tragedy heard on its final day.

As the government said it was “truly sorry” for its own failures, the Grenfell Inquiry concluded after 400 days of evidence that no one should have died in the disaster on 14 June 2017 - as the “risks were well known by many”, meaning the tragic loss of lives was “avoidable”.

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Richard Millett KC, counsel to the inquiry, told survivors and the bereaved gathered in Westminster that “each and every one of the risks which eventuated at Grenfell Tower on that night were well known by many and ought to have been known by all. As a result, you will be able to conclude with confidence that each and every one of the deaths that occurred at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017, was avoidable.”

Mr Millett launched a scathing attack on the companies and organisations involved in the tragedy, saying they had spun a “web of blame” and continued to deny responsibility despite evidence of “incompetence,” “malpractice”, and “dishonesty”.

He also displayed a web diagram on screens in the inquiry room which showed the dozens of occasions on which the companies, professionals and public authorities involved in allowing the dangerous cladding had blamed one another. This, he said, was proof that even after the five years of work for the inquiry, the process had simply become a “merry-go-round of buck-passing”.

All 72 deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire were avoidable, the inquiry into the tragedy has concluded. Credit: Getty ImagesAll 72 deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire were avoidable, the inquiry into the tragedy has concluded. Credit: Getty Images
All 72 deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire were avoidable, the inquiry into the tragedy has concluded. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Several issues that had contributed to the disaster were highlighted, including poor regulation, inadequate legislation, and the influence of commercial interests. But arguably the most damning one was “the failure to pay due respect to the idea of ‘home’ as a physical aspect of human privacy, agency, safety and dignity”.

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Mr Millett said: “Those are abstract ideas, but the fire, the last moments of those who were trapped and doomed in and by that building, and the deaths that ensued, are anything but.”

After the findings were read, Grenfell United, a group of survivors and bereaved families, said the closure of the inquiry was a reminder “that we continue to live our lives knowing the evidence has been uncovered, and yet, there’s no change - no accountability, no charges.”

The inquiry is not due to produce a report until at least October 2023 - a report which Scotland Yard needs before it can move towards potential criminal charges. This means that any trials for offences, which range from corporate manslaughter to fraud, will likely not start before 2025 - more than seven years after the disaster.

“We now have to put our faith into a justice system that protects the powerful – a system that prevents justice,” the group continued. “While this system exists, we face the same unachievable battle as the many before us. From Aberfan, to Hillsborough, justice has been denied, and Grenfell is no different.”

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Survivor Hanan Wahabi, who lived on the ninth floor of the tower block and lost five members of her extended family who lived on floor 21, said: “It’s been a long road and it’s another long road coming.” Meanwhile, Adel Chaoui, who lost four members of his family in the tragedy, added: “We knew after phase one of the inquiry [which ended in 2019] why the building went up in flames … There is criminal activity that could have been prosecuted there and then.”

Protestors take part in the 5th annual Silent Walk at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2022 in London. Credit: Getty ImagesProtestors take part in the 5th annual Silent Walk at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2022 in London. Credit: Getty Images
Protestors take part in the 5th annual Silent Walk at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2022 in London. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Closing statements were made on behalf of core participants to the Grenfell Inquiry, such as cladding giant Arconic, fire inspector Exova, and insulation manufacturers Celotex and Kingspan. Many of these have failed to accept blame for their role in the disaster, which Mr Millett said showed a “lack of respect” for the victims and their loved ones.

Celotex, which made the flammable insulation, blamed eight other organisations, including Arconic, for the fire. Rydon, the construction company which built the tower block, claimed it “isn’t to blame for anything”.

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenants’ Management Organisation, which oversaw the running of the building, suggested the tragedy was unlucky, arguing a “similar fire could have occurred at any of the many high rise buildings across the UK”, which also used the same cladding.

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The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has “apologised unreservedly” for its failure to recognise weaknesses in the regulatory system.

Jason Beer KC, a spokesperson for the government’s department, said: “The department recognises that it failed to appreciate it held an important stewardship role over the regime and that as a result it failed to grasp the opportunities to assess whether the system was working as intended. For the department’s failure to realise that the regulatory system was broken and that it might lead to a catastrophe such as this, the department is truly sorry and apologises unreservedly.”

The Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017 tragically killed 72 people. Credit: Getty ImagesThe Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017 tragically killed 72 people. Credit: Getty Images
The Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017 tragically killed 72 people. Credit: Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council has apologised too, writing in a statement submitted to the inquiry: “The residents of Grenfell Tower were failed by many, many organisations – from both the private sector and the public sector. The council was one of them, but the council is conscious that it differed from most of the other core participants in important respects.

“It was not an anonymous cladding subcontractor or a manufacturer whom the residents might not have heard of. It was the owner of Grenfell Tower. The residents were its tenants and its leaseholders. The council was democratically accountable to them. The council apologises unreservedly for the ways in which it failed the residents of Grenfell Tower. It wishes to say how sorry it is to each of the bereaved, everyone who survived and all of its residents.”

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The Grenfell Tower inquiry has cost the taxpayer more than £150m in legal costs, but the true bill is far higher. In contrast, the saving the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea made by switching from zinc cladding to combustible, plastic-filled aluminium panels with “significantly worse” fire performance, was just £293,368, according to The Guardian.

Concluding the hearing, the inquiry’s chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, assured survivors and the bereaved that work on the final report has already begun. He said: “We are very well aware we need to produce our report as soon as we can. We will ensure we don’t keep you waiting any longer than is absolutely necessary.”

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