Firms involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in England have expressed “no trace of responsibility” for the catastrophic fire, despite experts saying the work failed to comply with building regulations, an inquiry has heard.
The second phase of the investigation into the disaster opened today and will consider how the high-rise block came to be wrapped in flammable cladding, which phase one found was the “principal” reason for the rapid spread of flames.
Counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC said in his opening remarks: “With the sole exception of RBKC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea), not a single core participant involved in the primary refurbishment of Grenfell Tower has felt able to make an unqualified submission against its own interests.
“With that solitary exception, Mr Chairman, one finds in those detailed and carefully crafted statements no trace of any acceptance of any responsibility for what happened at Grenfell Tower.
“Not from the architects, not from the contract managers, main contractors.
“Any member of the public reading those statements and taking them all at face value would be forced to conclude that everyone involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower did what they were supposed to do and nobody made any serious or causative mistakes.
“All core participants who played a material part in Grenfell Tower have laid out a detailed case that it relied on others, and how in no way was the work it did either substandard or non-compliant (with building regulations).
In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else’s fault.
Mr Millett told chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick he should bear in mind a conclusion reached in the first part of the inquiry, that work “did not comply with certain key aspects of the building regulations”.
The lead architect for the refurbishment, Studio E, said it “did not have any knowledge that the products used on the tower were unsafe” and called itself a “conscientious, ethical, and responsible” firm.
In a statement to the inquiry, it said: “Product manufacturers produced materials and testing data which had the effect of misleading designers to consider that their products were safe.”
“Studio E considers that it acted as would be expected as a reasonably competent architect in its position”, the firm added, saying it “hopes that this investigation establishes why so many professionals and building control departments across the country considered these materials to be suitable for use”.
The second stage of the investigation comes after a member of the inquiry panel resigned, after she was linked to a charitable arm of the firm which supplied the tower block’s deadly cladding.
Benita Mehra tendered her resignation to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, after it was disclosed that she is an immediate past president of the Women’s Engineering Society which, according to the society’s website, last year received funding from Arconic – the supplier of Grenfell’s cladding – for an apprentice conference.
Michael Mansfield QC, representing victims, said there has been “a stunning silence” from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office on the resignation of Ms Mehra from the panel on Saturday.
He added there had been “not a word about whether there is going to be a replacement”.
Mr Mansfield told Sir Martin it would “lend considerable force to this venture” if he could confirm whether she would be replaced and “what the difficulties are”.
#GrenfellTower 💚💚💚#Inquiry today at 10 see time table below & Just before the start, Ill be sharing the link on a daily basis This is going to be a very hard few weeks May Allah give us all the strength needed to see this through #United4Grenfell #Saftey4All #DemandChange pic.twitter.com/Hryxye2Tnb
— Grenfell Tower 💚 (@Still_I_Rise_GT) January 27, 2020
Survivors’ groups have said phase two of the inquiry must focus on who is to blame for the “devastating refurbishment” of the 25-storey building between 2012 and 2016.