The Inquiry has been disrupted due to the coronavirus lockdown with survivors and bereaved families concerned at the pace and scope of meaningful reform amid fears for thousands of at-risk residents.
Ahead of the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire (14 June), survivors of the disaster and bereaved families have written a letter, via their legal representatives, to the Grenfell Inquiry calling for three critical areas of reform to be urgently addressed: Cladding, 'Stay Put' and the deployment of sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings
Cladding (clarity over and acceleration of ACM remediation)
Similar materials to those used in the Grenfell Tower - acknowledged by the Inquiry to be the root cause of the fire in combination with combustible insulation - have been used on over 450 other high-rise buildings. By 31 March 2020, Government figures revealed that two thirds of ACM-clad high-rise buildings still had not been remediated. But the issue goes wider than ACM. According to analysis by the Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA), over half a million people may be living in unsafe buildings that passed building control when they were built – including ACM and non-ACM materials.
Bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell fire are therefore calling on the Inquiry to use its influence and to take a more a more robust position; either dangerous cladding is removed, within a clearly set timeframe, or (as a last resort) the building is shut down and the occupants rehoused.
'Stay Put' (evacuation guidance and procedure)
Evacuation received seven recommendations in the Inquiry’s phase 1 report, but this did not extend to recommendations regarding the 'stay put' advice. An expert report to the Inquiry by Dr Barbara Lane (Arup) strongly suggested a move away from 'stay put' and the previous Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade conceded in October 2019 that the policy was no longer safe. The advice has become even more unclear with the impact of coronavirus, with many more people expected to be present in buildings during the day.
Families and survivors therefore recommend that immediate consideration be given to a reversal of policy from a presumption of 'stay put' to a presumption of 'get out' for all high-rise buildings (above 11m). They also call for greater consultation with building occupants and the provision of evacuation plans, as well as the development of an evacuation signal (such as a siren) and the provision of 'smoke hoods' on every floor of high-rise buildings.
The Inquiry’s phase 1 report recognised "the very valuable part played in the overall scheme of safety measures" played by sprinkler systems, but did not make any express recommendations (partly due to a lack of evidence at the time). Both historical fires, and fires subsequent to Grenfell demonstrate that while these systems would not prevent or extinguish raging fires, the spread of large conflagrations is slowed and smoke is dispersed and or suppressed to permit the opportunity to escape. The smaller the fire, the greater the opportunity. As the Inquiry noted the Grenfell fire originated as "no more than a typical kitchen fire."
Families and survivors therefore request that reconsideration be given by the Chair and panel regarding its recommendations and that current Government plans to ensure provision of sprinklers and way finding signage in all new build high-rise buildings be extended to include the retrofitting of existing or older buildings.
Graham French, a solicitor representing some of the bereaved and survivors, said:
"The third anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy is a timely opportunity to reflect on just how much there is still to do to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. Coronavirus has made this challenge all the more acute, and has had an especially severe impact on those who have been confined in high-rise buildings for many weeks, adding to the risk factors they are already facing.
After three years there is still a lack of visible change on the ground, and many of those who are stuck in unsafe accommodation are feeling forgotten.
The pandemic has also had the added consequence of slowing the progress of the Inquiry, and it is in these exceptional circumstances that many bereaved families and survivors have felt the pressing need to voice their concerns and urge the Inquiry to maintain its commitment to following up its own recommendations and indeed expediting the process while considering the urgent changes outlined in this letter. Our clients trust in the process but believe the Inquiry can use its influence to ensure real and lasting change."
In a statement, Marcio Gomes and Andreia Perestrelo, who have two surviving children but lost their unborn son, Logan, jointly said:
"We had faith that giving evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry would be our way of stopping such a tragedy ever happening again. However, this faith has been gradually eroded away, not by the Inquiry itself, but by those with the power and responsibility to make the relevant changes. We face yet another anniversary without even the simplest recommendations being implemented. The continuing failure to implement the lifesaving recommendations makes it clear that nobody is listening and the lost lives mean very little."
In a statement, Giannino Gottardi and Daniela Burogota, the parents of Marco Gottardi who lost his life in the fire along with his fiancée, said:
"After three years, the second phase of the investigations has just started and consequently we have had to wait a long time for their conclusion and for the subsequent procedural phase.
We hope that what happened on 14 June 2017 will be a warning, to lead the Government, competent bodies and professionals to carefully evaluate safety regulations and the use of materials used in construction and renovation, both civil and industrial."