Governments from 2002 knew Grenfell cladding was violently combustible

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Youth at the front of the march in North Kensington on the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Inferno – they are determined to get justice

GOVERNMENT officials knew of the dangers of flammable cladding 15 years before the horrific Grenfell Tower fire which on June 14, 2017 claimed the lives of 72 men, women and children.

Evidence given at the inquiry into the deaths of 72 people show that the priority of successive governments was always ‘the demands of corporate interests above the needs of people’, according to a union leader.

The inquiry heard that the government knew from 2002 that the type of cladding used on the 24-storey residential block in North Kensington should ‘never ever’ have been used on tall buildings.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard evidence at the beginning of the week that confirmed that the government kept the findings of the fire safety tests secret – even after the Grenfell fire in June 2017.

The ‘catastrophic’ result of an official cladding test meant the government was ‘in no doubt at all’ that the material later installed on Grenfell Tower was violently combustible, according to expert witness testimony given at the Inquiry.

An official at the Fire Brigades Union described the failure of successive governments to act on the test findings as ‘sickening’.

Evidence given at the Inquiry by Dr Debbie Smith, the former managing director of the Building Research Establishment, appears to place much responsibility for the disaster on successive housing ministers – Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative, including former Croydon MP Gavin Barwell – for their failure to act on the findings of the testing authorities.

Tory secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Michael Gove has already admitted the government ‘failed people at Grenfell’ and told MPs that ‘on a couple of occasions’ it had ‘not necessarily appreciated the importance of fire safety and not necessarily done everything in the wake of the Lakanal House tragedy that it should have done’.

That ministerial admission puts Barwell squarely in the frame.

Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central from 2010 to 2017, was housing minister in the year before the Grenfell disaster, and is likely to face questions about what actions he took after receiving direct fire safety warnings from the London fire commissioner, Dany Cotton.

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: ‘They did nothing for one and a half decades. Westminster governments are the ones responsible for this failure to regulate properly.’

Yesterday, as the inquiry had heard previously, the polyethylene-cored aluminium composite material, or ACM, cladding was subjected to a government-funded test in the summer of 2001. In the test, after just five minutes, 20-metre flames were observed.

The results of this test were delivered to government officials in September 2002, but no warning was issued to the industry, and a fire standard which appeared to permit the use of ACM was not removed from official guidance despite what was described at the Inquiry as ‘an immediate and present risk to life’.

Grenfell Tower had ACM cladding installed 12 years after the government testing had been conducted.

Meanwhile Barking and Dagenham Council has been found to have not done the fire safety checks, including fire, gas and asbestos on thousands of homes.

The east London council was found to have breached the Home Standard by the Regulator of Social Housing after an internal audit.

Following a self-referral from Barking and Dagenham Council, the regulator found that the local authority did not have clear safety records for thousands of its council homes.

It found that the council did not have fire risk assessments (FRAs) in place for more than 100 properties, and did not have a clear record of whether an FRA was required for more than 1,000.

The council reported that for more than 16,000 of its domestic properties and more than 2,000 communal areas, it either did not have a clear record of whether a current electrical installation condition report was required or could not evidence that such a check had previously been completed.

The regulator found that the council did not have clear records for whether more than 1,000 properties with communal areas should be included on the asbestos survey programme.

Almost 3,000 properties and 2,000 communal areas also required data validation to establish whether they should be included on the gas safety programme.

Barking and Dagenham also had more than 100 communal assets on its lift safety programme and around a quarter of these did not have an up-to-date inspection.

The local authority had ‘no assurance’ of whether more than 1,000 properties needed to be included in its water safety compliance programme.

‘For these reasons, the regulator has concluded that LB Barking and Dagenham has breached the Home Standard, and that, as a consequence, there was the potential for serious detriment to tenants,’ the regulator said.

Dominic Twomey, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, performance and core services at Barking and Dagenham Council, said: ‘The council, as part of its commitment to be a good landlord, requires frequent checks on the health and safety of our council homes.

‘We do this work in partnership with our repairs and maintenance partner, the BD Group, a company owned by the council.

‘BD Group carried out an audit of the manner in which these health and safety checks are carried out and discovered that whilst checks had been taking place, the council could not verify those checks through its internal paper trail.

‘The council then voluntarily referred itself to the Regulator of Social Housing.

‘The regulator has agreed with our findings and is working with us to implement our improvement programme.’

Twomey said the council has immediately started delivery of that programme and has ‘already met the required standards in matters relating to gas, water, lifts and asbestos’.

‘We can also confirm that we have instructed an independent company to carry out our new fire risk assessments from February 2022 and expect them to complete the programme by the summer of 2022.

‘These assessments, alongside our electrical testing programme, shows the commitment we have to all tenants in council-owned properties to make them the safest in London,’ he added.