Grenfell Tower fire avoidable due to warnings decades before, says union

FBU boss Matt Wrack said his union warned Parliament in 1999 that some cladding systems posed a threat after the Garnock Court fire in North Ayrshire.

Press Association
Last updated: 5 September 2018 - 1.50pm

It is a national scandal the Government did not act on warnings about dangerous cladding almost two decades before the “entirely avoidable” Grenfell Tower fire, the firefighters union said.

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said there had been a cross-party “complacency” about fire policy running through central government for a “long time”.

The union boss said the FBU had warned a House of Commons select committee in 1999 that certain cladding systems posed a threat to life, after the Garnock Court fire in North Ayrshire, Scotland, where a man died.

The union said cladding could act as a “vehicle for assisting uncontrolled fire spread” which “poses a threat to the life safety of the residents” above the fire.

Speaking in Parliament, he said: “Actually, that’s a prediction of what happened at Grenfell Tower. We didn’t expect it to happen on that scale, but we did warn of the possibility of that happening.

“And I think the scandal that lies behind it is nobody has actually acted on that warning that was given after that fire in 1999.”

Mr Wrack was speaking at the launch of the FBU’s report, Background to an Atrocity, which gives its view of where official policy has gone wrong and how Labour and Conservative governments “failed to listen”.

He was joined by shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and Emma Dent Coad, the Labour MP representing the constituency containing Grenfell Tower.

He went on: “We want to see real change as a result of this.

“This phrase about ‘lessons learned…’ about the failures to take account of previous lessons – it’s all very well making nice speeches or comments about learning the lessons, the point is many of the lessons were already known, the question was that they were not being applied.

“This to me is, or certainly should be, a national scandal and we can’t afford for it to be brushed under the carpet… to avoid the difficult questions being answered.”

Some 72 people died as a result of the fire in June last year.

Moyra Samuels, part of the Justice for Grenfell campaign group, said some of the community were feeling increasingly frustrated, almost 15 months on.

The campaigner said: “When we look at those in power, we look at authorities, whether they be local or national government, we are still struggling to see where change has happened.

“The justice campaign is about truth, about accountability, and about change and I am afraid to date we have not seen any dramatic change that has come from either the local authority or from national government.”

She added: “Most shockingly, I think for the community, we see a central government who seem to lack the courage and compassion to ban cladding.”

It comes as a lawyer representing a group of bereaved and survivors at the public inquiry into the blaze submitted a list of “urgent” recommendations to ensure the safety of high-rise tenants across the country.

The recommendations, sent by Michael Mansfield QC, call for an immediate moratorium of all cladding systems which contain materials that are not classed “non combustible”.

Responding to the report, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy we acted swiftly to establish a comprehensive building safety programme, issued clear guidance to building owners and committed to a full review of the building regulatory system, which was led by Dame Judith Hackitt.

“We welcomed the conclusions of the Hackitt Review and will be setting out our implementation plan this Autumn.

“I have also said that we intend to ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, and have been consulting on this basis.”

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