Michael Mansfield QC, representing other survivors and relatives, called for the inquiry to act quickly on key areas where evidence of failures was strong to ensure that residential tower blocks are safe.
He warned that if the Public Inquiry followed the existing timetable it could be more than two years before any clear recommendations emerged.
Mansfield claimed the fire was foreseeable because of reports on two previous fires at Lakanal House in Camberwell 2009 and Shepherds Court near Grenfell in 2016. These flagged up concerns about the spread of fire on the exterior of buildings due to combustible materials.
He said that the government’s failure to implement the coroners recommendations after the Lakanal house fire in 2009 was a betrayal of the jury and coroner.
“There were warning signs. How much more is needed before we come to the conclusion and say combustibles are at the least subject to a moratorium or are banned,” said Mansfield.
Alarm raised at previous tower block fires
Shepherd’s Court in west London is an 18 storey, 1970s tower block. The fire started in the kitchen, from a faulty tumble dryer on the 7th floor. It spread over 5 floors.
Letters were sent to 33 councils by London Fire Brigade in April 2017 warning of the danger involved in external cladding. The message was that such cladding was susceptible to intense heat when the polystyrene foam filler melts allowing the metal and wood surrounds to fall away, which accelerates the rapid spread of fire.
Assistant Commissioner of Fire Safety Regulation Dan Daly wrote about Shepherd’s Court : “I am drawing this fire to your attention to highlight the external spread of the fire that occurred. My predecessor Asst Cmsnr Steve Turek wrote to housing providers in March 2009 about a variety of matters…. One of those was replacement double glazing and the associated replacement of spandrel and filler panels on the external faces of blocks of flats with floors above 18 metres in height. In this case we believe such panels were a contributory factor to the external fire spread.”
Lakanal House, Sceaux Gardens Camberwell, London on July 3 2009. Six people were killed, and 20 injured
Exterior cladding panels burnt through in 4 1/2 minutes with suddenness and ferocity, terrifying the residents. Within half an hour of the first 999 call, the fire had spread to several other floors, moving upwards and downwards
The Coroner wrote to the Government warning that fire can spread downwards and laterally and above and adjacent to a fire flat, and that insecure compartmentation can permit transfer of smoke and fire between a flat and common parts putting the lives of residents and others at risk.
Mansfield also called for the imposition of an independent regulator on the construction to over turn its “non-compliance mindset”.
He said this had been touched on in the Hackitt Report, but needed to go further as a standalone department that carried out inspection, monitoring and enforcement of safety regime compliance.