Grenfell Tower: the Government’s responsibility for the fire

In my first post on the Grenfell Tower disaster I recalled my father’s distress while serving as an expert witness in the court case that followed the 1994 Ramsgate Walkway collapse, in which six people died and others were seriously injured. He told me that the parties involved were in general interested neither in truth nor in preventing future failures and loss of life, but only in the avoidance of liability for themselves.

In this post I explain why I believe that the Government bears the main responsibility for the fire. That responsibility is shared between successive administrations from around the year 2000 onwards. If the pattern of behaviour that my father observed is a general one, then we might expect the present Government to try to deny culpability, and the Opposition to avoid drawing attention to the failures of past Labour Governments. In following posts, I will demonstrate that the Government is indeed currently engaged in just such an attempt to evade its responsibility for what is a national tragedy. In brief, it is rewriting history by claiming that the cladding panels were installed illegally on Grenfell Tower, when in reality they were permitted under the official guidance.

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Grenfell Tower: was the cladding legal or not? (part 2)

In my last post, I pointed out the statutory requirement, contained in Article B4(1) of Schedule 1 of The Building Regulations 2010, that:

The external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls…

I then began to examine the guidance given by the government in Approved Document, Volume 2, at the corresponding part B4, as to how this statutory requirement can be met. Two alternative routes to compliance are given in Section 12.5:

In my last post also, I examined the provisions of paragraphs 12.6 to 12.9 and in particular of 12.6 and 12.7 which concern the fire properties of the materials used in construction. I explained that, for buildings over 18m high:

a) The requirement of 12.6 can be satisfied if the materials are UK Class 0. This classification can be achieved through satisfactory performance in two UK fire tests, BS 476 part 7 ‘Surface Spread of Flame’; and part 6 ‘Fire Propagation’. In both of these it is the surface of the board or panel that is subjected to assault by fire.

b) The requirements of 12.7 appear to apply to insulation products only.  The materials must either survive trial by a furnace at 750° C, or have a calorific value of less than 3 MJ/kg. I argue that no material with a substantial component of a polymer like the PIR of the Celotex boards, or the PE of the Reynobond panels, could possibly pass these tests.

In this post I describe the BS 8414 fire test, which is offered as an alternative route to compliance at paragraph 12.5. In following posts I plan to:

Continue reading Grenfell Tower: was the cladding legal or not? (part 2)

Grenfell Tower: was the cladding legal or not? (part 1)


Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, claimed on the Andrew Marr Show on 18 June 2017 that the cladding that was used on Grenfell tower is banned in the UK:

[17 JANUARY 2018. THIS PARAGRAPH REPLACES WHAT I WROTE IN JUNE 2017.

Was he right? If he was referring to the aluminium composite cladding panels, then he was not. Under the official Approved Document guidance, commonly known as the building regulations, the ACM panels used on Grenfell Tower possessed the requisite fire performance certification. This does not mean that they were safe. On the contrary, aluminium composite panels with a polyethylene core are highly combustible and should never be used on high buildings.

END OF NEW PARAGRAPH.]

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