Almost none of the companies involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in the United Kingdom have admitted any blame for the catastrophic fire in 2017, an inquiry has heard.
The second phase of the investigation into the disaster at the London high-rise block, which claimed 72 lives, started on Monday.
The Guardian reports that about 200,000 unseen documents, from private emails to phone transcripts and commercial agreements, will be released during 18 months of hearings examining decisions taken in the months and years before the fire, its immediate aftermath and the role of the UK government.
It says there are fears that with possible criminal charges looming and live civil lawsuits claiming huge damages, the inquiry could descend into a “blame game” among the corporates.
On the opening day of the second phase of the investigation, Richard Millett QC, the inquiry’s chief lawyer, said the companies showed “no trace of any acceptance of any responsibility” for the blaze. Millett said 19 corporate core participants had provided statements.
“With the sole exception of RBKC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) not a single core participant … has felt able to make an unqualified submission against their own interests,” he said.
“Not from the architects, not from the contract managers, main contractors. In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else’s fault.”
For more than two years, the inquiry has sought to establish the facts of what happened on the night of the fire, in order to prevent future accidents.
The report for phase one of the inquiry criticized the London Fire Brigade for “serious shortcomings” in its response to the fire and found that cladding on the tower did not comply with building regulations.
In October, it determined that the cladding was the “principal” reason for the rapid spread of the flames, which were sparked by an electrical fault with a fridge-freezer.
On Monday, Millet said all organizations had denied responsibility in “carefully crafted statements”.
“Any member of the public reading those statements and taking them all at face value would be forced to conclude tha t… nobody made any serious or causative mistakes,” he said.
Just before 1:00 am on June 14, fire broke out in the kitchen of a fourth floor flat at the 23-floor tower block in North Kensington, West London. Within minutes, the fire had raced up the exterior of the building and then spread to all four sides. By 3:00 am, most of the upper floors were ablaze.
The tower, built in 1974, was extensively refurbished between 2012 and 2016. Millett stressed that the first part of the inquiry found the refurbishment work “did not comply with certain key aspects of the building regulations”.
The inquiry also heard that employees at the US metals manufacturer Arconic, which supplied the cladding for the west London tower block, knew before the fire that its panels were “dangerous” and should only be used on “small buildings”.