The charred remains of Grenfell Tower taken from near Bramley Road, London (ChiralJon/Creative Commons)

Manslaughter charges mulled as UK tower fire-safety crisis cascades

23 June 2017 | By GCR Staff 11 Comments

UK police are considering manslaughter charges following the deadly inferno at London’s Grenfell Tower on 14 June as they revealed today that both the insulation and the tiles on the building failed safety tests.

Overseeing the investigation, the Metropolitan Police’s Det Supt Fiona McCormack also revealed that the fire was started by a fridge-freezer and was not deliberate.

Thousands of people face possible evacuation from residential towers clad in systems similar to Grenfell’s, it emerged yesterday as the crisis in tower fire safety cascaded across the UK.

Confusion over building regulations also continued as Prime Minister Theresa May avoided pointed questions in parliament yesterday over whether the cladding on Grenfell Tower fell foul of the rules. She said an investigation would report within 48 hours.

Last night the communities secretary Sajid Javid wrote to MPs saying that so far 11 tower blocks have cladding similar to Grenfell Tower, but the number could rise as cladding samples from hundreds of high rises around the country are being dispatched for urgent testing at research company BRE.

In his letter Sajid Javid said the Grenfell tragedy had “shaken his comprehension” of what it meant to be a cabinet minister, reports The Guardian.

Tenants around the country may have to wait a week to find out if they are at risk of fire as local authorities raced to test all 600 high-rises with cladding in England, reported The Times. Up to 100 towers a day are now being tested.

Grenfell Tower remains ground zero of the crisis with urgent questions remaining.

Police said insulation recovered from the tower was tested, as were tiles of the same kind used on the building. Both failed, with the insulation proving “more flammable than the cladding”. Investigators will now try and establish whether the use of these materials was illegal.

“Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the tests started,” Det Supt McCormack said in a press conference this morning, reports The Guardian. “The initial tests on equivalent aluminium composite tiles failed [also].”

Manslaughter charges are among the charges being considered, she said, adding that documents and materials had been seized from a “number of organisations”.

As the fallout from the crisis widened yesterday, London’s Camden Council said it would remove external thermal cladding from five tower blocks on one of its estates. The BBC reports that tests carried out on at the Chalcots Estate showed the cladding fitted to the tower blocks to be identical to that at Grenfell.

The private sector has been affected, too, with hotel chain Premier Inn telling the BBC’s Newsnight programme that it was “extremely concerned” about the cladding on three of its hotels. It said an urgent review found hotels in Maidenhead, Brentford and Tottenham did not appear to comply with government guidance for tall buildings.

The crisis could have political ramifications as questions mount over the suitability of the UK’s building regulations pertaining to fire safety, a review of which is thought to be overdue.

More than 70 leading organisations and figures from the UK’s health and safety profession have pressed for the government urgently to complete its review of the fire regulations in an open letter to the prime minister, reports Construction Manager.

The collective is pressing the Government to complete its review of Part B of the Building Regulations 2010 – the regulations which cover fire safety within and around buildings in England – as a matter of urgency, and to include a focus on improved safety in the forthcoming Parliament.

The letter is signed by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Park Health & Safety, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the British Safety Council, among others.

Image: The charred remains of Grenfell Tower taken from near Bramley Road, London (ChiralJon/Creative Commons)