Yesterday the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard significant submissions on behalf of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. The opening of module six sees the role of government come under scrutiny. What did government know? How did the cladding scandal end up with an estimated cost of over £15 billion?
Stephanie Barwise QC, instructed by Bindmans LLP and two other firms, representing over 300 of the bereaved, survivors and residents (BRs) opened with claims that ‘unbridled passion for deregulation’ and deference to industry lobbying ranks as ‘one of the major scandals of our time.’
The government received an estimate in the 1990s that the cost of fixing dangerous cladding was £500 million. The bill today for all buildings is estimated at well above £15 billion. The Inquiry was told of various reports into past cladding fires in which the problems were identified but covered over. The Inquiry was told how:
- Reports were marked for ‘limited circulation’ preventing people from learning the truth
- Key information was removed or ‘entirely neutered’
- The government suppressed information about the combustibility of cladding used on Lakanal House
- Promises to act on the Lakanal recommendations were not kept
- On the day of the Grenfell fire emails from a civil servant said, ‘Some of the stuff about disproportionate burdens feels uncomfortable today’
In detailed submissions a tragic story was told of how there has been more than 30 years of failure to act on warnings.
The Inquiry echoed concerns about the government’s response to the Inquiry. Counsel to the Inquiry, Richard Millet QC, criticised public bodies involved in the Inquiry for lacking candour in their opening statements, stating that:
This Inquiry is not a game of cat and mouse where core participants might hope that their witnesses will smuggle something past counsel to the inquiry.
It is in the interest of the Inquiry’s work and so in the public interest that these bodies fully embrace their obligations of candour and openness and face up to the stark realities that they reveal. Their written submissions tend to suggest that they have been drafted with fingers crossed.