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No ‘fire strategy’ for months while residents lived in Grenfell Tower, inquiry hears

Written by on 12 October 2020

“There is no existing fire strategy for the building.”

These words were said in three meetings about the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, all while the building was fully occupied.

In black and white, this was the phrase printed in the minutes from each meeting between various bodies working on the project, in June and July 2012.

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The inquiry revealed tower residents were only asked what colour cladding they wanted – and not what material

One attendee was project manager at the time, Paul Dunkerton from the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

When asked why he did not question the lack of a “fire strategy” for the building when he first heard about it, Mr Dunkerton told the public inquiry, this was “not his area of expertise” and “it wasn’t for him to make a call on that”.

Mr Dunkerton said he was relying on fire engineering firm Exova to sort out the fire safety at the tower.

When pressed if Mr Dunkerton had relayed this information, regarding the lack of fire strategy to his superiors, Mr Dunkerton said they “had seen the minutes” from the meetings.

He told the inquiry: “I was more of an administration role rather than making any judgement, authorisation or instructions.”

More from Grenfell Tower

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The second phase of the inquiry is due to run until June 2021

Exova has previously said criticism of it is “unjustified” because it was not consulted about the flammable materials which eventually coated the building.

Monday’s inquiry also revealed that during the tower’s refurbishment, residents of the west London tower block had only been asked for their thoughts on the colour of cladding they wanted, and not the type of material they preferred.

During the refurbishment process Mr Dunkerton said there had been “heavy resident consultation” during the time he was project manager.

He gaged the thoughts of residents through newsletters, questionnaires and drop-in consultation sessions.

Newsletters were produced explaining the cladding systems and how they would be used on the tower.

At some of the consultation sessions, a selection of samples of cladding material were shown to residents for them to “feel and touch” according to the former project manager.

But Mr Dunkerton told the inquiry that he provided no explanation as to the fire resistance properties of each type of cladding.

People gather during a commemoration to mark the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire
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People gather during a commemoration to mark the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in June

Inquiry counsel Andrew Kinnier QC asked him: “Did anyone from the Tenant Management Organisation or contractors provide residents with information regarding the fire retardancy of zinc or any other materials?”

Mr Dunkerton said he did not, nor was he aware that anyone else did either.

The aluminium composite material (ACM) panels used on the Grenfell Tower had a thermoplastic-filled core and had a heat combustion akin to diesel.

The inquiry has already found that they fuelled the fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, which claimed 72 lives.

The second phase of the inquiry is due to run until June 2021.