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Calls for Grenfell Inquiry panel to write to Patel over fire safety guidance

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The panel of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has been urged to write to the Home Secretary to criticise past guidance over fires in blocks of flats which was observed during the 2017 fatal blaze which killed 72 people.

Danny Friedman QC, who represents several residents and families of those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, told the inquiry a section of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) fire safety guide – which was issued six years before the west London blaze – was “unlawful and unacceptable”.

The guidance, which is Government-commissioned fire safety guidance written by experts, stated it was “unrealistic” to have evacuation plans for disabled people in event of a fire.

Mr Friedman said the panel, consisting of chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, Thouria Istephan and Ali Akbor, should “express their views now” over the guidance to Priti Patel before the inquiry concludes its hearings.

The LGA’s guidance said: “In ‘general needs’ blocks of flats, it can equally be expected that a resident’s physical and mental ability will vary.

Priti Patel
Danny Friedman QC said he wants the Grenfell Tower Inquiry panel to write to Home Secretary Priti Patel (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“It is usually unrealistic to expect landlords and other responsible persons to plan for this or to have in place special arrangements, such as ‘personal emergency evacuation plans’.

“Such plans rely on the presence of staff or others available to assist the person to escape in a fire.”

The advice has since been deemed to be “no longer comprehensive” by the Home Office and redacted from the LGA’s fire safety guidance document.

A new version is being revised by the Home Office and is due to be published in early 2022.

During the closing statements of the inquiry’s third module on Monday, Mr Friedman criticised the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) for “failing to conduct any assessments across Grenfell Tower” in the event of a fire for disabled and vulnerable residents, describing it as a “systemic breach of [their] right to life”.

He added: “The ongoing fault, and indeed scandal, lies with the Government, which for over a decade now, and over four years after the Grenfell fire, has failed, and still fails, to declare that part of the LGA guide unlawful and unacceptable.

“That is why we say to the panel that if you agree, you should write to the Secretary of State and express your views now, rather than wait to publish in a final report.”

Grenfell Tower memorial
Two women walk towards the Grenfell Memorial Wall in the grounds of Kensington Aldridge Academy (Jonathan Brady/PA)

In a previous hearing, Janice Wray, former health and safety facilities manager for the KCTMO, said the LGA’s guidance “informed” the group’s strategy when dealing with vulnerable and disabled residents in general housing, but added that the guidance did not “consciously” justify the group’s approach.

James Ageros QC, representing KCTMO, told the inquiry previous evidence provided in written submissions “supported the proposition it was to be used in preference to other guides” and it was “right” that Ms Ray paid “particular” attention to it.

He added personal emergency evacuation plans in “general needs” housing blocks were not carried out because “there were no staff present on site all the time, so no one to assist in the evacuation of disabled persons in an emergency”.

“In adopting this approach, the TMO was acting in a way consistent with the guidance provided in the 2011 LGA guide…while the inquiry has not heard direct evidence on the point, it is submitted the TMO’s approach was likely to be consistent with most other social housing providers,” he said.

The inquiry is currently in phase two of hearings, which are expected to conclude in May 2022.

A report on the panel’s findings of evidence heard during the second phase is then expected to be published at a later date.

Grenfell United, the bereaved families and survivors group, said: “The Social Housing White paper is part of the essential change needed to reform this crisis. Without it, the Regulator for Social Housing continues to let negligent landlords slip through the net.

“We must not forget that Grenfell is the outcome of the devastating impact bad landlords can and do have on people’s lives.”

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