In Depth

Government accused of cladding fire risk ‘cover-ups’

Lawyer tells Grenfell inquiry that officials ‘shut down’ investigations in ‘grotesque abdication of responsibility’

The government may be guilty of “deliberate cover-ups” of the findings of three reports into cladding fires in the 1990s, according to lawyers acting on behalf of survivors and bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The public inquiry into the June 2017 blaze in west London that claimed 72 lives also heard that officials suppressed information about the combustibility of the cladding used on Lakanal House, a tower block in the south of the capital where a fire killed six people in 2009.

The inquiry was told that “MPs had written to the government 21 times, pressing it to tighten building regulations after Lakanal, without success”, The Guardian reported.

‘Nothing’ done

One of the lawyers representing victims, Stephanie Barwise QC, told the inquiry that the investigation into the Lakanal cladding blaze was “shut down” by officials in a “grotesque abdication of responsibility” that “raises the spectre of a deliberate cover-up”, reported Inside Housing

Barwise said that “nothing meaningful” had been done in response to the coroner’s recommendations, which “included encouragement to fit sprinklers in social housing and a review of building guidance ‘with particular regard to external fire spread’”.

Government sorry for ‘errors’

In response to the allegations, a lawyer acting on behalf of the government yesterday apologised for the “errors and missed opportunities” identified by the inquiry.

Jason Beer QC said that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) was “deeply sorry for its past failures” and admitted to an “oversight” of the building regulation system for tall blocks. 

However, Beer angered members of Grenfell United, which represents survivors and bereaved families, and other campaigners by insisting that if the government’s “sufficiently clear” building regulations had been correctly followed, “a large-scale cladding fire could not have happened”.

‘Deeply offensive’

In a statement posted on Twitter, Grenfell United described the government’s statement as “deeply offensive” and a “disingenuous attempt to carry on their masquerade of innocence”.

“We know [the] government knew about the deadly materials and the consequences, but covered up the risks,” the statement said.

Witnesses are giving evidence to the inquiry today and tomorrow. The hearings will then resume on 24 January, with evidential hearings on the week of 31 January. 

Measures proposed by the government in a Building Safety Bill unveiled in July include the appointment of a building safety regulator to “oversee a new safety regime for high-rise residential homes, taking safety and cost into account and keeping residents safe”.

But according to The Guardian’s social affairs correspondent Robert Booth, “this is a national crisis that requires bolder moves”. 

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