Even an hour before the ceremony was due to start, there were a lot of camera people on the streets. On the way to meet the others from the Forum, I passed one of the Grenfell ghouls - a self-professed fire/buildings safety expert who has appeared on TV and in the press several times, pronouncing about what should and shouldn't be done. When we looked into his credentials, we couldn't find any. He's been shunned by the Grenfell community, mainly because it was very clear to everyone that he's touting for work/status/fame on the back of the tragedy. Clearly, he has no shame although, as it turned out, he wasn't able to access the event because he didn't qualify for an entry wristband.
The ceremony, under the shadow of the tower, was incredibly moving; simple and heartfelt; a few songs from a fabulous local gospel choir, some readings and, most powerful of all, the names of the dead read aloud, with everyone chanting, "Forever in our hearts" at regular intervals. Afterwards, reporters were finding it hard to interview anyone since most were more concerned with making sure their friends and family were okay. In case it's been lost on anyone, this really is a community, and taking an hour to get from A to B thirty yards away because there are so many people to talk to kind of is the point. And it wasn't until I saw it on the TV news later that I learned Adele and Stormzy were there. No one was making any fuss of them and it seemed they were there purely to offer their respects.
It wasn't appropriate, in the midst of such a united yet diverse community, so I suppressed the feeling until later but I felt angry again at how the government and the council, despite what they say, reduces victims to numbers and a situation that has to be managed. I don't think I've ever felt such contempt for a politician as when Theresa May, a few days before the one-year anniversary of Grenfell, wrote a piece in the Evening Standard about how sorry she was that she hadn't been around more in the early days of the tragedy; how she realised this made it look like the government didn't care. But it did. Of course it did, Theresa, that's why you waited nearly a year, until the best possible PR moment, to tell us so.
Sadiq Khan was there for quite some time, spending time with anyone who wanted to talk to him. Which was good, I suppose, but when one of the Forum asked him what he thought about corruption in the construction industry, he said there wasn't any!
The second-in-command official from MHDCLG was there, too. His Department is, of course, responsible for buildings and most fire safety regulations. When I was working on the furniture fire safety regulations I had many meetings with DCLG (as it was then) officials. They weren't however too pro-active. As far as they were concerned, they'd done what was asked of them in implementing the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. They were never too keen, after that, to do much about the many inconsistencies and grey areas inherent in the FSO. Some of which contributed to the Grenfell fire one way or another. Anyway, one of the Forum approached this guy after the ceremony had finished and everyone was talking about all sorts of things. He wanted to discuss building regulations but Mr MHDLC did not want to, stating that this was not the "appropriate time" to do so. Anyone who's been following our attempts to get BEIS to talk about the failings of the furniture regs will know that there never is an appropriate time for responsibility-dodging civil servants.
Before the ceremony started four of us spoke for about twenty minutes on LBC's James O'Brien show. It was good to have the opportunity to raise issues which the Inquiry and the Hackitt Review have been downplaying or ignoring all together. James O'Brien asked me what my specialty was so I talked about the furniture regulations; how burning upholstered furniture contributed the most toxic smoke to the fire and therefore probably the most deaths. He looked surprised and asked me why this wasn't better known. "Money," I replied, talking about the vast loads of dosh there is in flame retardants, and how the UK furniture industry profits from the trade barrier the regs represents, which is why they don't want them changed even though in their present state they're dangerous and poisoning us all. He'd asked us earlier if we thought there was a lot of dodging of responsibility going on so I told him about the conversation I'd had with Dame Hackitt a couple of days previously. After the microphones were turned off he asked me more about the furniture regs and I told him it was a massive scandal that plenty of people were desperate to conceal; causing deep divisions in the FBU, for example.
I gave an interview to two guys from Dose of Society, for a documentary they were making about Grenfell. It was great to meet two young people who, in the best possible way, are more like grumpy old men in their (healthy) disrespect for the establishment. They wanted me to talk about cladding which I did as far as my knowledge allows. But I also pointed out that cladding is being used as a deflection device, to keep attention off of furniture. I understand why, in a short documentary that has to follow a narrative theme, they eventually cut my pieces on furniture but it's still a little disappointing.
As I've said before on this site, the Grenfell Fire Forum can see how powerful business interests have succeeded (so far - signs are that such interests may start clashing soon, in the Inquiry, which hopefully will release more of the real truth) in convincing the entire country that only burning cladding contributed to the fire in any significant way.
However, the truth is that so far we only know for certain that burning furniture definitely contained a lot of toxic flame retardants (around 30 kgs per flat), that have been proved to produce highly toxic smoke when they burn. It hasn't even been established whether or not the cladding contained any flame retardants. Even if it did, the relative volumes per flat were much higher from furniture than cladding.
But someone established very early on that only cladding was the real villain. On the day of the fire itself, a surgeon - Dr Malcolm Tunnicliff - appeared all over the newspapers claiming a) that the victims he'd been sent did not need to be given anti-cyanide treatment because they hadn't suffered cyanide poisoning, and b) you only get toxic smoke from 'old' (pre-Furniture Regulations) furniture. The opposite, of course, is true: while pre-Regulations furniture was toxic when it burned, modern furniture is at least three times more toxic. But his comments, along with other experts talking only about cladding, has done the job: everyone believes cladding kills; hardly anyone is talking about furniture.
Khadijah and I attended an event at the Royal Institute of British Architects to discuss relevant issue around the Grenfell fire. She was speaking later but the opening, keynote, speech was given by Dame Judith Hackitt. This focussed entirely on her recent report into fire and buildings safety legislation. She didn't do much other than cover the same ground the report does but I found it interesting when she unfavourably compared the ethics of the construction industry with the industry she used to be in: interesting, first, because she didn't actually name it; but I will: the chemical industry. Second, because it's very hard to call the behaviour of the flame retardant branch of the chemical industry 'ethical'. All over the world, the FR industry pays key officials to support its products, even or especially those who in doing so are putting the public and their own workers at risk. The industry regularly releases highly toxic products on to the market claiming they aren't then just shrugging its shoulders when the US government or REACH or the Swedish who simply say "No", prove that they very much are and will continue to poison humans and wildlife and the environment for countless years to come. The fact she sees this kind of behaviour as ethical is enough on its own to question her impartiality where overseeing legislation that provides lucrative markets for chemicals is concerned.
Anyway, it got to Q&A time and Dame Judith perhaps unwisely pointed to me. My question was along these lines:
"Given that the majority of deaths in Grenfell Tower were from toxic smoke; and given that burning upholstered furniture provided the majority of toxic smoke; and given that the government proved four years ago that the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations mostly don't work, why is that you, your Review and the experts panel have ignored every attempt to get you to look at these failing regulations?"
Dame Judith looked somewhat startled by this question. Then she began to answer along the lines that she'd mentioned earlier - that her task was to look more at the overall system of fire safety than specific issues. But, presumably deciding that this wouldn't quite wash, instead she changed tack, along the lines of:
"My report doesn't cover everything that we worked on. BEIS is looking at the problems with those particular regulations."
To which I said, "Well, we met BEIS a couple of weeks ago and it's clear they aren't doing anything to put these regulations right."
At which point, the microphone was taken away from me.
In fact, what BEIS told us at out meeting with them - after confirming that they had had NO communication with the Hackitt Review about the Furniture Regs - was that it was up to the Inquiry/Review to decide what to do about these Regulations!
So, in effect, BEIS is saying it has not told the Hackitt Review about the failing Furniture Regs; yet Dame Hackitt herself clearly knows they're responsible for them. Who is lying? One of them is. The point being that no one is taking responsibility for the regulations which cover the items that led to the most deaths in the Grenfell tragedy. Not only that, but both sides of the Review equation are covering themselves, possibly at the expense of the other. We'll see.
Extract from a meeting with BEIS to discuss the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 in relation to Grenfell Tower
Here you'll find a transcription of part of a meeting two of us from the Grenfell Fire Forum had with two officials at BEIS on 3 May 2018. I genuinely took this extract at random. Part of the reason being that over a two-hour meeting, we could not get the officials to answer the first basic question about the state of these regulations; therefore, wherever I took an extract you'll find the same combination of obfuscation, evasion, ignorance and outright lying.
We arrived there with a potential solution to the hole that BEIS has dug for itself. Which is that four years ago it proved the current match test in the regulations mostly doesn't work. But since then it has delayed making changes, initially under pressure from industry (who would lose out financially with the new safety measures) and then later also with the added pressure that they were now trapped by their own inaction, i.e. implementing the changes would raise the issue of them having kept the entire British public at risk for four years.
That question is, essentially: "Do you agree that BEIS's own scientific published evidence proves that the current match test in the regulations fails in up to 90% of cases, confirmed by Trading Standards' findings in the field, and therefore that the majority of UK sofas are unsafe?"
The context for this meeting is relevant to Grenfell Tower. Because these regulations do not work, and because they have not been changed, far more toxic smoke was generated in the Tower (from burning furniture) than should have been the case.
In the extract, you'll see that BEIS has not even informed the Inquiry or the Hackitt Review about these key but failing fire safety regulations that played a significant role in the Grenfell fire.
In other words, it appears as if the comfortability of these officials is more important to them than the survivors of the Grenfell fire discovering the full truth about how their friends and family died.
Incidentally, 'DM' has been in charge of these regulations for nearly two years. She is, as she told us, working on the 2016 consultation responses (BEIS still hasn't responded to it). However, I mentioned two key elements of the regulations that would need to be worked on in these deliberations and she didn't even know what they were.
DM promised to answer our question in writing after the meeting. However, she still has not done so, despite three reminders from us.
22nd May 2018
A colleague in the Grenfell Fire Forum said to me today that the solution to the problems raised by the tower fire pretty much lies in just putting three things right:
To that, I might add:
Okay, nothing is 'just like that' but so far none of the above has been achieved or even discussed by the official enquiry or the Hackitt Review.
Last night the BBC's Panorama aired an 'expose' on the Grenfell cladding. Much of what was said, however, is already known. Panorama's new revelation was that the insulation foam used in conjunction with the cladding on Grenfell Tower was highly flammable and had not been tested. Another version had been sent for testing which, according to the programme, had lots of flame retardants in it so it would get through the test; but the foam that was sold did not contain enough. I will refrain from noting who might be pleased to hear this, or that they may well have played a part in the revelation in the first place.
I'm not sure if Panorama is aware, but this is a common issue with testing. For example, in furniture it's called 'The Golden Roll'. A roll of fabric is treated with enough FRs to get it through the fire test but the fabric that is sold to manufacturers contains much less FRs (thereby profitting by putting the public at risk).
Three of the main interviewees on the programme were happy to keep the focus on cladding as the villain of the piece. But I'm pretty sure the BBC is unaware that one of the 'fire experts' speaking out against cladding had been due to be a paid expert witness to the Inquiry for a cladding company but was then ditched by them. Another has produced excellent work showing just how toxic furniture is but for some reason when speaking to the media only focusses on cladding where Grenfell Tower is concerned. The other is associated with people who are funded by the flame retardant industry and have done much to prevent safety changes to the Furniture Regulations going ahead, therefore perhaps also keen to keep attention on cladding.
Today, I phoned in to Radio 4's You and Yours programme which was all about Grenfell Tower. The researcher I spoke to asked about my interest; I told him about the Grenfell Fire Forum and how we are keen to raise issues like those above which are currently being ignored or mishandled by the Inquiry/Hackitt Review. I said my speciality was furniture flammability and told him about the role it played at Grenfell. "I've never heard of that," he said. "That's the problem," I replied.
When I got on air, I introduced myself and the Forum then stated that the majority of toxic smoke in the Tower came from burning sofas and mattresses. Winifred Robinson interrupted me to say that that was a 'controversial view' and that on Panorama it was said that cladding produced the hydrogen cyanide which caused the deaths. And there we have it. This wasn't exactly what was said on Panorama and I didn't say that all the hydrogen cyanide came from furniture and none from cladding in the first place. But it shows how cleverly the one-source view has been established in people's minds.
I went on to say that yes cladding produced hydrogen cyanide but explained that Professor Richard Hull, who had spoken on Panorama, had published a paper recently that proves that an FR-treated UK sofa is more dangerous than an untreated EU sofa and produces three times more toxic smoke when it burns. I went on to explain that the Department for Business had proved 4 years ago that the main ignition test in the furniture regulations fails in practice in up to 90% of sofas which means that we're all sitting on flammable products that are highly toxic.
At least this issue was raised; as it also was on London Live last week; and on Newsnight a few months ago. But there is a long way to go.
The Forum has been working with Justice4Grenfell and Humanity for Grenfell. What we share with these determined, brave people is a powerful desire to see that the full truth behind Grenfell is revealed and the real problems put right. It's difficult for them to trust anyone in the establishment, which includes the government, local authorities, business, the media, vulturing 'experts' looking to use them to get work . . . And this isn't cynicsm on their part; it's awareness of how the system controls everything to the benefit of business and the smooth careers of officials.
And you know what? Seeing the determination, courage and commitment of the Grenfell survivors, I feel optimistic that this time the bad guys might just be about to lose.
A few initial thoughts on the final report of the Hackitt Review
The Dame Hackitt Review published its final report on 17th May 2018. This was two days before the royal wedding, which I'm sure was a complete coincidence. Today, the Evening Standard - London's newspaper, the city where the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurred - published 18 pages on the wedding and exactly no words at all on the Hackitt report (it managed a few paragraphs yesterday, along with another 8 or 9 pages on the wedding).
Yesterday, I gave an interview to London Live. On the way there, I bumped into Sir Ken Knight who has appeared a few times in the pages of this website. He is very prominent in the Grenfell Inquiry, e.g. chaired the Inquiry's experts panel last year. Anyway, I told him that I'd been talking to Grenfell residents and they were unanimously angry that the Hackitt Review did not recommended a ban on combustible cladding. Sir Ken, before rushing off, said, "It was never intended that the Hackitt Review would go down to that level of detail."
Which of course raises some interesting questions. For a start, the Hackitt Review actually promised at the outset that it was going to look at all relevant buildings and fire safety legislation. Which sounds pretty detailed to me. Okay, most of us wondered how on earth they could hope to do that in just a few months. And they didn't. But what they also didn't do was own up to everyone that it was too big a task and discuss options. Instead, they simply changed the remit of the review. So, for example, at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue group a few months ago, I asked the civil servant administering the Hackitt Review why they kept refusing to even look at the Furniture Regulations, especially when they are the key fire safety law governing the inside of dwellings and the government proved 4 years ago they don't work. "It's not within our remit," he said; "we're now taking a broader view."
He and Sir Ken may have decided that's what the Review was meant to do but the residents I've spoken to over the past couple of days are all definitely under the impression that the Hackitt Review was going to tackle specific issues like cladding.
But perhaps more than anything else, you have to wonder what was the point of months of work with all those Review working groups, resulting in a 160 page report, if such 'detail' as one of the main contributing factors to the fire was never on the table for discussion in the first place?
The final report contains the word 'should' 290 times and 'consider' 86 times. It talks a lot about how there needs to be a change in the 'culture' surrounding buildings and fire safety but never explains how this will come about.
And it fails totally in dealing with the main contributors to the fire:
Cladding- has not recommended that combustible cladding be banned
Furniture- has not even looked at its massive contribution to the fire
Fire-spreading- again, not even looked at. How the fire spread through the building so fast was down to many required fire-stopping elements being missing or faulty
Toxic smoke- not even mentioned once in the report, yet this was what killed the vast majority of people in the fire
On the Hackitt Review Circular 15th February
The Grenfell Inquiry/Hackitt Review/Experts Panel has been steadfast in totally ignoring the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, despite numerous warnings from myself and others. Why? Well, for me a big clue was apparent in the Hackitt Review's circular, issued last week: here
First, there is no mention at all of the Furniture Regs. Second, the aim of the Review has apparently changed. This is no great surprise, in that there was never going to be time for it to fulfil its original remit, which was to examine all relevant fire and building safety legislation. Now, the Review is clearly aiming to produce a general final report, which will be along the lines of:
Legislation is mainly adequate; it's just enforcement and interpretation that needs to be improved. There is a 'culture change' required, so that existing measures are taken seriously. Testing also needs to be tightened up. Standards X, Y and Z need to be improved . . . we will set up a task force to carry this work forward.
The Furniture Regs, however, do not fit into this vision. They are prescriptive requirements (unlike the Fire Safety Order that is advisory) which a) have been proved to not work by the government itself and b) can be put right by the changes the government has been unnecessarily blocking for the past 4 years.
The people advising the Hackitt Review know that if they reveal this, then not only are those amongst them who are profiting from the situation (largely via chemical industry backing) outed but the whole of the fire safety regime has to be looked at more closely, and that would be disastrous - not for the public of course but for the boys' club that is largely pulling the profitable strings behind the Review.
Update - 17 February, 2018
BEIS has just replied to an offer from an industry expert to help with putting right the Furniture Regulations, in light of the response they have been giving everyone lately, i.e. that their delay in acting on the September 2016 consultation is because the Regulations are so 'complex'. They told him that they "haven't got any specific stakeholder meetings planned at present". Which is extraordinary and should possibly be classed as criminal behaviour.
In short: they proved in 2014 that the current Regulations don't work and came up with the solution. They delayed implementation to protect the profits of the chemical industry and cover their backsides and later, under pressure from the press, went out to consultation again in September 2016, with the same proposals for change. At the same time, they got rid of all their staff with any experience of the Regulations and brought in new people with no learning capacity as well as a complete lack of files on the subject. As the FOI answers show, they have done next to nothing since September 2016 on making changes which would stop people dying in fires and from high levels of toxic fumes.
You may wonder why they would now admit that they have no meetings planned. The answer means looking in a little more detail at how many civil servants think. The civil servant who replied in this case - the leader of the Furniture Regulations team - would have gone through a mental process something like this:
If I say we are meeting stakeholders, I'll face two problems: 1) Further FOI requests will prove that we aren't, and 2) I'll be forced to actually hold some stakeholder meetings.
If we hold stakeholder meetings, we'll be forced to meet some people who really understand the Regulations, which will mean at some point we - me in particular - will have to explain why we have failed to act to put them right. Then we would have to put them right.
If we put them right, I will be seen as the person who brought embarrassment to the senior civil servants who delayed in the first place. Which would be bad for my career.
If we put them right, it will upset the chemical industry and furniture industry who will attack us and we/I don't have the knowledge/guts/public interest concern to face them. Which would also be bad for my career.
If we admit there's a problem with the Regulations, it could hugely affect the Grenfell Inquiry/Hackitt Review and might even lead to a chain reaction bringing down the whole house of faulty cards that constitutes the fire safety regime in the UK. Which would be very bad for my career.
Therefore, on balance, it's better not to hold any further stakeholder meetings. Okay, we will keep getting criticised for not acting, but that's better for my career than actually doing something.
This kind of 'thinking' is allowed, even approved of, because the main purpose of the Whitehall Civil Service is to protect the Whitehall Civil Service. It is not to serve the public or even, any longer, to serve Ministers. Some time in the past, the response given above - that BEIS has no plans for any further stakeholder meetings - would have been first run past the relevant Minister. Who, obviously, would have had questions. But, as I saw in my final few years in BEIS, civil servants now increasingly act without Ministerial approval. Part of the reason for this is that the culture of Whitehall has increasingly been about holding internal meetings/discussing processes/producing 'corporate' objectives - all keeping the public and politicians and the outside world at arms' length. Self-preservation is the aim and the justification.
One time, I pointed out to the Furniture Regulations team that the failing match test was causing up to 20 or so deaths a year. No one disputed this but one senior civil servant made the comment that this was 'only' a few deaths. I asked her how she'd feel if one of those deaths was her mother, in a painful, horrific house fire. She didn't reply, blushed for a few seconds, then got on with her career.
UPDATE - 1 February, 2018
Two Freedom of Information Act requests were recently put to BEIS. The first was to ascertain what they've been doing about the faulty Furniture Regs. The second, in light of BEIS's frequent citing of Grenfell Tower as a reason for delay in putting right the Regs, asked what contact have they had with the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
The answers are scandalous, details here:
UPDATE - 23 December, 2017
At the Fire Congress, I made two challenges with regard to the fact the current match test does not work and the new one is being blocked - one to the delegates in general, to check out the facts for themselves; the other to specific individuals (two of them present) to explain the FPA/FSF's role in not putting the test right. See my follow-up email (dated 18 November) below for further details. At the time of writing (23 December), there has been no reply.
In the course of trying to protect the public I have often encountered the no-reply tactic. It is of course a sign of guilt. But it is, I suppose, what those concerned consider to be the least damaging route to take.
We are finding plenty of similar non-responses regarding the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Date: Saturday, 18 November 2017 at 16:48
To: (Wide range of fire sector leaders and others.)
Subject: Re: Congress on Friday
Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak at the Congress on a very important, but so far largely ignored, topic. I didn't want to use PowerPoint, in keeping with the spirit of open discussion. However, that meant people did not have any headline points, contact details and links. To that end, I'd be very grateful if you could circulate the text below to delegates.
Regarding the section on accountability - I'd very much appreciate a response from Dave [Sibert] and Paul [Fuller].
Terry Edge - "Ineffective and dangerous furniture flammability regulations"
In the spirit of accountability:
General Request to all delegates:
Read the government's own proof at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/furniture-fire-safety-regulations-proposed-amendments - specifically, the fifth document on this page - the 2014 consultation document. Also the second document, the "Technical Annex" (fully endorsed by the UK's leading test experts as proving the case).
Terry Edge: terryedge@xxxxxxxx
For further information on the failings of the Furniture Regulations: www.toxicsofa.com
* * *
Regarding the first bullet point above under 'In the spirit of accountability', here is a slide from the presentation made by the FPA/FSF to BEIS in late 2014.
Leaving aside their claim that these were the FSF's proposals when in fact they were BIS's, the important point was that they were agreeing that BIS's proposed new match test will work by making sofas fire-safer and reducing flame retardants. The only new suggestion they made was that we should, as an interim measure, go ahead with the new match test but still use the old test foam, while British Standards came up with a new test foam. We had told them that a new test foam was already specified in the new match test, based on the one in use since 1988 but they had their reasons for not listening. (Incidentally, this suggestion also demonstrated worrying technical ignorance since using the old highly-flammable test foam with a fibre layer would be combining the worst of two worlds.) This was in my view just blatant back-covering since they knew very well that BIS could not simply introduce a new interim test: it would need another consultation and would have been an unfair burden on industry. However, they were no doubt concerned about the extra deaths/fires that would have occurred in the extra 12 months they'd demanded.
On the last slide point: they have of course ensured that this issue has continued to drag on ever since.
I may produce a more detailed page on the FPA/FSF's efforts to delay the new match test, including their full slide presentation with my comments. In the meantime, please contact me if you require further information.
Update, September 2017:
I am speaking at at the forthcoming 'FIRE Congress' focussing on Grenfell Tower.
Details below from the website:
FIRE Congress: Out of the flames: a fire safe future after the tragedy of Grenfell
Date: 17 November 2017
Where: Caledonian Club, London
The summer issue of FIRE magazine provided a unique perspective on the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, offering an inside account of neglect from successive administrations. Some of the finest minds in UK fire prevention and protection offered their expertise and knowledge for this special Grenfell edition, but we want to go even further.
With these expert contributors forming the core speakers, our exclusive FIRE Congress: Out of the flames: a fire safe future after the tragedy of Grenfell will allow confidential, off-the-record and frank discussions about how an integral whole sector approach can lead to a fire safety environment. The Congress will include a mixture of formal presentations, interactive debate and panel discussions.
Programme09.30-10.00 Arrival and Registration
Session 1: Making Fire Safety Future Proof
10.00-10.00 Introduction - Andrew Lynch, Editor FIRE Magazine, Vice Chair, Fire Sector Federation
10.00-10.40 Keynote Address
10.40-11.10 National Fire Chiefs Council response - Stewart Edgar, Prevention lead NFCC; Mark Hardingham, Protection lead NFCC
11.10-11.40 Grenfell Tower: a tragedy waiting to happen? - Tony Prosser, FIRE Correspondent
11.40-12.00 Break for Tea and Coffee
12.20-13.00 Panel Discussion: Future Proofing Fire Safety - Including Brian Robinson, President, Fire Sector Federation
Session 2: Towards a Fire Safe Future
13.45-14.15 Combustible cladding and wider issues - Dave Sibert, Fire Safety Advisor, Fire Brigades Union
14.15-14.45 Ineffective and dangerous furniture flammability regulations - Terry Edge, former lead on Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations
14.45-15.00 Break for Tea and Coffee
15.00-15.30 Next steps for a fire safe future
15.30-16.10 Panel Discussion: Vision for a Fire Safe Future - Including Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council; Paul Fuller, Chair, Fire Sector Federation
16.10-16.20 Closing address - Andrew Lynch
Update, August 2017:
Fire Magazine's August/September 2017 edition focusses on the Grenfell Tower fire and contains my article on the ineffectiveness of the Furniture Regulations and the role that burning furniture played in the tragedy. You can read it here: 2017-08_fire_magazine_terry_edge.pdf.
GRENFELL TOWER FIRE
Burning furniture played a major role in the production of huge amounts of toxic fumes, including hydrogen cyanide, in the Grenfell Tower fire. This has been picked up only sporadically by the press so far. Cyanide from the burning cladding on the outside of the tower has been given more attention and has not been disputed. But burning furniture would have produced far more cyanide inside the tower.
As can be seen from this site, the UK's furniture regulations are ineffective, which means furniture burns quicker than it should do and when it does, releases cyanide in greater amounts than is necessary (if the regulations had been fixed in 2014 when the government first had the chance to do so).
Below are my reflections on a public meeting of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry team held on 25th July 2017. Below that is my email to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Below that are some emails between myself and Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. I will add other material in due course.
Update: as of 28 August Matt Wrack has not replied to let me know what the FBU has done about the serious situation I brought to their attention. He may or may not be aware that a senior FBU official played a large part in preventing the Furniture Regulations from being updated and made safe. This is the same official who told me that he didn't believe there was any problem with flame retardants. The flame retardant industry, of course, has provided hundreds of thousands of euros in funding to fire officials, in return for supporting their products. There is hard evidence of this in the public domain regarding fire officials who have retired from the fire service to run 'fire safety' organisations which heavily promote more flame retardants. That the flame retardant industry would approach and make offers to currently serving fire officials is of course speculation.
Grenfell Tower Inquiry, public meeting, "Terms of Reference", 25th July 2017
Walking to Notting Hill Methodist Church from Latimer Road tube station, two things strike me. The first is the stark contrast between the utilitarian blocks of flats and the pretty houses that run between and around them - mostly Victorian cottages painted in the tasteful colours of the middle-class. The average price of a three-bedroom terraced house in Treadgold Street, for example, is over two million pounds. I will see very few residents at the meeting later that strike me as having that sort of cash to spend on a home. London is of course a patchwork of poor areas rubbing shoulders with richer parts but I don't recall seeing them as intertwined as this before.
The second is when I turn a corner by the Leisure Centre and suddenly Grenfell Tower fills the sky. I've seen it countless times on TV but this is a huge shock. It looms like a blackened skeleton, gaping eye sockets and jaw cavities everywhere. The utter devastation it portrays is all the more shocking in contrast today with the surrounding intact buildings, and the children playing happily outside the centre.
Some believe the fire was created deliberately, to free up land for the rich. If so, it's deeply disturbing to consider that the arsonists might look at this massive corpse without feeling any empathy for the many deaths they caused, of the most painful and pointless kind.
By the time the meeting begins, the large room on the second floor of the church is full with around two hundred people. Immediately, and throughout, there is a stark contrast between the five Inquiry team members sitting in a line at the front and the public facing them.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the Chair, is tall and white with grey hair, supported by a team of lawyers, also clearly formerly educated, mostly white, just one who looks partly Asian. By contrast, the public covers a wide spectrum, with a minority of whites. And while the team is dressed formally, everyone else is mostly dressed in their normal attire which is also covers a huge range of expression.
Sir Martin and his team introduce themselves, very briefly it has to be said. Sir Martin is also brief in his introduction of what this meeting is about. One of the residents will later point this out, that the team have not told us where they personally stand about the disaster, only giving predictable statements about getting to the bottom of what happened.
This is one of several key demarcation points that the careful, well-educated, team clearly miss. There is of course the reasonable view that an inquiry team should not be driven by emotion; just the facts. However, that doesn't prevent them from, for example, speaking from their own deep-felt drive to see justice prevail. But we don't hear anything like that from any of them.
Another key demarcation point occurs early on, when Sir Martin promises to 'consider' one of the issues that a resident raises. He is immediately picked up on this by residents, pointing out that he needs to 'investigate' not just consider. Sir Robert claims he means the same thing. But I think this is a subconscious slip on his part, that the residents were too wise to miss. I know from my civil servant days just how useful the word 'consider' is, especially to Ministers. They love to tell correspondents that they will 'consider' their problem, because of course that means they don't actually have to do anything about it.
Many residents point out the lack of residents' representation on the Inquiry team, that and the obvious gulf between the demographic of the team and the residents. Every time this subject is raised, the team nods thoughtfully but never once offers any solution. At one point, as a particularly well-informed and articulate resident is speaking, it occurs to me that Sir Martin could gain a massive amount of credence if he invited her to join the team on the spot. But then almost immediately I realise that the fact he won't is actually the point, i.e. they really do not want residents on the team.
Some residents speak off the point; others are very accusatory; many are articulate, passionate, and well-informed.
One woman speaks very clearly and powerfully about the 'criminal ring' behind the fire. She says she has been researching this subject for 40 years. She has, for example, discovered that Kensington Council changed its insurer for the Tower three months before the fire, the new cover to include a huge payout for 'casualties'. She also talks about Agenda 21, the elite's plans for population reduction, the Georgia Guidestones and a lot more. I find the audiences' reactions to this very interesting.
Now, if this was a well-educated, middle-class audience she would no doubt be ridiculed for giving credence to 'conspiracy theories'. This response perhaps displaying the somewhat black and white thinking that tends to develop from a more formal, not to say establishment-approved, education. By contrast, only one person in the hall shouts out about conspiracy theories, most of the others applauding her or make supporting noises. I don't think for a minute this means everyone agrees with everything she has said. However, it possibly displays a less black-and-white approach, in that they can at least support her commitment to uncovering the truth (at great personal cost, by the sound of things) and its anti-establishment core.
Another thread of discontent that is incredibly frustrating for the residents is to see plainly that what Sir Martin is saying in effect is that the Inquiry doesn't have any powers to prosecute; can't raise criminal proceedings; probably won't be interviewing those who are perhaps most responsible for safety cuts (like David Cameron, as one resident suggests); can't give a deadline or say where the inquiry will go. He confirms one resident's research that there has never been a prosecution for corporate manslaughter - let alone corporate murder which is what many consider is the case with Grenfell.
Someone says that all they're going to produce, therefore, is another report that will sit on a shelf gathering dust with all the other reports.
The subject of cyanide poisoning is raised a few times, but only in connection with the outside cladding. This reminds me that there is still some way to go before it will be fully recognised that in fact the largest source of cyanide in the tower was burning sofas and mattresses. But that can wait for another day. This meeting is for the residents to push, once again, for a fair and open inquiry into an event that has ended a large number of lives - the final count still not provided by the authorities, as many residents point out tonight - and had a devastating effect on the lives of many more.
This morning I had a long chat with one of the lawyers of BME Lawyers 4 Grenfell, who suggested I attend the meeting. The following day, they sent an excellent letter to Sir Martin, which points to possible breaches of the Equality Act regarding the non-diverse composition of the Inquiry team; includes a list of suggested experts for the Advisory Panel; and recommends Terms of Reference which are much more in keeping with residents' needs than what has so far been suggested by Sir Martin.
The letter states:
"The community will not be patronised and seeks answers, through us as well as others. We therefore raise the following questions to which answers are sought, whether directly from you or others:
1. Please outline the criteria that was deemed necessary for the post of Chair of this Inquiry;
2. Please outline the criteria that was deemed necessary for the posts of members of the Inquiry Team and its Secretariat;
3. Please outline the process by which you were selected;
4. Please outline the process by which the legal members of your Inquiry Team were selected;
5. Please outline the process by which member of Secretariat to the Inquiry Team were selected;
6. If an open and fair system of selection, such as open advertising of any of the posts were not undertaken, please explain why it was felt that there should be no consultation or competition"
All of which sounds perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, for me the tenor of the Inquiry team tonight has been one of overall patronisation - not consciously, of course. But shown via the complete absence of natural and heartfelt reaction to the requests being put to them, requests born out of sheer pain of loss and a desperate need for answers. Instead, there has been little other than professional and well-practiced looks of 'concern' and 'patience'.
My email to the Inquiry
----- Original Message -----
From: Terry Edge
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2017 5:53 PM
Subject: Contribution of faulty furniture flammability Regulations
A very important issue that I believe the Inquiry needs to look into is the contribution made to the Grenfell Tower fire by the fact that the UK's Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (FFRs) are faulty and largely ineffective. The government has known about this for at least three years. Indeed, in 2014 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now BEIS) proposed measures that would make the Regulations fire-safe. But these changes are being blocked by industry for costs reasons.
The hundreds of sofas and mattresses in the Tower would have released hydrogen cyanide in large amounts upon ignition, as a result of the flame retardant chemicals used to meet the requirements of the FFRs, and burned more quickly due to the faults with the FFRs.
Professor Richard Hull - who has been appearing regularly in the media, talking about the Grenfell Tower cladding - will soon be publishing the results of his research into the burning properties of furniture. He has already summarised this work at a recent conference on flame retardants by stating that a UK sofa treated with flame retardant chemicals (as is normal) is actually more dangerous than an EU sofa that hasn't been treated. This is because any additional escape time provided by flame retardants is easily outweighed by the effects of the toxic fumes they give off very soon after a sofa catches fire.
The first confirmed reports of cyanide poisoning in Tower victims are just appearing the press. The media is reporting that there were internal sources of cyanide, such as plastics and insulation. However, the largest source would have been sofas and mattresses.
I would welcome the chance to discuss this further with you.