NEW SCIENCE ADVISORY GROUP TO LOOK INTO GOVERNMENT FAILINGS - SET UP BY GOVERNMENT
On 30th November, MHCLG announced it has set up a Science Advisory Group to review "potential environmental contamination in the vicinity of Grenfell and North Kensington":
The 'Overview' states:
"The Science Advisory Group (SAG) for the review of potential environmental contamination in the vicinity of Grenfell and North Kensington is chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. It covers both science and public health issues. It is constituted on a time-limited basis to provide science advice related to this review only. Its membership consists of subject experts independent of Her Majesty's Government. Its remit, membership and advice shall be publicly available. The chair will report to the Grenfell Ministerial Recovery Group."
Where the SAG is concerned, let's just remind ourselves of why it was set up, reluctantly and late (no mention of that by MHCLG of course). Information was leaked to the press about findings by a toxicologist, that soil around Grenfell Tower contained very high levels of hydrogen cyanide. Survivors and residents were understandably very concerned about this, especially since the Council and the government had said virtually nothing about this up to that point. A meeting was arranged on 29th October at which several hundred residents unanimously made it clear they wanted answers to how much they've been poisoned by the fire and its toxic aftermath.
In short, it has taken the government 17 months to set up a group to look into contamination from the Grenfell Tower fire. This despite the fact that every large fire has always produced contamination on a massive scale. This despite the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Public Health England declaring that there's no need to check for contamination because if any exists it will be at a 'low' level.
Right from the start, let's note that this group has been set-up with precisely no input from Grenfell survivors or residents. And, once again, all requests to have a representative sit on the board have been ignored.
Let's take a side-bar here. I wrote to the Inquiry, Dame Judith Hackitt and the Independent Experts panel about this very issue, and how burning furniture would have contributed large amounts of toxins to the fire. None of them replied. MHCLG administers these groups so I phoned the civil servant concerned, in this case to ask why the Hackitt Review had taken no interest at all in the failing Furniture Regulations and the large amounts of hydrogen cyanide they contributed to the fire. We had the classic circular conversation that civil servants are so good at which, essentially, began with him telling me that the Review had noted my points and will consider them if they believe it's important; then I point out why it's important, along with the small matter of facts and evidence, then he goes back to saying yes, we will consider it if . . . Later at an event I happen to bump into the senior MHCLG civil servant behind the Hackitt Review and ask him the same question. First, he says fire safety legislation was not in the Review's remit. I point out that it was, had been published as such by his own department; to which he says, "Ah, but we're now taking a broader view."
The wording in the Overview above demonstrates that as usual an assumption has been made by the establishment on our behalf, that anything the government does will automatically be in our best interests. But hang on a minute - isn't MHCLG one of the prime suspects regarding the Grenfell fire? Aren't they responsible for the building regulations which failed? Aren't they responsible for introducing the Fire Safety Order which hugely weakened the fire safety assessment procedures?
Yet they say, "[SAG's] membership consists of subject experts independent of Her Majesty's Government." Er, but Her Majesty's Government have appointed these people! It goes on to say, "Its remit, membership and advice shall be publicly available." This to me shows how civil servants have become almost arrogant with their sleight-of-hand statements; either that or they just think we're too thick to see through them. Yes, MHCLG, you're going to make the remit, membership and advice publicly available, but you haven't let the public have anything to do with the appointments and remit in the first place. Which is the bit that counts, obviously.
This is rather like the Mafia appointing its own judge, jury and terms of engagement. Sorry, that's a facile comparison because, as we all know, our government never works in its own self-interest.
One reason the establishment gets away with this kind of thing is because most people only see one or two examples, in the area they happen to know about. But in fact, it's a very common practice across the board of government and business interaction. The Inquiry itself is another example: the Chair is appointed and terms of reference established without any input at all from the victims of the fire. The government will or should be in the dock over Grenfell since they're responsible for weakening safety regulations which one way or another caused the fire. Yet the government appoints the Chair and everyone is supposed to believe their choice is made purely in the public interest.
On my blog page soon I'll discuss another specific example of how the government keeps putting business interests ahead of the public's.
Email Exchange with the Leader of the Council, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Extract from an email dated 31 October 2018:
“With regard to your address at the council meeting [17 October 2018], I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to come and speak at the meeting; I was very moved by your words. I was also sorry to hear of your concerns about the Public Inquiry and hope that they will respond positively to your letters. At the council meeting you were joined in the chamber by [ ], [ ] and Terry Edge, and with your permission I would like to share this email with them. Alternatively, could you please pass it on to them as I would also like to thank them for attending. Terry specifically spoke about furniture safety regulations: these regulations are set by central Government, and I hope Terry will make his concerns known to them. It will also be for the Public Inquiry to consider whether to include this in the scope of their work.”
Cllr Elizabeth Campbell
Leader of the Council The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea The Town Hall, Hornton Street, London W8 7NX
My commentary on this email:
The Council webcasts all its meetings. However, this particular meeting for 17 October 2018 (around 3 hours in total) has a missing section; to quote:
“Webcast of the Council meeting. we apologise that there is a gap in the footage of approximately 45mins, this was owing to a technical issue.”
This ‘gap’ just happens to include the section where three of us spoke about toxicity in the Grenfell fire, including a comment passed on by me from a leading toxicologist, that Public Health England is operating a ‘cover up’. I also raised the issue of the failing furniture regulations and the massive part they played in the fire.
In her email, Ms Campbell mentions that I talked about the furniture safety regulations but fails to include the fact that I’d said the government proved they don’t work. She then says these regulations are the responsibility of central government and that she hopes I’ve made my concerns known to them.
Let’s be clear about this: she’s essentially saying that she doesn’t want to know about the fire safety regulations that played a huge role in the fire that killed 72 of her constituents and poisoned thousands more. She’s leaving it to the government. Apart from anything else, you would expect a concerned Leader to have asked around about this issue; perhaps even checked my website – enough to want to at least investigate further. And if she had done so, she would of course be alarmed to discover that the government is sitting on this issue, leaving her people to be poisoned in their beds, literally.
Ms Campbell attended the meeting of hundreds of concerned residents on 29 October where a panel of experts and the Council’s CEO were meant to answer questions about the toxicity of the fire. They didn’t of course. She would have once again heard me raise the issue of the vast amounts of hydrogen cyanide and brominated dioxins created by flame retardants catching light in furniture and other products. She would have heard other residents also raise the question of poisoning from PBDEs and hydrogen cyanide. She would have – once again – heard large numbers of her constituents detailing the many illnesses they’ve been suffering from the fire.
But instead she passes off any remaining responsibility on her part to the Public Inquiry, stating that it’s up to them to consider whether to include the issue of the furniture regulations in the scope of their work. Well, I’m pretty sure she’s already discovered that the Inquiry so far as been dodging the issue of furniture and toxicity; therefore, she’s pretty safe in making this suggestion.
Again, let’s be clear: Ms Campbell knows that failed safety legislation added considerably to the most toxic domestic fire in UK history that happened on her patch. Her reaction is to in effect state, “Nothing to do with me, mate.”
This, unfortunately, is standard practice for officials these days. While they’re expressing their concerns over a serious illness one of their citizens has incurred since the fire, they’re ensuring that they get out with nothing on their to do list and crucially with no liability acknowledged. Here’s what she said at the start of her email:
“I am very sorry to hear that you have been admitted to hospital and I hope you are receiving the care and support you need.”
Which may or may not be a genuine expression of sympathy. What is genuine, of course, is the complete lack of any intention to get to the bottom of what caused the illness in the first place (passing that off, once again, to the Inquiry). “I hope . . . “ is not what you need to hear from the Leader of your Council but it’s a statement that lawyers can live with.
Below is my email to Ms Campbell (no reply so far, as of 19 November).
Email dated 2 November 2018:
Thank you for asking [ ] to copy me in to your email to her.
You raise the issue of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 and I would like to provide you with further information about them, especially since they played such a large part in causing deaths in Grenfell Tower, damaging the health of survivors and nearby residents, and are currently damaging the health of every citizen in your borough, as well as maintaining a future toxic fire risk to all your tower blocks, with or without external cladding.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) proved in 2014 that these regulations mostly do not work; that they do not in fact prevent furniture from catching fire. However, the chemical industry and other businesses succeeded in delaying the safety changes the Department had proposed. In 2016, under pressure from the press and green/cancer prevention groups, BEIS went out to consultation again, once more confirming that the regulations do not work and proposing the same safety solution as before. They have yet to even respond to this consultation, however, let alone put the safety changes in place.
Meanwhile, not only are UK sofas, mattresses and child furniture unsafe from fire, they are also highly toxic. This is because very large amounts of flame retardant chemicals are used to meet the requirements of the Regulations (even though they do not work). I was dismayed, therefore, to hear Barry Quirk at Monday’s meeting claim that you have no evidence of hydrogen cyanide sources in the Grenfell fire. It is well known that when flame retardants burn, they produce large volumes of hydrogen cyanide. Anna Stec has confirmed this in at least two ways: by her findings in Grenfell soil samples and via her paper published in Chemosphere in December 2017 (which I contributed to). This paper was based on extensive testing work that revealed how UK sofas/mattresses produce high levels of toxic fumes, including CO2 and hydrogen cyanide, very soon after igniting. I also had two meetings with Barry last year at which I fully explained to him the situation with burning furniture and how it will have produced high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the Grenfell Tower.
I have of course made my concerns know to BEIS, as have plenty of others; however, the government remains unable to act, for whatever reason. The All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue group has been urging BEIS to bring in the safety changes. Ronnie King of the APPG, recently informed the BEIS Minister, Lord Henley, that UK fire chiefs believe that the toxic nature of UK furniture (because of the Regulations) is a more important issue than any fire safety they are supposed to provide. Their concern extends not just to citizens but also to firefighters who are realising they suffer higher levels of cancer than normal, almost certainly due to their exposure to toxic fire fumes on a continual basis. It may interest you to learn that Anna Stec has just taken up a commission to investigate cancers in UK firefighters.
Lady Mar, along with Cancer Prevention UK and myself, is also currently pressing BEIS to put right these Regulations. Lady Mar has a personal interest in flame retardants. While working as a farmer, she accidently trod in sheep dip containing organo-phosphate flame retardants. As a result she became very ill. Organo-phosphates were later banned from agricultural products like sheep dip because they’re so toxic. Lady Mar, therefore, was horrified to discover that the same chemicals are used in UK mattresses and sofas, including children’s.
Given that the failing furniture regulations played a large part in the deaths and subsequent illnesses of residents in Grenfell Tower, and that they continue to represent a serious health and fire risk to everyone in your borough, I am sure you will want to press BEIS personally to put them right. I would be very happy to brief you for any meetings you may arrange either with the BEIS Minister or their officials or both, and attend with you should that be helpful. I’m sure that Grenfell residents’ representatives would also be happy to attend. At the very least, I’m sure you will want to discover if BEIS has any answers or solutions to a situation that has put every household in your borough and the rest of the country at risk.
I appreciate that much of this information may be new to you. I would be very happy therefore to meet with you and other members of the Council to bring you up to speed. Although I retired in 2016 from BEIS, I believe that I am still the country’s leading expert on the furniture regulations and therefore will be able to answer any questions you may have about them.
Well, perhaps not surprisingly, there was no reply from Ms Campbell. So on 27 November, I sent her this email:
This email is for the record and possible future evidence. It notes that you have taken the deliberate move of not responding to the offer to discuss one of the major contributors to the Grenfell Tower fire. This therefore represents a confirmation that you have decided that you do not want to know; that you are not going to do anything about it; not even to receive more information. You have taken the coward’s way out in not responding instead of having the decency to at least be honest about your position.
Both you and Theresa May have vowed to “leave no stone unturned” regarding the Grenfell Tower fire. Well, here’s a massive boulder that you are simply pretending doesn’t exist.
All of which means, of course, that your expressions of sympathy towards the relatives of those who died and to those who are suffering a wide range of illnesses because of the toxicity of the fire are nothing more than PR tokens offered purely in order to protect your position.
The biggest shame in this, however, is that you had the chance to actually do something but chose not to.
MEETING TO DISCUSS TOXICITY OF THE GRENFELL FIRE, HILTON HOTEL, KENSINGTON, 29 OCTOBER 2018 – PART TWO – THE THREE Ps: PENSIONS AND PROFITS BEFORE PEOPLE
Watching the panel perform was like being back in the civil service. The only mystery – and it’s not a particularly important one – was how much of their avoidance of responsibility was conscious or simply mechanical?
The day before the meeting, I had a long conversation with a civil servant friend. He’s an expert in his field, has chaired international events and written papers, well known for his knowledge and insight. But he told me he’s probably going to retire early, simply because he’s fed up with how the civil service has gone. His department has no plans to replace his expertise or even to capture his knowledge. This is by no means unusual. I was an expert on the UK’s furniture flammability regulations but when I left two years or so ago, I was replaced by someone who recently revealed she does not even know that these regulations are based on British Standards.
My friend summed it up: he said, there are still some good people in the civil service but they’re swamped by others who don’t care and who don’t want to do any work or take any responsibility, being managed by senior civil servants obsessed with what they call “higher priorities” that when looked at closely appear to be little more than attending a never-ending string of internal meetings. And looming over them all is the leaden need to preserve one’s pension at all costs.
When you put pension-preservers in charge of public safety regulations which, if improved will cost a lot of money, then you get the depressing spectacle of a panel of people tasked with answering sick people’s worries about just how ill they might be, doing nothing other than stonewalling, lying, claiming ignorance and generally offering nothing positive at all.
And so it was a textbook example of how to ‘deal’ with around 500 people who are genuinely, with good reason, worried that they may have serious illnesses that could lead to a disabled future and/or a shortened life. Here are just a few examples of the techniques of avoidance displayed by the panel.
The panel were informed by several of the audience that many if not all survivors/residents of the Grenfell fire have illnesses, many serious – including the almost ubiquitous ‘Grenfell cough’. I’ve seen this myself: I attended two meetings of residents recently and at both of them everyone present reported symptoms of illnesses that correspond strongly with the kinds of toxins and dioxins that are created from large fires.
Public Health England Regional Director Yvonne Doyle responded to this by saying that there would have been pre-existing health conditions which under stress [the fire] could become worse. In other words: it’s all in your own heads and it’s all your own fault. The audience was not impressed with this and made their feelings known, not that it had any effect on Ms Doyle. She maintained this view throughout along with another shared by the rest of the panel: to the many people who in different ways asked why no soil samples have been taken and analysed, the answer was because there was nothing to look for; that any contamination was ‘low’ and/or part of the usual historical contamination of London soil
This view was of course completely contradicted by two statements made by the panel itself:
1. That they have spoken to Anna Stec and will be working with her but – and here came the arse-covering qualification – Anna Stec has failed to provide them with her data, so what can they do? This by the way is classic false conflation by officials. Yes, they have spoken to Anna Stec but if you read the handout provided at the meeting it states, “. . . met Anna Stec earlier this year” (my emphasis). In other words, they knew back in February, as reported in the press, that Stec had found high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the Grenfell soil. The obvious question being: why have they done nothing since? Barry Quirk, CEO of RBKC, actually stated that they were unaware of any sources of hydrogen cyanide in the fire, which is another convoluted lie because, a) Stec has found lots of it which apparently has led to the council/government finally agreeing to take soil samples, b) he should know from even a casual internet search that the tower was stuffed full of furniture, carpets, bedding etc packed with flame retardants that produce high levels of hydrogen cyanide when they burn. He could have learned this easily enough from many sources, including Stec’s own paper published in Chemosphere in December 2017 and c) more to the point, I had two lengthy meetings with Quirk earlier this year at which I fully informed him of the large amounts of hydrogen cyanide that the fire produced.
2. The fact, as said, that MHCLG has just announced that it has commissioned the Environment Agency to undertake an analysis of Grenfell soil. Why do this if it isn’t necessary. Was anyone from the Environment Agency present at this meeting? Of course not because that would remove the option – frequently taken by the panel – of being able to say “Don’t know”, “The Environment Agency needs to set up its programme” etc, whenever anyone asked when this was going to take place and how long it will take. Another variant on this – often employed by the civil service – is to appoint new people (in this case Paul Nathanail and Dr Rupert Lewis) who can then say, “I’m new; don’t know anything yet.”
Still on Yvonne Doyle: there was a very telling moment when someone asked the panel a question about the presence of PBDEs in the tower. Doyle was seen turning to ask the person to her right, “What’s a PBDE?” This was noted by many and rightly so. Let’s be clear about this: here’s the ‘expert’ who’s continually been informing everyone present that any toxic risk is low, yet she doesn’t even know about what would have been a massive source of toxins in the fire. PBDEs are in effect brominated flame retardant chemicals. They are regularly banned or heavily restricted because they are potentially very damaging to human health and are persistent in the environment.
Here is some headline information about PBDEs from the Canadian government’s website:
· PBDEs are human-made chemicals used in flame-retardants. They do not occur naturally.
· Burning household goods releases PBDEs into the atmosphere.
· PBDEs accumulate in the food chain, biomagnify and are persistent.
· PBDEs have been found in Arctic mammals.
· Despite a European ban on PBDEs, in 1998 there were 40 times more PBDEs in the
environment of Sweden than there had been in 1972.
· North American women have PBDE levels 40 times greater than concentrations found in
· Canada banned the use of the most toxic PBDE compound (penta-PBDE) in 2005.
· Scientists warn environmental contamination by PBDEs is doubling every five years.
· PBDEs are monitored in the Yukon and are below Health Canada guidelines.
Note the second bullet point. UK homes have the highest levels of flame retardant chemicals in the world, largely because of our furniture flammability regulations – which, as has been detailed on this site – our own government has proved do not even work! When furniture/carpets/bedding etc burn they ‘release PBDEs into the atmosphere’. This means that the Grenfell fire would have been the most toxic domestic fire in UK history. But it’s okay, according to Doyle their air monitors found nothing in the Grenfell air other than a couple of asbestos fibres. How strange – where did all those dioxins go? Eventually (and after similar denials of toxins by the US’s Environmental Protection Agency), it was established that very high levels of brominated dioxins were produced by the Twin Towers diaster – to date, around 37,000 people have been diagnosed with serious illnesses, including respiratory problems, digestive conditions and cancers, or all of them. But according to Doyle none of this happened at Grenfell so everyone’s okay. What’s a PBDE again?
The UK is signed up to the Stockholm Convention which recently banned several flame retardants which exist in most if not all UK upholstered furniture, yet Defra has done nothing, either to ban such furniture or at least to warn the public. When the Defra civil servants responsible were questioned about this recently, their first reaction was to say that we don’t know what chemicals are in furniture and it’s only small amounts anyway. When the questioner assured them that we do know what chemicals are in furniture and we know they’re present in large amounts, their second response was to say that if the UK public became aware of this, they might panic and dump their sofas and mattresses, thereby adding those chemicals to the environment.
The question I put to the panel was prefaced by informing them that the tower was full of large volumes of flame retardant chemicals which when burn turn into brominated dioxins, which are very toxic. Dioxins in a fire also form a unique ‘fingerprint’, which means they need to be tested in order to have something to compare against. I also said that they need to test air, water, soil, debris and blood. Remarkably perhaps, Paul Nathanail, the independent soil expert (although I discovered later that his company has done quite a bit of paid work for the Environment Agency – which doesn’t sound too independent, considering he’s presumably going to be commenting on their work on Grenfell soil) said that they will test for brominated dioxins. However, he qualified this with the usual circular argument in saying that they will only test blood, say, if there is something there to test for. I’m not kidding: this was a common response from the panel: there isn’t anything to test for, which is why we haven’t tested, but if there is, then we’ll test.
Plenty more to say but I’ll leave it here for now.
MEETING TO DISCUSS TOXICITY OF THE GRENFELL FIRE, HILTON HOTEL, KENSINGTON, 29 OCTOBER 2018 – PART ONE
At the meeting last night, I spoke about the cover-up in operation over the Grenfell fire and related issues. Because there were so many people present, there was not much time to frame our questions, and I thought it might be useful to fill out mine a little more.
1. I am the country’s leading expert on the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 but was forced out of the job in 2016 for bringing a whistle-blowing case against the government. In short, the government itself had proven in 2014 that these regulations do not work and are not therefore protecting us from fire.
2. The Grenfell Tower fire was the most toxic domestic fire in UK history. Here’s why.
3. Current UK homes contain the highest levels of flame retardant chemicals in the world. These chemicals are highly toxic and leach out of products into house dust, then into us, e.g. UK human breast milk contains the highest levels of flame retardants (including the brominated variety) in the world. The two main sources of flame retardants in our home are: a) the requirements of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations – leading to around 30-50 kgs per household; but these do not work! b) items such as bedding, curtains, carpets – even though there are no flammability requirements for them (the flame retardant industry works closely with the insurance industry to badger producers into using flame retardants to avoid being sued in case of fire).
4. When these chemicals burn they are very toxic indeed, producing very high levels of toxic fumes such at hydrogen cyanide. One of the panellists last night stated that hydrogen cyanide levels were very low in the fire. That is a lie, e.g. Anna Stec’s early findings (quoted in the press) were that she found high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the soil.
5. Brominated flame retardants produce brominated dioxins when they burn. Dioxins are damaging to health, e.g. they are endocrine disrupters and probably carcinogenic. Very high levels of brominated dioxins were discovered around the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster (which did not by the way stem from cement powder as claimed by Public Health England last night). There are around 37,000 people so far found to have serious health issues resulting from 9/11, numbers still rising.
6. It’s necessary to test for dioxins/brominated dioxins since these will produce the unique ‘fingerprint’ of the Grenfell fire – which other testing will not necessarily provide. That fingerprint can then be used to compare with similar London tower block situations, say, that did not suffer a fire. Without this, the danger is that any government-sponsored analysis of soil/air, etc, will conclude that contamination is ‘historical’, ‘normal’, and so on.
7. Testing for dioxins should cover: air, soil, debris, water and blood.
8. So the cover-up, essentially, is over the fact that this fire was more toxic than it needed to be, because of the very high levels of flame retardants in our homes that aren’t even necessary. The government – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – has failed to put right the Furniture Regulations with the result that everyone in the country is being literally poisoned while they sleep, children particularly vulnerable. Industry has known this for at least 4 years but continues to profit from flame retardants. No other country in the world insists on its people breathing in high levels of flame retardant dust on a daily basis and suffering highly toxic fumes in fires. California, for example, has just banned all flame retardants from all furniture. The rest of the EU does not allow them in furniture. If the full truth of this gets out, the government could be sued on multiple fronts and industry will lose billions.
7th September 2018
THE ESTABLISHMENT IS PROBABLY WINNING
The following is based on my view of how the Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire is proceeding. It is far from exhaustive but may have some unique or less common touch-points to give anyone with an open mind a perhaps different perspective. It has been built up partly from a year’s experience working with the Grenfell Fire Forum, a group of independent experts. We have been invited to many meetings with various industry and public safety groups. We’ve appeared many times on the television and radio, usually presenting alternative views to the mainstream. We also have close working relationships with three of the Grenfell survivors’ groups. However, we have been totally ignored by the Inquiry establishment.
Personally, I have also been through four years of fighting the establishment over the issue of the failing furniture fire safety regulations. This included undertaking a Civil Service Code complaint and a whistle-blowing case against the government department I worked for. This experience has given me a pretty good insight into how the establishment in this country controls outcomes under the guise of ‘democracy’.
With my whistle-blowing case, for example, what happened was this: my own department (which in effect the case was against) appointed the case officer. They told me she was neutral, independent, not a member of the department and so on. But the fact is, they appointed her. And as the case progressed it became very clear to me that she was never going to work against the senior managers in her department and mine who had appointed her in the first place. In short, she was part of the same establishment that they were. Sounds familiar? Well, of course Theresa May appointed Sir Martin Moore-Bick as Chair of the Grenfell Inquiry, insisting that he was neutral, independent, etc. Then, Moor-Bick did exactly the same thing that my case officer did: established limiting terms of reference.
Now, from a distance, it might seem obvious that I should have protested, and similarly so the Grenfell survivors. Well, actually, in both cases we did. However, at the start of a case/Inquiry, you are still inclined to believe that you will receive a fair hearing and you don’t want to show too much ill-will by protesting what on the surface seems to be reasonable actions by the authorities. And in the case of Grenfell, residents of course also were dealing with huge degrees of grief, confusion, lack of basic needs such as a roof over their heads and so forth.
After I saw the familiar pattern established at the start of the Grenfell Inquiry, I suspected that subsequent patterns would also appear. For example, my whistle-blowing case officer (and Civil Service Code officer) spent a long period ‘interviewing’ people. I use inverted commas because when I finally saw the interview transcripts, it was clear that all she’d done was record their responses to her generally vague questions. Never once did she challenge them, even when I’d already provided her with testimony and evidence that contradicted much of what they said. Now, it seems to me that the same so far has gone on with the Grenfell Inquiry: months of the Inquiry solicitor pretty much just asking people questions and recording the answers. No one yet has been challenged in any significant way. But the establishment can point to the daily videocasts, the working groups and the public meetings as ample evidence that “something is being done”.
Then there is the subtle (and not so subtle) omission and ignoring of witnesses who may raise awkward questions, counter to the mainstream narrative (I’ll come back to narrative later). In my whistle-blowing case, despite my constant requests, the case officer did not ever interview anyone working outside of the department. There were dozens of people in industry, the enforcement authorities, fire services, etc, who, if interviewed would almost certainly have supported at least some of my claims. Solution? Don’t interview them. When challenged on this, the reply invariably was that we didn’t feel we needed to. Same as the Grenfell Inquiry? Well, anyone reading this blog will know that every member of the Grenfell Fire Forum has been ignored, e.g. as Core Participants to the Inquiry, from all of Dame Judith Hackitt’s working groups; and our evidence has similarly been completely ignored, e.g. by the so-called independent panel of experts to the Grenfell Inquiry.
Another, more subtle but very influential, control mechanism of the establishment is to control the narrative. They are very aware that whoever gets in first their story of an event, controls people’s perceptions of it. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about how the flame retardant industry and its supporters – in government, the fire services, universities and related industries – on the very day Grenfell tower was burning, established the narrative that the fire was all about cladding and not about furniture. So much so, that a year later when our Forum was being interviewed on LBC radio and I was asked about my area of concern, and I talked about the important role burning furniture played in the fire, the host said, “I’ve never heard of that.”
With my whistle-blowing case, the narrative was this: the Minister received two sets of advice/information and chose one over yours. This cleverly blames the Minister, of course, who was not present to defend herself but it also ignores a crucial point: given that the two sets of advice presented to her were in direct opposition, then clearly one or both sets were wrong. But the narrative implies they were both right; she just happened to choose A over B. The truth was that I had provided all the evidence to show that my advice was correct. The others had had to do nothing other than set out their opinions which were then recorded, unchallenged, as alternative ‘facts’.
My case was scheduled to take 40 working days. In the event, it took over eight months, and even then was only concluded because the Sunday Times came knocking on the department’s door. This stretching out of things is deliberate. The establishment knows that the longer you take over something, the more that people’s attention and patience fade. This is clearly happening now over Grenfell with articles, videocasts and so forth from observers stating they are sick of hearing about it. I’ve been told that the government might be about to cut funding to some or many of the survivors’ solicitors – a move that will seem reasonable of course to all those who think it’s being going on too long and at the taxpayers’ expense.
We heard last week that the survivors have only been shown 7% of the material the Inquiry has amassed. To summarise around this point: the government stated at the time that no stone would go unturned in getting to the truth about the Grenfell fire but so far, the survivors have been all but excluded from proceedings and fed only scraps of information. In the meantime, absolutely no actions have been taken either to provide the truth of what happened or to punish those responsible. Indeed, much of the truth of what happened is being suppressed – perhaps the greatest example being that which actually killed most of the victims: toxic smoke.
So, the establishment is in charge, pretty much, at least for now. This is the same establishment – in the form of the government and the local authority – that did absolutely nothing to help the victims for many days after the fire. It was the residents and the wider community who rushed to help and who organised food, shelter and clothing for the victims. Yet it is the establishment that set up the Inquiry and is running it!
I was speaking to a Grenfell survivor the other day and we agreed that what should have happened was that right at the start the survivors and local residents told the government that theywere setting up the Inquiry; then those responsible for the fire would be summoned and required to provide answers. Of course, it’s entirely understandable why this didn’t happen. Unfortunately, however, these cases are never as balanced as you’re led to believe; in truth, it’s either/or – either the people are in control or the establishment is, and the establishment rarely ever works in favour of the people.
The Inquiry has just started up again, after the summer break. My feeling is that this secondary stage will be decisive. From the establishment’s point of view, they’ll be hoping to maintain the illusion that something is being done while the wider world, and perhaps even some of the residents, lose interest or give up on the truth ever emerging. Which means this is the phase when those who are determined to see the truth revealed, and those responsible to be punished, summon up that long-term determination, courage and attitude of “We’re not taking this crap any longer” which will be necessary to succeed. I’m still optimistic.
31st July 2018
The Grenfell Fire Forum's response to the Dame Judith Hackitt review's final report (published in May 2018) can be accessed here.
The Review makes no mention at all of toxic smoke. The Forum finds this omission very disappointing, especially since around 80% of all fire deaths are from smoke inhalation and evidence suggests that much of the smoke in the Grenfell fire was toxic, e.g. contained large volumes of hydrogen cyanide; and that crucially much of this smoke was due to faulty fire safety legislation.
The Forum is also concerned that the Review fails to mention fire-stopping (other than as a vague recommendation that it says should be the residents’ responsibility). The poor fire-stopping measures in Grenfell Tower would have allowed toxic smoke – which can be odourless and colourless – to travel around the building, killing without warning.
In short, the Forum finds the Review to be totally remiss in failing to even mention that many deaths in the fire were caused by the combination of furniture that produced large volumes of toxic smoke and inadequate fire-stopping measures. This fact, of course, places the fire brigade’s “Stay Put” advice under serious question.
19th July 2018
On 15th May, BEIS issued this press release:
The Office of Product Safety and Standards (part of BEIS) was given the task of investigating the fridge-freezer type that is alleged to have started the Grenfell Tower fire, to see if a recall was necessary. The press release states:
“The investigation into the fridge freezer Hotpoint FF175B model identified by the Metropolitan Police as being involved in the Grenfell Tower fire has confirmed there is no need for a product recall or any other corrective action, and that consumers can continue using the product as normal.”
However, they give no specific details of this “investigation”.
On 20thMay, a leading fire safety organisation wrote to BEIS/OPSS, asking:
“ . . . it would be useful to learn the names and positions held by those forming the expert technical panel, and what specific factors convinced them that despite 72 people having died as a consequence of this fire, the product remains safe to use?”
BEIS/OPSS has not replied.
It could just be that underpinning this investigation is BEIS/OPSS’s need to keep attention off products that caught fire in Grenfell Tower, given that they are responsible for the fact that furniture is more flammable and more toxic than it should be.
Below is an FOI request sent to BEIS on 19th July 2018. It may well be, of course, that they will come straight back with the details asked for and their failure to reply to the fire sector’s request was just an oversight. We’ll see.
Dear Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,
Regarding your press release of 15 May 2018, "Independent investigation finds no further action required on fridge freezer model":
a) Who are the "independent technical experts" BEIS commissioned to examine the unit?
b) When did they meet to examine the unit?
c) Where is the documented evidence of their findings?
Terry Edge for the Grenfell Fire Forum
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 MHCLG 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 MDLC 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.
Two of the Grenfell Fire Forum attended an event at the Royal Institute of British Architects to discuss relevant issue around the Grenfell fire. One of us 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.