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.