‘Stay put’ advice at Grenfell ‘may have made difference between life and death’

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Advice to residents to “stay put” during the Grenfell Tower fire may have made “all the difference between life and death”, the public inquiry heard, amid a catalogue of fire safety failings in the building.

Tenants were told to stay in their flats during the June 14 blaze, guidance which was undermined by the block’s multiple structural flaws that allowed the fire to breach barriers.

Cavities which should have prevented flames spreading between floors were installed incorrectly, experts said, while poorly performing fire doors “contributed significantly” to the spread of smoke and fire to the lobbies, impeding escape.

Mr Millett told the hearing that 187 occupants, about 64%, had evacuated the tower by the time the “stay put” advice was formally abandoned at 2.47am.

INQUIRY Grenfell
(PA Graphics)

“On the other hand, it may be that the formal maintenance of that advice until 2.47am made all the difference between life and death.”

Ruined flat 114
Ruined flat 114 on the 14th floor (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

On the first day of evidence hearings, Mr Millett introduced five expert reports, including one written by fire safety engineer Dr Barbara Lane.

As part of his address, footage of the tower alight with fiery debris raining down its side was shown, as witnesses in the background sobbed.

London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton described the site as “alien to anything I had ever seen” in a statement to the inquiry, part of which was read out.

The fire spreading up the tower
The fire spreading up the tower on June 14 2017 (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

The fire spread 19 stories within 12 minutes once it took hold of the external facade, but she claimed the key players involved in the 2016 refurbishment had not ascertained how the new system would behave in a fire.

Dr Lane said: “The building envelope itself was therefore a major hazard on the night of the fire.

“The active and passive fire protection measures within Grenfell Tower were required to mitigate an extraordinary event.

“As a result, the consequences were catastrophic.”

INQUIRY Grenfell
(PA Graphics)

Another expert, Jose L Torero, blasted the inadequacy of building guidelines and tests which allow for “obvious dangers” to be incorporated into cladding systems routinely.

The professor, based at the University of Maryland, also agreed that the spread of smoke and flames, which “rapidly impeded” occupants’ escape, had most likely been caused by occupant and firefighter movement.

Meanwhile, in two further reports, experts diverged from the Metropolitan Police’s assessment of the origin of the fire.

Professor Luke Bisby said there was “insufficient evidence” that the fire started by a fridge-freezer, while forensic scientist Professor Niamh Nic Daeid said the origin was “undetermined”.

Mr Millett said the inquiry must proceed quickly “in light of the obvious risk to public safety posed by exterior fires on residential tower blocks”.

The inquiry is seeking written statements from the corporate and government bodies that are core participants, and Mr Millett warned them to “resist the temptation to indulge in a merry-go-round of buck passing” and identify their role in the chain of events leading to the fire.

Phase two of the inquiry is not estimated to get under way before April or May 2019.

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