It has been revealed that an ex-senior housing official for Grenfell Tower’s operating company did not heed the advice from a report produced in the wake of a fatal housing block fire in 2009, advice which could have gone a long way towards preventing the Grenfell tragedy in 2017.
The revelations have come to light during an inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire which seeks to discover how and why so many lives were lost on that fateful night in July 2017.
Laura Johnson, former director of housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), was giving evidence to the inquiry when she admitted that the coroner’s advice following the fatal fire in Lakanal House in Southwark, London, on 3rd July 2009, was ignored.
For example, the coroner report recommended that all high-rise residential buildings should be retrofitted with sprinkler systems to protect residents against fires breaking out and spreading in the building.
When asked if anyone at RBKC considered taking this advice on board and retrofitting sprinklers to high-rise buildings in Kensington & Chelsea, Ms. Johnson replied:
“No, I don’t believe we did.”
The coroner report following the Lakanal fire also recommended that all councils review their fire risk assessment policies for all high-rise buildings, as well as suggesting that they should consider “the training needs of staff who will be involved in procuring or supervising work to existing high-rise residential buildings… to ensure that materials and products used in such work have appropriate fire protection qualities”.
Ms. Johnson confirmed that neither of these recommendations were actioned by Kensington & Chelsea.
Ms. Johnson has been described as ‘tearful’ as she concluded her evidence to the inquiry panel, admitting that there was an ‘endless list’ of things she wishes she’d done differently before the Grenfell fire.
“You look back on your time there,” she said, “and you think, if only we had had more due diligence in relation to the cladding that was placed on the tower, if only we had understood better what was happening internationally around cladding.
“If only we had had the ability to really understand better all the ins and outs of a refurbishment project of this nature.
“You would never want anything of this type of incident to happen ever. It’s just awful.”
The knowledge that advice and warnings were not heeded in the lead-up to the Grenfell Tower tragedy will be hard to stomach for victims and their relatives. The coroner’s warnings were not taken seriously by Kensington & Chelsea council, so potentially lifesaving measures were not taken. The consequences could not have been more profound or destructive.