Theresa May promises ‘full public inquiry’ into Grenfell Tower tragedy
As the death toll continues to rise, prime minister says nation needs answers on high-rise inferno disaster
Theresa May with housing-minister-turned-chief-of-staff Gavin Barwell Credit: PA
Prime minister Theresa May has pledged that a full public inquiry will be conducted into the cause of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in west London.
Speaking after a visit to the charred remains of the 1970s tower, she said an explanation was owed to the families of victims and to those who had lost their homes.
In a video statement released via Twitter, May confirmed that the death toll from Wednesday’s fire had risen to 17, but was expected to continue rising.
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“We’ve all heard absolutely heartbreaking stories of the people who were caught up in this terrible, terrible tragedy,” she said.
“And I want to reassure the residents of Grenfell Tower, all of whom are in our hearts and prayers, that the government will make every effort to ensure that they are rehoused in London, and as close as possible to home.
“Right now, people want answers and it is absolutely right. That’s why I’m ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster.”
The inquiry, expected to be judge-led, is unlikely to provide rapid answers but its conclusions will be a watershed for housing safety, as light is shone onto the precise reasons why fire took hold of a recently-refurbished block in a way fire-safety standards are expressly designed to prevent.
Former deputy Labour Party leader Harriet Harman remarked on social media that it took four years for an inquest into the 2009 Lakanal House fire in her Camberwell and Peckham constituency to record verdicts on the six victims, and a further four years for prosecutions to follow.
Proposals to update building regulations in the light of Lakanal House fire have yet to materialise.
Although 14-storey Lakanal House and 24-storey Grenfell Tower are not similar in design and were constructed 14 years apart, fundamental similarities in the tragedies seem likely to emerge.
A letter to the Department for Communities and Local Government from the coroner responsible for the Lakanal House inquests urged ministers to review evacuation guidance for residents of high rise buildings.
In her 2013 letter, Lakanal House coroner Frances Kirkham encouraged ministers to consider promoting the retro-fitting of sprinkler systems in high rise buildings.
It also urged ministers to update relevant Building Regulations for clarity, particularly in regard to maintenance and refurbishment of older housing stock that may affect its capacity to limit the spread of fire.
The UK’s first high-rise disaster of modern times was the partial collapse of the 22-storey Ronan Point tower block in Newham, in 1968.
Four people died in the tragedy – which occurred as the result of an early morning gas explosion when the building was so new that it was only partially occupied. Changes to UK building regulations were implemented two years after the incident.
Although the block was repaired and strengthened, it was demolished in the mid-1980s.
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