Grenfell Tower Inquiry ends: what have we learnt?

by Faareen Ali
© Steve Parsons / PA

The public inquiry into Grenfell Tower fire reached its conclusion on 21 July 2022 after nearly four years. Final closing statements are expected to be delivered in November 2022, and a report to be published in the coming months.

A public inquiry was announced by the Prime Minister after 72 lives were claimed on the night of 14 June 2017.  Of which, 15 were disabled and 17 were children, including a 6-month-old baby, and a stillborn child. Sir Martin Moore-Brick was appointed as the Chairman of the Inquiry, a retired Court of Appeal Judge with over 20 years experience.

Richard Millett QC, Lead Counsel on the Inquiry, barrister, and Joint Head at Essex Court Chambers said the following:

There were several issues in contention, and the inquiry was divided into two phases. Phase one established how the incident occurred and any failures, and during phase two, the panel looked into the causes of the fire. The report noted that there was poor fire safety planning, poor coordination between the emergency services, and shortcomings in the practice, training, and policy of the control room.

The origin of the fire was said to be an electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer in the kitchen of flat 16, and the flames entering the ACM cladding/ external walls, through a uPVC window jamb, which spread to the whole building. The use of flammable material for external walls and its close proximity with the kitchen window was the cause of the fire spreading rapidly.

A survey found that the flammable material, similar to that used on Grenfell Tower, was also used in over 400 other high-rise towers in the UK, and those responsible for the buildings were asked to consider whether there was a similar proximity between the material and window, and to ultimately replace it with less flammable material.  The government also responded with some legislative changes, as below.

A total of 46 recommendations were made by the Chairman of the Inquiry following phase one.  The report can be accessed here. The emergency service providers have since adopted a majority of the recommendations made to them. The UK government has also enshrined some of the recommendations in law.

The Fire Safety Act 2021

The Fire Safety Act 2021, which amended the Article 50 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), brought into place crucial changes to the fire risk assessments for multi-occupied residential buildings. Responsible Persons (RP), i.e., owners, building managers, and/or those in control of the premises are now also required to check the structure, external walls/cladding, balconies, windows, and flat entrance door under the new law.

The Act requires fire risk assessments to be updated as quickly as possible to consider the above. It also includes provisions for a detailed fire risk appraisal of the external walls, requiring a competent professional to carry out this work. There has been guidance produced by the Fire Sector Federation as to how to select a competent fire risk assessor.

A fire risk assessment prioritisation tool has been developed to enable responsible persons of high-rise towers to see what steps need to be taken and how they should prioritise their buildings to update fire risk assessment which include external walls.

The prioritisation tool asks a series of questions, such as:

  • height of the building
  • the composition of the external wall and material
  • most recent fire risk assessment
  • number of staircases, balconies, and composition of windows
  • whether the building has been recently refurbished
  • type of evacuation strategy
  • fire safety systems like sprinklers or communal fire alarms
  • vulnerable residents, and any recent fires or serious anti-social behaviour.

Buildings are placed into five priority categories depending on the answers entered, and guidance is given as to what steps to take. For more information as to the guidance, please click here.

The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022

The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 implements a majority of the recommendations made at phase one of the Grenfell Tower inquiry and introduces new legal duties under Article 24 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) for responsible persons, that must be complied with. These are due to come into place on 23 January 2023.

According to the new regulations, responsible persons must provide information to emergency service providers to ensure ‘an effective operational response’, additional safety measures must be followed for multi-occupied residential buildings and those above 11 metres in height. The residents must be provided with fire safety instructions and information on the importance of fire doors.

To see a list of new legal duties under the said regulations, please click here.

The tragic incident on 14 June 2017 shone a light on the defects in high-rise towers. The Inquiry has brought about some fundamental changes in law and policies. For more on the progress of the inquiry, or to watch the recording of the inquiry, please click here.

We wish to pay tribute to all the people that lost their life to the horrific fire, and offer our sincerest condolences to their family and friends.

This article is intended for guidance only and ‘must not’ be relied upon for specific advice.


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