By Danielle Aumord

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) have been labelled as ‘complacent’ to assume that English Building Regulations would prevent a large high-rise cladding scandal, despite warning ministers of the risk from non-compliant buildings.

Whilst giving evidence at the Grenfell inquiry, former LFB commissioner Ron Dobson was challenged repeatedly over why the LFB didn’t do more to raise the risks it was aware of through its specialist teams or that it was warning central government about.

The brigade’s current commissioner, Andy Roe, then shared insights at the inquiry into misogynistic and racist attitudes within the brigade.

He described hearing a colleague refer to Somali residents they had rescued from a fire as ‘P**is’ and saying they ‘breed like rabbits’.

We heard that Mr Roe set up a review of misogynistic and racist attitudes within the LFB following an inquest into the suicide of a trainee firefighter and also shared his fears that his mixed-race daughter may not be treated with ‘dignity and respect’ at a fire station.

He told the inquiry that he agreed with claims made by firefighter and psychologist Dr Sabrina Cohen Hatton that a ‘very conservative culture’ had made it ‘very difficult to implement change’ within the brigade.

The inquiry also heard that the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) didn’t remove the certificate which said that Kingspan’s K15 insulation could be ‘considered a material of limited combustibility’ despite hearing that the insulation materials ‘carried on burning for 20 minutes’ in fire tests.

We heard that the LABC produced numerous certificates saying that Kingspan’s K15 insulation could be ‘considered a material of limited combustibility’ which could be used on high-rises between 2009 and 2014. They have now accepted that these statements were misleading.

The back history to this story is that the LABC helped Kingspan’s K15 insulation to become a market leader in terms of cladding for high-rise buildings before the 2017 Grenfell fire, which killed 72 people.

Emails recently shown to the inquiry revealed that, in 2014, senior LABC staff debated the wording of a fire safety certificate amid industry concerns about the product.

But despite this, they didn’t remove the questionable wording or warn customers about their concerns, the results of which have been fatal. Lorna Stimpson, the current chief executive of the firm, even went so far as to jokingly ask at one stage this ‘issue [has] been burning for a LONG time though, hasn’t it?’

Representatives from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (previously known as the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government) also told the inquiry that the government’s trust in the building industry has been ‘misplaced and abused’.

Jason Beer, the housing department’s QC, said that the department had assumed that compliance with the regulations was being monitored ‘at a local level’ and, in light of this, it didn’t ‘see any need for it to superintend the inspectors.’

However, he didn’t accept that there were flaws with government guidance or regulations and even insisted that if they were properly followed ‘a large-scale cladding fire could not have happened’ despite recent evidence delivered to the inquiry about ‘deliberate cover-ups’ of the risks of dangerous cladding by British governments spanning a 30-year timeframe.

Lawyers representing the bereaved and survivors from Grenfell said that these revelations paint a picture of deregulation, enabling the ‘industry to write its own rules’. These included the government receiving an estimate in the 1990s that the cost of fixing dangerous cladding was £500m whilst today the bill for all buildings to be remediated from these dangerous panels is estimated at well above £15bn.

There were three reports into two cladding fires in the 1990s that were covered up. One was marked ‘limited circulation’ and contained information about the use of combustible cladding; another highlighted the likely failure of cavity barriers, which are fire protection components designed to inhibit smoke and flames from dispersing through walls when a building is ablaze.

The public inquiry heard that a third report was ‘entirely neutered’ and another revelation included the government acknowledging that a rule against introducing new regulations for the building industry in the 2010s failed to observe its duty of care to protect the right to life.

To add to this, the inquiry heard that the government also covered up information about the combustibility of the cladding panels used on Lakanal House after a fire killed six people in 2009, in an attempt to ‘avoid giving the impression that we believe all buildings of this construction [are] inherently unsafe.’