By Danielle Aumord

Valves installed in the Grenfell Tower to turn off the gas during an emergency could not be found during the 2017 fire and may have been built over during the refurbishment, the inquiry into the tragedy has heard.

The inquiry also heard that work to replace a gas pipe within the tower in the months running up to the fire also resulted in large holes that could have helped smoke spread into the stairwell, amid what was described as a “weak” design process which failed to properly assess the impact of the work on fire safety.

It was reported that on the night of the fire engineers from Cadent, the company that transported gas to Grenfell, spent hours trying to stop the gas supply into the building, which was believed to be fuelling the lingering flames within the tower. It was not until just before midnight on 15 June 2017 that all of the main sources of gas were completely cut off.

Estate evacuee Joe Delaney told HQN: “On the night of the fire, when I came out of my flat in the finger blocks, I saw a lot of blue sparks coming from the tower which I thought might be to do with the issues with the gas supply.”

In an opening statement from the bereaved and survivors, lawyers said the time taken to isolate the gas on the day of the fire was “woefully prolonged” and that as soon as the gas was isolated, the fire “went out like a light”.

The statements also said that no surface box could be found at the expected location of the PIVs (pipeline isolation valves).

Half of Lancaster West Estate was served by a communal boiler positioned underneath the tower: as a consequence of the fire, centralised gas and water lines below the building were destroyed, leaving hundreds of flats without basic amenities.

Urgent repair work was undertaken on the walkways of the estates but residents told HQN that they were left with intermittent hot water and central heating for eight months after the fire that killed 72 people.

The inquiry also heard claims from a former consultant that the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) opted against upgrading Grenfell Tower’s lifts to ‘firefighting’ standards and insisted instead on a cheaper option during works in 2004.

Ian Moorhouse, who worked for lift consultant Butler and Young on the project, said that after securing the Grenfell contract he was told by Dave Steppel, the KCTMO’s building services manager, that he should not “include consideration of firefighting lifts” in his feasibility report for the project.

Butler and Young were employed by the KCTMO in 2004 to undertake consultancy work to upgrade the lifts within the block. This work would increase the capacity of the lift from eight to 12 people, while also increasing its speed. The contract was worth more than £600,000.

However, the design, and subsequent work, did not include an upgrade that would see Grenfell’s lifts meet all firefighting lift standards.
Firefighting lifts include a fireman’s switch, which allows fire services to take control of the lift in an emergency and prevent further use by occupants. They also include a number of extra protective features; for example, a secondary power supply, water ingress protection, and lift landing doors.

The phase one inquiry report stated that three residents – Ali Yawar Jafari, Mohamednur Tuccu, and Khadija Khalloufi – all died after getting into a lift that filled with smoke around 30 minutes after the outbreak of the fire.

The inquiry should have also heard from fire risk assessment expert Colin Todd, but his evidence has been delayed due to “medical reasons”.

The inquiry continues.