Grenfell smoke ventilation ‘woefully inadequate’, inquiry told

The smoke ventilation system at Grenfell Tower was “woefully inadequate”, breached building regulations and likely contributed to deaths, the inquiry into the disaster has heard.

The network of ducts and vents was supposed to keep the building’s common parts clear for escape but it failed, allowing thick smoke to spread through hallways making evacuation harder, claimed lawyers for the bereaved, survivors and residents.

Stephanie Barwise QC, representing one of the survivor groups, told the start of the latest phase of the inquiry that the smoke control system installed as part of the refurbishment completed a year before the fire “actively posed a very significant hazard to life safety which cannot be underestimated”. Dr Barbara Lane, a leading fire engineer providing expert evidence to the inquiry, has concluded it breached building regulations and British standards performance criteria.

It shifts the inquiry’s focus after it earlier concluded the main cause of external fire spread was the plastic-filled cladding panels used to wrap the 24-storey building in west London. Dense smoke filled the hallways, making it impossible for many people on the upper floors to escape, and a coroner investigating the 72 死亡人数, Dr Fiona Wilcox, has most of the victims succumbed to smoke inhalation.

Barwise said that after a “catastrophic failure” of the ventilation system in a non-fatal 2010 fire at Grenfell, experts repeatedly warned the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) the system was not working properly and breached fire regulations. 在 2014 这 伦敦 fire brigade also issued a deficiency notice because a quarter of the smoke vents did not work.

A replacement system installed during the disastrous 2014-16 refurbishment should not have been approved by building control officers at Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council, which also owned the tower, Barwise said.

It failed to account for the possibility that multiple flat doors might be opened as occupants escaped or that fire fighters might prop open stair or lobby doors with fire hoses, all of which happened on the night of the fire when some dampers did not close properly and others leaked.

By 1.25am – half an hour after the fire started behind a resident’s fridge – “thick black smoke” was observed “coming in from the hallway into the stairs”. Checks on the system were “inadequate” and this was “brought into sharp focus by the lamentable events just days before the fire”, Barwise said, when the main refurbishment contractor, Rydon, noticed the vents were not working.

A quotation obtained by JS Wright, the subcontractor that installed the ventilation, to get its designer to fix the system was not acted upon, 她说.

The TMO’s project manager, Claire Williams, knew about the fault, and after the fire she emailed the building’s caretaker to say: “Good news Paul, the smoke vents worked.”

Barwise said: “Leaving aside the deplorable levels of self-interest that this comment betrays, it is also false.”

Lawyers for PSB, the firm that designed the system, told the inquiry it was “a reasonable design response” which met building regulations. It said it “did operate on the night of the fire, at least during the period when the circumstances remained within the designed-for conditions”.

The TMO’s lawyers said building regulations guidance “assumes that there is a low probability that a fire will spread beyond the flat of origin and did not envisage a situation where an external spread of fire would occur in the tragic manner it did”.

The inquiry continues.

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