CHRISTOPHER BOOKER THE LAST WORD
Pouring scorn on those who made a Grenfell effigy ignores the true scandal of the tragedy
Earlier this month, quite a scandal erupted over those six men who were arrested for wanting to put a cardboard effigy of Grenfell Tower on a Guy Fawkes bonfire. Their actions were described by Theresa May as “totally unacceptable”. But perhaps they might have turned our attention back to the real scandal of the Grenfell Inquiry, now in its sixth month.
The chief purpose of this inquiry should have been to pinpoint the root cause of the blaze, to ensure that such a dreadful tragedy never happens again. In fact, scarcely had the disaster occurred in June 2017 than some of us were already trying to explain that the real reason that flames raced up the building with such terrifying speed lay not with its external aluminium “cladding”, as many were suggesting, but with the highly flammable plastic foam insulation behind it.
As technical tests after previous similar fires had shown, once the insulation had ignited, a gap between it and the walls of the building would create a “chimney effect”, sending the flames roaring up the tower within minutes.
This had been noted by a committee of MPS as far back as 1999, when they were looking into an earlier tower block tragedy. They recommended that the Buildings Research Laboratory should devise a proper fire safety test, based not on testing all the materials used in refurbishing tower blocks individually, but on how they would behave when combined in situ. What emerged was a new British Standard: BS8414.
But, in 2002, the EU passed new laws that, thanks to its obsession with the need to combat climate change, made the better insulation of buildings, considered responsible for 40 per cent of all CO emissions, the top priority.
2 These overruled the use of the new UK safety standard, leaving BS8414 as a voluntary option – hence the introduction of new forms of cheaper plastic foam insulation, which were to be used in thousands of tower blocks, including, in 2014, Grenfell Tower.
When the Grenfell inquiry eventually got under way, however, it decided that its first few months of hearings last summer should be dedicated not to looking at the cause of the fire but to interviewing a long succession of witnesses on what had happened after the blaze had taken hold.
It heard lengthy testimony from residents of the building, explaining how terrifying it had been to live through the fire, a point already not entirely unfamiliar, followed by more from the emergency services, such as the fire brigade and the police, discussing such issues as whether Grenfell was sufficiently supplied with water sprinklers that might have delayed the fire’s spread after it was lit. Only in November was it planned that the inquiry would finally focus on what caused the spread of the fire in the first place – which should, all along, have been its central purpose.
Even now, after months of hearings that have already cost untold millions of pounds, with an army of lawyers on anything up to thousands of pounds a day, there is little sign of this happening. Might not this be considered rather more worrying than the antics of those idiots who wanted to put a cardboard cut-out of the tower on their bonfire?
Despite the best efforts of governor Jerry Brown of California, and a gaggle of Hollywood celebrities claiming that the state’s disastrous wildfires were caused by climate change, the facts, as usual, show otherwise.
Experts have pointed out that the number of homes the western US built in places at risk of fire has risen from 6,700 in 1940 to 6.7 million today. Millions more homes have been built in firevulnerable areas than were there in the days when people were more sensible about where they chose to live.
In addition, new “green” regulations have outlawed the creation of firebreaks, removing underbrush and all the old management practices designed to stop fires spreading. A graph from the neighbouring Oregon fire department shows that there has been no overall upward trend in forest fires, which reached their peak back in the Thirties, then fell dramatically. Only this year, as in California, have they again risen to record levels.
In London, meanwhile, a bunch of fanatical greenies can close Thames bridges to traffic to protest against climate change, while all over France traffic is brought to a halt by drivers angrily protesting against President Macron’s new “carbon taxes”. Whatever we like to think, the Rosbifs are not always more sensible than our French neighbours.