Grenfell residents did not know smoke ventilation system condemned

Grenfell Tower residents did not know smoke ventilation system had been condemned, inquiry into blaze that killed 72 hears

  • Residents were unaware of a report condemning the smoke ventilation system
  • The site was issued with a deficiency notice by London Fire Brigade in 2014 
  • Notice said a quarter of the vents in parts of the building were not working

Residents inside Grenfell Tower were unaware of a report condemning the smoke ventilation system in the building, an inquiry has heard.

The site was issued with a deficiency notice by the London Fire Brigade in 2014 after a bin fire in the 24-storey block of flats in April 2010 exposed some concerns with the automatic opening vents (AOVs).

In their notice the fire brigade stated that approximately a quarter of the vents in parts of the building were not working. 

However the 2014 notice came as a ‘surprise’ to Janice Wray, then health and safety manager for the now defunct Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), who said she was previously unaware of the concerns.   

Seventy-two people died as a result of the fire at the 24-storey tower in 2017 when an electrical fault in a fridge-freezer sparked a catastrophic blaze 

She said she subsequently pushed for works to be carried out, but, after being informed of delays to plans to upgrade the system, told a colleague: ‘Let’s hope our luck holds and there are no fires in the meantime.’

A new system was installed in 2016, but did not have its first inspection until eight months later – something Ms Wray also said she was unaware of. 

Giving evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on Tuesday, Ms Wray denied being aware of the extent of the concerns with the AOV system contained within a report by maintenance engineers RGE in August 2011, only that it was old and needed replacing.

A section of the report, shown to the inquiry, contained the warning, written and underlined in bold, capital letters: ‘We cannot guarantee conformity with fire regulation.’

It added that actuation systems were ‘not fit for purpose’ and needed to be replaced.

Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said: ‘The residents were living in a building with an AOV which had effectively been condemned as non-compliant by the maintenance engineers but (residents) were living there in ignorance.’

Ms Wray replied: ‘I can’t dispute that.

‘But I didn’t have that information so I couldn’t have provided it (to the tenants).

An inquiry heard that residents inside Grenfell Tower were unaware of a report condemning the smoke ventilation system 

The graphic above shows the damage caused by the fire and those who died on each floor during the blaze

‘RGE were saying it couldn’t be relied upon, so it’s functioning to some degree but it hadn’t been brought to my attention.’

Nevertheless, Ms Wray said she was concerned about fire safety to residents, staff and contractors over the original AOV, and told the inquiry she had been ‘banging on, boring people’ about interim measures to improve the system.

But she said the onus would have been on the contracts management team, not on her.

She described her ‘luck holds’ email to a colleague as ‘a glib comment, and I regret it’.

She added: ‘I was utterly frustrated and exasperated.’

Mr Millett said: ‘Residents are entitled to expect more from you than crossed fingers.’

Ms Wray agreed.

Seventy-two people died as a result of the fire at the 24-storey tower when an electrical fault in a fridge-freezer sparked a catastrophic blaze which was fuelled by the building’s flammable cladding system.

The inquiry continues. 

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