Cladding used in Grenfell Tower banned in UK, says govt

Cladding used in Grenfell Tower banned in UK, says govt
Police officers walk past a banner hanging from a balcony near the Grenfell apartment tower block in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 17, 2017. Photo: Reuters
Published: 4:00 AM, June 19, 2017

LONDON — The British government yesterday scrambled to contain the political fallout from the Grenfell Tower inferno that has claimed at least 58 lives as officials focused on building materials that may have caused the fire to spread quickly.

Two government ministers — Treasury chief Philip Hammond and Trade Minister Greg Hands — said yesterday the cladding used on the building’s exterior seems to be banned by British regulations.

“My understanding is that the cladding that was reported wasn’t in accordance with UK building regulations,” Mr Hands told Sky News. “We need to find out precisely what cladding was used and how it was attached.”

He said the government is carrying out an “urgent inspection” of other tower blocks in Britain to assess safety. He said there are roughly 2,500 similar apartment towers throughout Britain.

The cause of Wednesday’s blaze in London is still under investigation, but anger has mounted in the community amid reports that exterior panelling used in an extensive renovation completed last year may have helped the flames to spread.

Mr Hammond yesterday told the BBC he understood the “flammable cladding” was banned in Britain, and similarly in Europe and the United States.

Asked why the material was used, he added: “There are two separate questions. One is, are our regulations correct? Do they permit the right kind of materials, and ban the wrong kind of materials?

“Second question is, were they correctly complied with? And obviously that will be a subject that the (public) inquiry will look at. It will also be a subject that the separate criminal investigation will be looking at.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a public inquiry — led by a judge — into the disaster, while Scotland Yard has confirmed that it has launched a criminal probe.

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker David Lammy said that the government and the police should immediately seize all documents relating to the building’s renovation to prevent the destruction of evidence that could show criminal wrongdoing.

“The prime minister needs to act immediately to ensure that all evidence is protected so that everyone culpable for what happened at Grenfell Tower is held to account and feels the full force of the law,” said Mr Lammy. “When the truth comes out about this tragedy, we may find that there is blood on the hands of a number of organisations.”

During a meeting with survivors at her Downing Street office on Saturday, Mrs May said more help will be sent to help survivors cope and find alternative housing now that the building has been destroyed. “My government will do whatever it takes to help those affected, get justice and keep our people safe.”

Mrs May, criticised in the first few days after the blaze for failing to meet the victims, said the public inquiry looking into the tragedy will report directly to her. She will receive daily reports from the stricken neighbourhood, where hundreds of people have been displaced. Anger among residents has been mounting in recent days, as information about the missing has been scant, and efforts to find temporary housing have faltered.

The death toll of 58 is likely to rise in coming days. Officials are using dental records, fingerprints and DNA samples to try to positively identify the victims. AGENCIES