£38m fire at detention centre without sprinklers leads to call for state to comply with Building Regulations.
Fire experts have called for the Building Regulations covering government buildings to be tightened after a blaze at a detention centre for asylum seekers last week.

The experts claim that Crown exemption rules, which mean that normal Building Regulations do not apply to government buildings, should be changed.

The call comes after the blaze that wrecked Yarl's Wood Detention Centre in Clapham, Bedfordshire, causing £38m of damage.

A spokesperson for the Fire Brigades Union said: "The building does not require sprinklers because it is crown exempt – we find that absolutely bizarre because people are locked up in there."

He added that if the building had been built for the private sector, it would be obliged to have sprinklers installed.

The Fire Brigades Union said its members were held back from entering the building for more than an hour by the centre's operators. The spokesperson said: "In this case, sprinklers would have helped keep the fire under control."

He said the chief fire officer, the Fire Brigades Union and the local authority fire officer had recommended the installation of sprinklers.

Jeremy Hodge, head of fire and risk at BRE, said design rules should be changed for such buildings. He said: "The whole design philosophy behind this building should be called into question – it was designed to be destroyed in a fire."

Concern was also raised by Hertfordshire-based sprinkler firm Actspeed, which said it had tendered for the sprinkler installation. Ashley Gorton, co-owner of the firm, said he had heard the decision not to install the sprinklers was taken by a government minister.

Gorton said: "The frightening thing is that there are at least four other detention centres without sprinklers. It is a disaster waiting to happen."

Gorton says the cost of sprinkler installation would have been less than 0.5% of the total build cost. He says the firm's original price for the installation was £350,000.

A Home Office spokesperson said it was too early to comment on the cause of the fire, but added: "If there are any lessons to be learned from the fire, we will take them on board."