Grenfell Inquiry hears BRE team was asked to stop investigation into Lakanal House fire after less than a month

The government stopped an investigation into a fire which killed six people less after less than a month, the Grenfell Inquiry has heard.

Senior civil servant Brian Martin asked a fire expert to “step away” from an investigation into the 2009 Lakanal House fire, which was later found to be caused by combustible cladding panels.

Martin, who was responsible for fire safety regulations, also said he saw no reason to amend official guidance on the basis of information which he admitted was limited.

David Crowder 2

David Crowder giving evidence to Thursday’s hearing

The fire in July 2009 at Lakanal House in Camberwell, South London, injured at least 20 people and killed six, including three children. One of the children killed was a 20 day old baby.

Thursday’s hearing of the inquiry was shown emails from Martin to the Building Research Establishment technical development director for fire safety Martin Shipp.

In one email, sent just 11 days after the fire, Martin said that from the “snippets of info” he had received he thought there was no need to make changes to Approved Document B, the section of building regulations which deals with fire safety.

The emails were read out to former BRE head of fire investigation David Crowder, who was a member of the investigation team looking at the causes of the fire.

Inquiry to the council Kate Grange QC asked Crowder: “Can you help us with how Brian Martin could have come to the view – this is just 11 days after the fire – that there would be no need for changes to Approved Document B?”

Crowder replied: “No, I’m afraid not… my work was still just focused on gathering evidence and compiling it and establishing what had occurred and when.”

He added that he was aware of discussions happening between Martin and Shipp but was not party to them.

On 28 July, less than four weeks after the fire, Martin emailed Shipp saying: ”For the purposes of the fire investigation contract you have with the [government] I’m satisfied that there will be no need for you to re−visit Lakanal House.

“Any further visits will need to be funded by a third party. I’ve raised this with [fire specialists] and they are happy for you to step away now.”

Asked what his reaction to the email was, Crowder said: “I doubt I was pleased. It was a time that - I suppose I would describe it as a time of uncertainty, because… it was an investigation that I thought needed to be progressed and it wasn’t going to be, and… as a result of that, you know, attention switched.”

The investigation ultimately continued on the request of the Metropolitan Police and found that the cladding panels on Lakanal House fell far short of the required fire standards.

Crowder said that his general impression was that the fire was “not of particular concern” to the government in terms of amending fire safety regulations because of the non-compliance of materials used on the building.

But he added that a drive for deregulation under the coalition government, which came to power in 2010, meant that “very difficult decisions” had to be made about official guidance which concerned life safety.

Ministers had introduced a ‘red tape challenge’ which meant that a new regulation could only be introduced if two existing regulations were removed.

The inquiry heard last year that an “unbridled passion for deregulation” had resulted in the government allowing itself to become the “junior partner” to the construction industry.

Last month, the hearing was told how Martin had failed to clarify ‘confusing’ building regulations in the years before Grenfell despite telling a group of cladding experts “there is going to be a major fire”.

The inquiry continues.