London – In his closing statement to the long-running Grenfell inquiry, lead counsel Richard Millett condemned the companies and organisations involved for failing to take any responsibility for the 2017 fire. Each of the 72 deaths was avoidable, he said.
At the start of the inquiry, Millett had stated that he expected the core participants to indulge in a ‘merry-go-round of buck-passing’. This is exactly what transpired. ‘If everything that has been said is correct, then nobody was to blame for the Grenfell Tower fire,’ he said. ‘Can that really be right?’
He said that many core participants in the inquiry had adopted the technique of deflecting criticism by reference to causative relevance. ‘[They then took] a narrow and technical approach to causative relevance in order to escape blame for the fire and the ensuing deaths, but then to blame others without any regard necessarily to causative impact.’
Celotex, for example, made the combustible RS5000 PIR insulation used in the tower’s refurbishment, but said that Arconic’s panels were to blame for the fire and the toxic smoke, and the contribution of RS5000 was minimal. It also blames the construction professionals, plus multiple others, including Kensington & Chelsea council and the architect.
The one piece of blame Celotex did accept, Millett said, is for misdescribing the RS5000 test rig in its sales literature, but blamed those using the material for not reading its misleading literature properly.
Arconic, meanwhile, considered the blame lay with all those who misused its ACM PE panels, and that the fault lay with the other two materials companies, Celotex and Kingspan for misleading the market and the safety and compliance of their insulation products in tall buildings. ‘That is Arconic’s big “but for” argument on causation: it was all Kingspan’s and Celotex’s fault,’ Millett said. ‘Arconic’s case is that it was wholly blameless.’
Similarly, Kingspan, whose Kooltherm K15 rainscreen boards comprised about 5% of the insulation, also claimed its products were misused and distributed the blame elsewhere. ‘There is much that Kingspan has chosen not to address or to explain,’ Millett said. ‘It admits what, in its written closing, it politely calls “shortcomings” in its testing and sales strategy, without going into or explaining how they came about or their effect on the insulation market.’
The report, and its conclusions on who was responsible, is expected to be published no earlier than October 2023, and is likely to run to thousands of pages. Only then will any criminal charges be made, with trials unlikely to begin until 2025.