Opinion – The Guardian view on Grenfell Tower: Theresa May’s Hurricane Katrina | Editorial | UK news | The Guardian – John Gelmini

I agree with Dr Alf, people should remember that these buildings and Grenfell House itself were originally pretty much fireproof but were cold in winter and not well insulated. People used to die in them every year from hypothermia or of hunger if they kept the heating on but chose not to eat. This used to happen under different Governments of different political persuasions but so long ago that most of today’s voters would not be able to remember the tales of woe usually involving the police breaking in to find festering corpses of pensioners in places like Peckham. Many of these deaths were recorded as being from natural causes so they may well have exceeded the total dead in Grenfell House in any given year but without television cameras and media furore they remain pretty much forgotten.

The cladding and insulation for these Lubiyanka-like buildings came later with the drive towards energy efficiency but in this instance we know that Grenfell House was also plagued by late night power surges capable of blowing up computers in situ.

What was the role of National Grid? Was “surge protection ” in place? If it was, was it fit for purpose?

Power surges exist but in most homes are rare so what was the story here?

The enquiry needs to look at this to apportion responsibility and if applicable, culpability.

We were told about the cladding going up in flames and the fire having supposedly started with a defective fridge but with 3 feet of cladding on the outside of the building how was the fire able to start inside the flat and then go outside to engulf the building in minutes through the original concrete wall plus 3 feet of cladding?

During at least 2 television interviews fire officers, one of 30 years experience said that the enquiry announced by May needed to look at the possibility of accelerants being present on the outside of the building. This may or may not mean something more sinister but the enquiry will have to look into it.

Tall buildings in New York and Singapore have external fire escapes and sprinkler systems so it may well be that buildings are going to have to be retrofitted after the enquiry is completed. This will be expensive because in this country 4000 such buildings exist.

The role of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), will have to examined and all the emails and letters from tenants to them placed into the evidential record along with similar communications between the directors of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and KCTMO, their outsourcing company.

By virtue of the legal precedent set in the Victorian era case of the Clapham Omnibus company, employers are responsible for the actions of their employees or agents unless they can demonstrate that the employee “committed a frolic of his own” (i.e. acted against his employers strict instructions).

After the 2006 Turnbull report on risk which emerged after the Hatfield, Potters Bar and Paddington Railway disasters the Gerald Corbett (Railtrack’s CEO) defence of  “I can’t be held responsible for every nut and bolt”, no longer washes. Corbett went on to be headhunted into an even bigger role and was held to be blameless, whereas today Railtrack would be facing Corporate Manslaughter charges and he would be facing legal culpability and a ruined reputation at the very least.

Nowadays boards of directors can be held personally responsible for risks which they have failed to manage unless they can demonstrate that their risk management plans were sufficiently robust or that the event was an unforseen “Black Swan” event or act of God, terrorism etc.

The enquiry will have to be searching and if there are guilty men and woman they will have to be identified and brought to justice rather than us being told that it was all very sad but no one person’s fault.

We will not know anytime soon because the enquiry will take a long time and we know from past experience of these things that anyone remotely guilty will try to have the enquiry leant on or persuaded to water down its findings.

John Gelmini

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