Grenfell: Burning Justice To The Ground

Adam De Salle
16 min readSep 3, 2020

The 14th of June marked 3 years since the Grenfell Tower block of flats, a 24-storey building, in North Kensington went up in flames costing the lives of 72 people and the homes of countless families. Grenfell was the deadliest structural fire in the UK’s history since the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster and the worst UK residential fire since World War Two. The fire was started by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer on the fourth floor, with the flames spreading rapidly up the building’s exterior — bringing fire and smoke to all residential floors. It was subsequently found that the rapidity of the flame was due to the building’s cladding, the external insulation and the air gap between which enabled the stack effect. Grenfell had a “stay-put” fire policy — the building design would contain a fire in a single flat for as long as it took the fire crew to respond, but this failed. The Tower burnt for 60 hours before it was put out with 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines. The most damning part of this already tragic event: it could have been easily prevented.

The Public Inquiry hearing opened on the 14th of September 2017. It found that Grenfell had been renovated before the fire, and the most significant part of this renovation was the addition of external cladding. This consisted of aluminium sheets bonded to a central of plastic (polyethylene) core. In his report to the inquiry, Professor Luke Bisby stated that evidence “strongly supports” the theory that polyethylene material in the cladding was the primary cause of the spread of the fire. Bisby commented that the cladding used a “highly combustible polyethylene polymer filler which melts, drips, and flows at elevated temperature.” But the new cladding wasn’t the only issue. Bisby suggested that vertical cavities within the cladding played a role in the spread of the fire, as did the insulation. A number of other flammable materials, including a polyurethane polymer foam insulation board which pre-dated the renovation were also present, and fire expert Dr Barbara Lane identified combustible materials used in the refurbishment of the tower’s windows as another factor in allowing the spread of the fire. The inquiry found also that the fire alarms were defective and elevators were unfit for evacuative measures. The £8.6 million refurbishment carried out by Rydon Construction in May of 2016, in…

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Adam De Salle

I am a young writer interested in providing the intellectual tools to those in the political trenches so that they may fight their battles well-informed.