Gavin Barwell, the former Conservative MP for Croydon Central, is one of five former government ministers who will be called to give evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in the autumn.
“Lord” Barwell is to be summoned together with his fellow Tory peers Eric Pickles and James Wharton, plus Brandon Lewis and LibDem Stephen Williams, all to face cross-examination over the government’s lack of response to the Lakanal House fire in 2009, according to a report today by Inside Housing.
The long-awaited section of the inquiry will begin in October, focusing on the (in)actions of government between 2013, when the coroner investigating Lakanal House made a series of recommendations to prevent a future disaster, and the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
Of the infamous five, only Lewis remains in government, as Northern Ireland secretary.
Sir Ken Knight, the chair of the government’s independent expert panel since the Grenfell Tower fire, will also be called to explain the advice he gave as a senior advisor before the blaze. Sir Ken authored a report after the Lakanal House fire which said retrofitting sprinklers in high rises would not be “practical or economically viable”.
Barwell and the four ministers all held roles which carried some responsibility for acting – or failing to act – on recommendations made by Her Honour Frances Kirkham, the coroner who investigated the six deaths at Lakanal House in 2013.
Inside Housing reporter Peter Apps writes, “In March 2013 she had sent then-secretary of state Mr Pickles a series of recommendations, including that the government should review building regulations guidance ‘with particular regard to the spread of fire over the external envelope of the building’ and encourage the retrofitting of sprinklers in social housing.
“But the government pushed this review back to 2017 and did nothing to mandate the retrofitting of sprinklers.”
Apps has previously described the failures to act by Barwell and his Tory government colleague Pickles as “one of the greatest public policy failures anywhere in the modern world”.
June 14 will mark the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, where 72 people died, another 70 were injured and more than 220 others lost their homes.
Read more: Barwell and the ignored warnings that led to Grenfell tragedy
Read more: Grenfell victims still waiting for Barwell’s inquiry summons
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The Building Research Establishment was privatised in March 1997 by then Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine in the last days of a Conservative government. BRE had been involved in setting building standards, but following privatisation had to compete for work inspecting buildings and would have felt the need to compromise on safety in order to win business inspecting buildings. Thus it is my belief that the privatisation provided the environment whereby safety was compromised and had it not been for this the 72 people killed in the fire would most likely still be alive – as fitting inflammable cladding is so obviously wrong that it could only occur in a lax safety regime as that favoured by the Conservatives.
Only when the true causes of the the fire are acknowledged will the truth about the fire be known and further occurrences of these events avoided.