Channel 4 News’ Krishnan Guru-Murthy has berated the ex-fire minister, live on air, after he refused to agree that the Grenfell Tower fire exposed a “catastrophic failure in the system to protect people”.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis, who was fire minister until three days before the devastating blaze killed at least 79 people, said it would “prejudge the investigation” to say that, despite the news anchor telling him it was “screamingly obvious”.
Alarm has spread since the fire and it was revealed today that 75 high rises that have undergone safety checks have all failed - and a total of 600 are due to be checked.
Sajid Javid told the House of Commons he was anxious that tower landlords weren’t sending samples for testing fast enough and urged them to hurry.
This followed chaotic scenes on Friday and over the weekend after Camden Council ordered the evacuation of five high rise blocks while it carries out urgent repair work but some refused to leave.
On Monday’s edition of Channel 4 News, Guru-Murthy began by asking Lewis: “To what extent do you feel responsible for the catastrophic failure in the system to protect these people?
Lewis responded that that he could not say this as a huge public inquiry had been ordered and he could not prejudice it.
He added: “We’re all going to have wait and see the details of the investigation. We want to make sure we learned the lessons of Grenfell.”
He said he had spoken about the importance of sprinklers - which may now need to be retrofitted to many buildings - as fire minister.
But Guru-Murthy wasked the question again and gradually grew more angry as Lewis repeated his refusals to answer it, saying: “I will not prejudge the outcome of the investigation, but we have to make sure nothing else like this can happen again.”
Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Mr Lewis, 75 towers have failed inspection today. What do you need before you accept the system has failed?
Brandon Lewis: We have to get to the bottom...
KGM: No, no, no, I don’t and neither do you need an official report to say the system has failed and thousands are being evacuated from their homes and thousands more are being told that the buildings they live in, when they were told they were safe, have now failed fire safety inspections. Why can you not accept the system has failed?
BL: We need to get to the bottom of exactly what happened in those buildings, the cladding...
KGM: That is not what I asked you.
BL: You asked a question that, until the investigation, can’t be answered yet.
KGM: This is screamingly obvious. It is staring you in the face.
BL: You are prejudging the investigation.
KGM: I’m not prejudging. I’m saying that when 75 towers have failed inspections today that were passed years ago, that is a failure. That is not something you need a report to tell you is a failure.
BL: As I’ve already said, we need to get to the bottom of why these buildings were able to have products on them that doing these reports at the moment look like they were in breach of building regulations and we have to make sure it cannot happen again.
KGM: Do you have any sense it had anything to do with you?
BL: We haven’t seen the investigation yet and we have to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong with this tragedy, what caused the fire and allowed it to spread the way did so we make sure it doesn’t happen again. So we understand how and why it happened in the first place.
When Lewis was housing minister in 2013, a coroner ruled that all high-rise buildings should be retro-fitted with sprinklers - but he said it was not the “responsibility” of the Government to pass such a law.
Shortly announcing the judge-led inquiry into the fire, Theres May said survivors would be consulted on how it should be carried out.