The head of the review set up to look at building regulations in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster has admitted she is “not an expert” on the tragedy and “has not looked at details” of the fire.
Dame Judith Hackitt, who has been widely criticised for failing to recommend a ban on combustible cladding, has said that it was not part of her remit to look at Grenfell and questioned whether the disaster, which killed 71 people, even triggered the review she was tasked with.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, the former head of the Health and Safety Executive said: “I have not looked at the details of Grenfell and it would have been inappropriate for me to do so. That is the job of the public inquiry.
“It was not part of my role [to look at Grenfell]. I was clear at the start and it is a great pity that people have lost sight of that.”
Hackitt originally made the comments after the launch of her long-awaited review into building regulations, which was widely criticised after she refused to recommend a ban on combustible cladding, instead calling for a “wholesale change in culture” on fire safety.
Speaking to the press, when asked whether people would have been jailed if the review’s recommendations were in place prior to the disaster, Hackitt told reporters: “I’m not an expert on Grenfell, but from what I know and what I read I would expect that to be the case.”
Pressed on the issue in a later interview, Hackitt said that the scope of the review should not be conflated with the purpose of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and said: “There’s no doubt that my review would never have happened if Grenfell hadn’t happened. ...
“But my review was not triggered by the tragedy at Grenfell. It was triggered by the discovery that there were many other buildings that were not safe.”
But in the background to the interim report on the tragedy, it clearly states that Hackitt’s review was linked to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It reads:
“The government announced an independent forward-looking review of building regulations and fire safety on 28 July 2017. This review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Home Secretary as part of the ongoing response to the Grenfell Tower disaster.”
Labour MP David Lammy has said he finds it “deeply offensive” and an “insult” to victims of the blaze that Hackitt said she has not looked into details of Grenfell, and said it threw into question the legitimacy of the whole report.
Lammy said Hackitt’s comments raised questions over whether the report is “fit for purpose”, particularly in the absence of any recommendations in the report that combustable cladding should be banned.
Lammy said: “For her to say that she is not an expert on Grenfell on the day that she publishes her report is deeply offensive and raises serious questions about whether this review is even fit for purpose, especially as it does not even recommend that combustible cladding should be banned.”
The cladding, which was installed during the Grenfell refurbishment in 2016, has been widely blamed for accelerating the speed at which the fire spread through the 24-storey tower. Flammable insulation and cladding are now to be stripped from high-rise buildings in England and Wales.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May promised that dangerous cladding on 158 tower blocks will be replaced in the next two years, with the Government bearing the £400m cost of the work.
Just a few hours after the report was published, the Government announced it will consider banning flammable cladding.
The Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire, told the Commons on Thursday: “Let me be clear, the cladding believed to be on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used. But I will ensure there is no room for doubt over what materials can be used safely in cladding in high rise residential buildings.
When asked whether her report was flawed because the government addressed concerns not fully expressed in the review, Hackitt told HuffPost UK: “I’ve done the job that I was asked to do by government which was to look at the framework.
“I think part of the problem here was that people expected or had expectations of my review which was to look at the detail and I made clear at the outside that I wasn’t going to edit the details of the regulation.
“I was looking at putting in place a new framework. That’s what I’ve done and that now creates the basis on which the work on the detail on the guidance, the work on the detail of the regulation can be done and there’s no reason why that can’t start now.”
The first phase of a separate official inquiry is due to start next month and will examine the events on the night of June 14. The second phase will consider decisions leading up to the disaster, including the refurbishment of the tower and the management of the block.
Meanwhile, a small protest of around 12 people took place outside the recording of BBC’s Question Time, which was being held in Kensington.
Paprika Williams joined the protest with her son, she said: “Firstly there is no justice for those who lost family and whose lives were wrecked. I’ve come down tonight because I was a neighbour - this happened in front of my eyes. It’s a year now and they’re still in BnBs. Nobody talks about this with sorrow - the Queen still celebrated her birthday [last June].”
Richard Sellers lives a quarter mile away from Grenfell and remembers standing with neighbours, stunned by what was happening in front of them that night last June.
Now he is a campaigner demanding justice, holding a banner that read ‘dignity’ and ‘grace’, he said: “Dignity is for the patience people here have had to feel about this, grace is about being able to wait for justice. We must respect the people who died. We’re keeping up the pressure.
“There is such a flood of information around this - as we saw just today about the flammable cladding report. Tonight is about making the audience aware that we have not forgotten.
“They are just half a mile from Grenfell. We are coming up to a year now and still there is no justice for many people. We’re waiting to see something happen.”