The smoke ventilation system at Grenfell Tower was “woefully inadequate”, breached building regulations and is likely to have contributed to deaths.
The network of ducts and vents was supposed to keep the building’s common parts clear for escape but it failed, allowing thick smoke to spread through hallways making evacuation harder.
The smoke control system installed as part of the refurbishment completed a year before the fire “actively posed a very significant hazard to life safety”. Dr Barbara Lane, a leading fire engineer providing expert evidence to the inquiry, has concluded it breached building regulations and British standards performance criteria.
Dense smoke filled the hallways, making it impossible for many people on the upper floors to escape, and a coroner investigating the 72 deaths, Dr Fiona Wilcox, has said most of the victims succumbed to smoke inhalation.
Experts repeatedly warned the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) the system was not working properly and breached fire regulations. In 2014 the London fire brigade also issued a deficiency notice because a quarter of the smoke vents did not work.
A replacement system installed during the disastrous 2014-16 refurbishment should not have been approved by building control officers at Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council. It failed to account for the possibility that multiple flat doors might be opened as occupants escaped or that firefighters might prop open stair or lobby doors with fire hoses, all of which happened on the night of the fire when some dampers did not close properly and others leaked. Checks on the system were “inadequate” and this was “brought into sharp focus by the lamentable events just days before the fire”, Barwise said, when the main refurbishment contractor, Rydon, noticed the vents were not working. A quotation obtained by JS Wright, the subcontractor that installed the ventilation, to get its designer to fix the system was not acted upon.