Leaked Grenfell dossier reveals how disastrous refurbishment turned tower into a ‘tinderbox’

A report prepared as part of the police investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire has uncovered calamitous deficiencies in the installation of the windows, cavity barriers and cladding system, and their failure to meet building regulations.

The 210-page interim document, by fire investigation experts BRE Global, is set to dramatically assist the Metropolitan police in their wide-ranging investigation. It was leaked exclusively to the Standard and recounts in forensic detail how the original concrete building was turned from a safe structure into a tinderbox by the refurbishment between 2014 and 2016.

It not only finds the cladding material and insulation was combustible, but also exposes hitherto unknown areas of incompetence relating to the design and installation of the windows and cavity barriers. The latter are critical in closing the gap between the inner and outer skins of the building to prevent a chimney-like effect in the event of a blaze.

It reveals how in the early hours of June 14 last year, the fire started in a single fridge-freezer in a single flat on the fourth floor; travelled through an open window within a metre of the fridge; took hold in the cladding; and consumed an entire 24-storey, 70-metre-high building. A total of 71 lives were lost.

Victims of the Grenfell Tower fire


Final death toll: Just some of the victims who were killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze



Final death toll: Just some of the victims who were killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze


Five-year-old Isaac Paulos

Family Handout


Victoria King, 71, and her 40-year-old daughter Alexandra Atala were among those who died in the blaze



Alexandra Atala, 40, the last victim to be named and pictured from the Grenfell fire

Metropolitan Police


Gloria Trevisan and Marco Gottardi


Rania Ibrahim and her two daughters


Raymond Bernard


Nadia Choucair


Grenfell victims: father and daughter Hashim Kedir, 44, and Firdows Hashim, 12,



Mehdi El-Wahabi, 8, lived on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower

Met Police


Ligaya Moore, 79, a Filipino living in the tower

Met Police


Artist Khadija Saye



Victim: 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez was killed in the fire


Victim: Farah Hamdan, 31, pictured with her baby daughter


Mohamednur Tuccu



Biruk Haftom, 12, has been named among those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire

Metropolitan Police


Grenfell: Biruk’s mother, Berkti Haftom, 29, also died in the blaze

Metropolitan Police


Victim: Sakina Afrasehabi, 65, died in the Grenfell Tower fire



Fatima Afraseiabi


‘Well respected’: Grandmother-of-six Sheila Smith was killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze

Met Police


Hamid Kani was found on the 23rd floor



Steve Power


Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Syrian Solidarity Campaign


Denis Murphy



Young victim: Jeremiah Deen, two, died in the blaze

Met Police


Zainab Deen

28/32 Tony Disson


Mariem Elgwahry



Ali Yawar Jafari



Nora Huda


Kedir Hashim: His wife and their three children died

For the first time, the truth of how the refurbishment fell short of building regulations, and allowed a catastrophe to happen, is laid bare.

The first conclusion of the report is that the fire would not have spread beyond Flat 16 — the flat of origin — and would not have claimed even a single life if the original facade of the building had not been re-clad.

It states that the 2014-16 refurbishment failed, in several fundamental areas, to meet fire safety standards set out in the building regulations — known as Approved Document B. Taken together, these areas proved critical for the rapid spread of flames across the length and breadth of the building.  

The Grenfell Tower fire left 71 people dead (Jeremy Selwyn)

The report, dated 31 January 2018, says: “Grenfell Tower, as originally built, appears to have been designed on the premise of providing very high levels of passive fire protection.

“The original facade of Grenfell Tower, comprising exposed concrete and, given its age, likely timber or metal frame windows, would not have provided a medium for fire spread up the external surface. In BRE’s opinion … there would have been little opportunity for a fire in a flat of Grenfell Tower to spread to any neighbouring flats.” 

The experts found instead that “deficiencies” in the construction of the new facade provided fuel for the fire to spread — and that it did so with such ferocity that if the original building had been built to less stringent modern standards of fire resistance, “it is likely the Tower would have collapsed, whether fully or partially”. The report identifies five significant breaches of building regulations that appear directly implicated in the loss of life: 

Gaps that fanned fire

Failure: poorly cut insulation left gaps

The cavity barriers — which in the event of fire are meant to expand and seal the gap between the concrete surface of the building and the cladding insulation — were of “insufficient size specification” to perform this vital function.

Some cavity barriers were installed “upside down” or “back to front”, further retarding their effectiveness.

They were “designed to close a gap of 25mm”, but the actual gap “measured up to 50mm”.

The result was to create a catastrophic chimney-like effect in the gap between the cladding and the concrete surface that “provided a route for fire spread”.  

Window frames that helped flames spread

Gap to side of window where rubber was fire damaged

The window frames were “significantly narrower than the gap between the concrete surfaces of the columns, 150mm narrower”, leaving large gaps at either end.

These spaces were filled by a rubberised membrane, rigid foam insulation and uPVC lightweight plastic panels — but crucially “none of the materials used would be capable of providing 30 minutes fire resistance”.

The result was “a direct route for fire spread around the window frame into the cavity of the facade … and from the facade back into flats”.

This has added importance, as the first obstacle the fire encountered as it escaped from Flat 16 was the window frame which provided “fuel” instead of a barrier. BRE says: “The construction of the window did not provide any substantial barrier to fire taking hold on the facade outside.”

Combustible insulation

The insulation used was “combustible” and “provided a medium for fire spread up, across and within sections of the facade”.

BRE notes that the 75mm insulation foam used on most of the spandrel beams had “no markings to identify the manufacturer of the foam”, unlike the 100mm Celotex foam insulation used on the columns. BRE records this oddity of the mystery manufacturer but does not further distinguish between the foam types, concluding both were “combustible”. 

Flammable core

Grenfell tragedy: A fire ripped through the tower block in June last year (NIGEL HOWARD ©)

The aluminium composite material used in the facade had a polyethylene (plastic) core that “appears to be highly combustible” and “appears to have provided a medium for fire spread up and across the facade”.

Lack of door closers

The “absence of door closers” on many front doors to flats, contrary to building regulations, resulted in a significant number of doors being inadvertently left open when residents fled.

“Where this occurred, the fire in each flat appears to have emitted large quantities of smoke and later fire directly into the immediate lobby, and these have gone on to affect the lifts and single stairwell”.

This is a major failing because it created “shortcomings in compartmentation” of the fire and would have affected residents’ life chances as they sought to escape down the single stairwell.

BRE notes that individual breaches relating to the cladding system assume far greater importance when “considered in combination as opposed to when they occur in isolation”.

Firefighting weaknesses

There was room for just “a single fire engine” on the hard standing at the base of the east side of the tower (PA)

Firefighting facilities were “deficient”, hampered by poor access and lack of installation of a wet rising main.

There was room for just “a single fire engine” on the hard standing at the base of the east side of the tower, as other sides of the tower were not accessible due to landscaping. This single fire engine would be “unlikely to provide sufficient pressure and flow of water for firefighting at the top of the tower” using the dry rising main.

The report says: “A building of Grenfell’s height ought to have been fitted with a wet rising main [which contains water at all times] as part of the refurbishment; instead the existing dry rising main [which has to be supplied from a fire engine] was extended and modified.” BRE cites two other breaches of building regulations — the absence of a sprinkler system and the single stairwell being 8cm too narrow. However it does not necessarily regard these weaknesses as directly responsible for loss of life. It adds that the stairwell would have been “difficult and expensive to change as part of any refurbishment”.

Notting Hill Grenfell Tower Fire – In pictures


A blaze rages through Grenfell Tower block in Notting Hill

Jeremy Selwyn


Aerial view of the fire at Grenfell Tower, Notting Hill

Jason Hawkes


Jeremy Selwyn


Aerial view of the fire at Grenfell Tower, Notting Hill

Jason Hawkes


Jeremy Selwyn


A firefighter investigates a floor after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower



Exhausted firefighter rest on steps of houses after ours of tackling the blaze

Alex Lentati


Jeremy Selwyn



Residents wave frantically at a window during the blaze

Nigel Howard


Emergency personnel operate during the fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 27-storey apartment block in North Kensington, London



A police officer helps to evacuate a local resident from close to the scene of a serious fire in a tower block at Latimer Road in West London



Debris and ash surrounding Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate, Latimer road

Jeremy Selwyn


A fleet of ambulances at the scene ready to deal with the injured

AFP/Getty Images


A firefighter rests during the battle against the blaze at Grenfell Tower

Jeremy Selwyn


Firefighters prepare to enter the building to tackle the flames



Nigel Howard


Smoke billows from a fire that has engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London



Flames engulf the tower block in Notting Hill

AFP/Getty Images


This shocking image shows flames engulfing the 27 storey tower

Jeremy Selwyn


Police and Emergency services at the scene of a major fire in Notting Hill after a block of flats Grenfell Tower is engulfed in flames

Nigel Howard


A person peers out of a window from the building on fire in London



Firefighters react as a huge fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower

AFP/Getty Images


Smoke rises from the fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey apartment block in North Kensington, London



Smoke billows across the London skyline follwing a fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate

Alex Lentati


Aw omen react followign the blaze at Grenfell Tower

Alex Lentati


Smoke billows across the London skyline follwing a fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate

Jeremy Selwyn


A water jet douses the fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey apartment block seen through a fence in North Kensington



Young children wear protective face masks near the burning 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London

Getty Images


Two men hug within the security cordon as Grenfell Tower is engulfed by fire

AFP/Getty Images


A man (circled) looks from a window as smoke pours from a fire that has engulfed the 27-storey Grenfell Tower



Smoke billows across the London skyline follwing a fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate

Alex Lentati


Firefighters on the scene at Grenfell Tower on Latimer Road early this morning

Alex Lentati


A view of debris from the Grenfell Tower fire covering a football pitch



Aerial view of the closed of Westway follwing a the fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate, Latimer Road.

Jeremy Selwyn


Fire fighters tackle the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 story Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, West London

Getty Images


A local resident is carried to receive some medical aid at a community centre close to a fire that has engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower


The draft report was submitted to the Metropolitan Police Service so that its interim conclusions could speed up “other parts of the MPS-led investigation”, including gathering documentation and interviewing contractors. BRE was asked to achieve three aims: 

“To establish the circumstances surrounding as many deaths resulting from the fire as possible;” 

“To establish any failings of duty of care owed to victims of the fire, both fatalities and surviving residents;”

“To provide expert witness support in relation to any criminal prosecution, public inquiry or inquest.”

The Standard understands, from a separate source, that the police investigation has already downloaded over 30 million emails and documents from the servers of Kensington and Chelsea council and the Tenant Management Organisation, and that they are beginning to trace and interview about 500 key contractors and sub-contractors involved in the refurbishment.

The on-site work that formed the basis for the report involved fingertip searches and the examination of all 129 flats, and was scheduled to run until the end of March. Evaluations of the condition of each flat on the fourth, fifth, sixth and 23rd floors are in this draft — with the “damage overview” ranging from “total destruction” to “undamaged”.

Reports on flats on other floors were still being drafted. Further tests of the fire resistance of doors and lifts, and safety of  gas installation, were still being carried out at the date of the draft.

The report could also feed into the public inquiry, due to start on May 21.

A specialist architect shown the document said: “The question is: could this fire have been avoided? This damning report is saying it absolutely could have been and that the refurb was to blame.

“Construction around the cavity barriers and windows was particularly poor. The uPVC used in the panels to close the gap around the windows was a terrible mistake. It has no fire integrity and provided a vulnerable route for fire to spread.

“These findings could result in people going to prison. But the report has left open the vital question as to whether the design or the installation was at fault, whether the works were approved and/or inspected, or whether it was a combination of all of these.

“The buck stops with the owner of the building Kensington and Chelsea council, and its management organisation, which have ultimate duty of care. Some  people will not be sleeping well at night once this report is made public. You read it and think: heads are going to roll.”

Building Research Establishment is a former government laboratory that was privatised in 1997 and is now owned by charitable organisation BRE Trust.  Based in Watford, it provides research, testing, certification and standards.

Source : https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/shock-grenfell-dossier-reveals-disastrous-refurbishment-turned-tower-into-a-tinderbox-a3814866.html