A senior fire engineer did not think cladding Grenfell Tower would pose any “particular issues or problems” for fire safety during early discussions about refurbishing the tower block, the inquiry into the disaster has heard.
Clare Barker, the former principal fire engineer at Exova, did not raise the need for any proposed cladding system to have a separate fire safety assessment during a meeting in July 2012, the inquiry heard on Monday, its first sitting since mid-March after being paused by the pandemic.
An early fee proposal by Exova for a fire assessment of Grenfell Tower in 2012 also assumed a “detailed appraisal” of the buildings fire compartmentation was unnecessary because it was a “concrete building”, she told the hearing.
Survivors and those bereaved as a result of the blaze have criticised the inquiry for holding limited attendance hearings to comply with social distancing, with only witnesses, some lawyers, and panel members allowed in the inquiry building.
Nabil Choucair, who lost six relatives in the tragedy, said: “We should be allowed to see their faces. We are the families that have had our families taken from us.”
Warrington-based Barker said she was involved with the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project only between July and August 2012 and she then passed on the project to her London-based colleague, Terry Ashton, who was off ill during her involvement.
The inquirys chief lawyer, Richard Millett QC, asked Barker: “Given that you knew Grenfell Tower would be overclad, although not the details, did you raise the need to carry out a fire assessment specifically in relation to the proposed cladding system as the proposal then stood?”
She replied: “No.”
Millett also asked: “At the time did you consider that cladding this building would present any particular issues or problems with regard to fire safety?”
She replied: “No, I didnt.”
Elsewhere, an Exova fee proposal document on the proposed scope of works said it was “based on the assumption that a detailed appraisal is not required of the structural fire protection to the loadbearing elements of the structure or of the fire compartmentation within the building.”
Asked why that assumption was made, Dr Barker said: “I would say it was assumed that, because the building was a concrete building, that it possessed the necessary fire resistance.
“As well as because of the time it was constructed, it was required to be a building with two hours fire resistance to the structural elements.”
Exova has previously said criticism of it is “unjustified” because it was not consulted about the flammable materials that eventually coated the building.
The firms counsel, Michael Douglas QC, has told the inquiry the company had been “left out” of planning discussions and had been effectively sidelined after Rydon became the main contractor in 2014.
Barkers evidence came as a group representing victims, survivors and the bereaved called for the inquiry to “investigate the extent of institutional racism as a factor” in the tragedy which killed 72 people in June 2017.
The Grenfell Next Of Kin group also called for “inclusive and full participation” in plans for the memorial site and a “proper and independent recovery and support plan” for those directly affected by the disaster.
The group added that it was “a fundamental question that needs to be answered urgently by the government because of the retraumatising and detrimental effect on the recovery and welfare of all of the victims, whether they are survivors, residents, wider community or the next of kin”.
Their concerns were echoed by Brent Central Labour MP, Dawn Butler, who called on Twitter for the inquiry to let survivors and family members into proceedings and investigate class and race as “a contributory factor”.