Grenfell Tower fire was started by Hotpoint fridge-freezer and spread to ‘combustible’ cladding

Manslaughter charges could result from police investigations as recovery work continues 

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 23 June 2017 11:48
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Police: Grenfell fire was started by Hotpoint fridge-freezer and spread to 'combustible' cladding

The Grenfell Tower Fire was started by a Hotpoint fridge-freezer before spreading to the building’s “combustible” cladding, investigators have found.

Metropolitan Police detective superintendent Fiona McCormack said the Hotpoint FF175BP model had not been subject to any product recall and work with the manufacturer was under way. The Government has ordered an “immediate examination” of the unit to establish the cause of the fire and whether any further action is needed.

“At this stage there is no specific reason for consumers to switch off their fridge freezer, pending further investigation,” a spokesperson added.

Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, said the safety of consumers was “paramount”, adding: “The device is being subject to immediate and rigorous testing to establish the cause of the fire.

“I have made clear to the company that I will expect them to replace any item without delay if it is established that there is a risk in using them.”

A spokesperson for Hotpoint offered the manufacturer’s condolences to victims of the “terrible tragedy” and their loved ones.

“We are working with the authorities to obtain access to the appliance so that we can assist with the ongoing investigations,” she added.

“We are addressing this as a matter of utmost urgency and assisting the authorities in any way we can.”

Investigation: cladding taken from Grenfell Tower failed safety tests, the Metropolitan Police has confirmed

Witnesses at the scene of the 24-storey fire on 14 June said a resident told neighbours his fridge had “exploded” while alerting them to the initial blaze, which spread rapidly through the block.

Det Supt McCormack said tests had been carried out on cladding installed on the outside of Grenfell Tower last year to improve insulation and the building’s appearance.

Police are are working with experts to examine the aluminium cladding, the insulation behind it, how the tiles were fixed to the building and how it was installed.

“Preliminary tests on the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower showed that they combusted soon after the test started,” Det Supt McCormack said.

“The initial tests on the cladding tiles also failed the safety tests.”

The results have been shared with the Department for Communities and Local Government and will go to all councils in the UK amid urgent checks of other tower blocks.

Det Supt McCormack said two key points of the investigation were Grenfell Tower’s internal safety and how the fire spread so quickly.

Government help: £500,000 has been distributed to displaced Grenfell Tower residents out of a £5m discretionary fund

Police are looking at “every criminal offence from manslaughter onwards” and investigating all companies involved in the building and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

Documents and materials have been seized from a “number of organisations”, Ms McCormack added.

The number of victims confirmed or presumed dead in the fire still stands at 79 but said efforts to confirm who was inside the building at the time continue.

She urged people to come forward with information about any missing friends and relatives, assuring them that the tragedy would not be used by the Home Office or police to check immigration status.

“I know that there is a fear the [death toll] is a lot higher and I do not want any hidden victims of this tragedy,” she added.

“Every complete body has been removed from the building.

“What we are dealing with now, as you can imagine in the intense heat, is a very distressing scene.

“What we haven’t got is a picture of how many people might have been in there.

Volunteers have told The Independent they fear missing undocumented migrants and subletters may not be on records, with relatives reportedly afraid to go to authorities over fears their own immigration status will be checked.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan was among those calling for an amnesty on people who may have been living in the tower illegally.

Det Supt McCormack said officers are receiving CCTV, photos and footage from the fire, as well as “harrowing” phone calls made by victims trapped inside.

More than 600 calls were made to 999 during the fire, she said, adding: “We have listened to every one of those to truly understand the fire and how it took hold that night.

“Some of these calls are over an hour long and truly harrowing in their content.”

According to the Met, “distressing” and difficult investigations inside Grenfell Tower may not be complete until the end of the year, with a lift being installed on the outside of the building

“Such is the devastation [that] there is a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died in the fire,” says Det Supt McCormack. “We will do everything we can with the utmost sensitivity and dignity.

“We want to provide the best possible answers for all those who have been deeply affected by this tragedy.”

Protesters hold signs calling for justice for the victims of the Grenfell Disaster

Theresa May has admitted that initial support for families was “not good enough”, with survivors left without shelter and basic information.

“That was a failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most,” she added.

“As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure.”

The Government announced on Wednesday that many of the families who lost their homes in the fire will be housed in apartments in Kensington Row, around 1.5 miles from Grenfell Tower.

The Department for Work and Pensions has provided £5,000 grants from a £5m discretionary fund, with the total amount paid so far around £500,000.

The response has been taken over by the Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, as the Charity Commission coordinates the distribution of thousands of pounds raised by public donations.

Owners of Hotpoint fridge-freezer models FF175BP (white) or FF175BG (grey) should call Whirlpool Corporation’s freephone hotline on 0800 316 3826 or visit its website to register for any updates.

People with concerns about product safety can also call the Citizens Advice consumer service line on 03454 04 05 06 or the government’s consumer helpline on 0300 123 1016.

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