Grenfell refurb ‘made a crap condition worse’

Inquiry adjourned again as key witness is taken ill.

Grenfell Tower green banner with a heart

The Grenfell inquiry has been adjourned again, but this time only for an afternoon with key witnesses Bruce Sounes – lead architect on the tower’s refurbishment – taken ill.

Inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick said the inquiry would resume tomorrow (4th March) with a different witness.

Sir Martin said Sounes – on the stand since Monday (2nd March) – had been under cross-examination this morning.

This was due to continue over the afternoon, but Sounes did not return.

Sir Martin confirmed to the inquiry that Sounes had been taken ill and it was not going to be possible for him to continue giving evidence today or tomorrow.

Earlier, the inquiry heard how the refurbishment plan for the tower was described by fire safety experts as “making a crap condition worse”.

Internal emails from project fire engineer fire Exova detailed concerns about the design by project architects Studio E, described as “not great” in adding additional levels which merged uses around a single stairway.

The inquiry heard that the messages were exchanged between Exova colleagues following a conversation Sounes in 2012.

This email trail outlined an intention to “massage” the fire safety strategy to get it past official checks – while privately admitted the refurbishment plans were making “a crap condition worse”.

In one message, a  senior fire engineer that the proposal to add additional flats around a single staircase in the block was “not great”.

The email revealed that after having spoken to the architect, Bruce Sounes, about the plans in August 2012, a senior Exova consultant at Exova, told a colleague: “Basically I have told (Sounes) we can massage the proposal to something acceptable, with separation, lobbies etc, but that there are approval risks in the project on the ff shaft/MOE front.”

(FF is firefighting shaft, MOE is means of escape).

This email was sent four years before the refurbishment works were signed off by the building control department at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), the inquiry heard.

The email continued: “They are making an existing crap condition worse so it’s a matter of working the worse [sic] bits outs and making the new stuff work. No sprinklers wanted.”

The question was asked in the email as to whether Exova had any contacts at the building control department at KBKC that would be responsible for approving the works’ compliance with building regulations.

Asked whether Studio E had considered installing sprinklers in the 24-storey block, Sounes said: “It wouldn’t be something we would hold a view on.”

“We would have expected the fire consultant to recommend, or building control to advise any requirement – I don’t recall sprinklers being discussed or raised as something that may be needed.”

Sounes also said the issues raised in the emails described the emails as “raising a level of concern I was not aware of”.

The inquiry continues.

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