Grenfell cladding in TV expose

The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little;

TV journalists have a duty to try and be fair and even-handed when investigating an issue. They also have a duty to their employers to make something that people are going to want to watch. In many cases, that does lead to sensationalism and wild accusations.

Sometimes those accusations are unfounded; sometimes those accusations are true. More often, in fact in most cases, they are somewhere in the middle.

I don’t understand enough about the mechanics and technology of tower blocks or cladding or insulation types, nor indeed of specifying products or architecture to be able to comment authoritatively on the findings of the BBC Panorama programme aired on Monday 21st May.  Nor do I feel I can speculate on what did or didn’t go wrong and what should or shouldn’t have been used.

The programme makes for very uncomfortable viewing, but then that is probably why it was made.

The finger of blame was pointed in several directions: the architect, the refurbishment company, the manufacturer of the insulation – Celotex – and the management company, with the term corporate manslaughter bandied about.

Was it simply a case of badly specified products used in the wrong place without sufficient checks to ensure that what was being fitted was indeed, fit for purpose?  Or something more sinister? What we do know is that council building inspectors approved the use of a cheaper version of the cladding and insulation on the refurbishment of the 24-storey block, and that hundreds more towers across the country feature the same or similar products.

What we do also know is that public confidence in the system of building regulations and inspections is pretty close to rock bottom.  A situation not helped by the confusion surrounding the findings of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into the Building Regulations which stopped short of an outright ban on combustible cladding, while also saying that, it hoped the Government might look at such a ban, while the new housing minister has decided to make his mark by saying he will launch a consultation on a ban.

The public enquiry opened this week and it will, we hope, be able to find some answers to some of the many, many questions, not least: how can we learn from this and prevent it happening ever again.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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