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The BBC has seen letters that show four separate government ministers were warned that fire regulations were not keeping people safe.
The leaked letters show experts warning that those living in tower blocks like Grenfell Tower were “at risk”.
At least 79 people are dead or missing presumed dead after the fire last week.
Panorama has also learned that firefighters put out the initial flat fire in Grenfell Tower – but couldn’t stop the flames spreading outside.
The letters show experts have been worried about fire safety in tower blocks for years.
Following a fatal fire in Lakanal House in south London in 2009, a series of recommendations were made to keep people safe.
They were ignored. The government promised a review of regulations in 2013, but it still hasn’t happened.
Panorama has obtained a dozen letters sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group.
Informed by experts, they warned the government they “could not afford to wait for another tragedy”.
Four ministers received letters but didn’t strengthen the regulations.
Ronnie King, a former chief fire officer who sits on the group, says the government has ignored repeated warnings about tower block safety.
“We have spent four years saying ‘Listen, we have got the evidence, we’ve provided you with the evidence, there is clear public opinion towards this, you ought to move on this’,” said Mr King.
After six people were killed at Lakanal House in 2009, the coroner made a series of safety recommendations for the government to consider.
Ministers promised a review in 2013, but it was soon delayed.
In March 2014, the parliamentary group wrote: “Surely… when you already have credible evidence to justify updating… the guidance… which will lead to saving of lives, you don’t need to wait another three years in addition to the two already spent since the research findings were updated, in order to take action?
“As there are estimated to be another 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK, without automatic sprinkler protection, can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?”
After further correspondence, the then government minister – Liberal Democrat MP Steven Williams – replied: “I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward.”
The group replied to say they “were at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence which had life safety implications, was NOT considered to be urgent”.
“As a consequence the group wishes to point out to you that should a major fire tragedy, with loss of life occur between now and 2017, in for example, a residential care facility or a purpose built block of flats, where the matters which had been raised here, were found to be contributory to the outcome, then the group would be bound to bring this to others’ attention.”
The letters were written before the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.
Former cabinet minister Eric Pickles received a letter about fire regulations from the parliamentary group in February 2014.
He had also been asked to look at fire safety in February 2013 and March 2013 by two separate coroners, investigating two tower block fires.
In December 2015, the all-party group wrote to the former Conservative minister James Wharton, and warned about the risk of fires spreading on the outside of buildings with cladding.
“Today’s buildings have a much higher content of readily available combustible material. Examples are timber and polystyrene mixes in structure, cladding and insulation…
“This fire hazard results in many fires because adequate recommendations to developers simply do not exist. There is little or no requirement to mitigate external fire spread.”
Further calls for action were made to former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s top aide, in September last year.
In November 2016, Mr Barwell replied to say his department had been looking at the regulations, and would make a statement “in due course”.
The fire experts asked for the government statement to be brought forward.
In April 2017, Gavin Barwell wrote to say he did “acknowledge that producing a statement on building regulations has taken longer than I had envisaged”.
The government today said there was still no timetable for a review.
In a separate development, Panorama has discovered that firefighters put out the first fire at Grenfell Tower.
They were called to a fridge fire, and within minutes told residents the fire was out in the flat.
The crew was leaving the building when firefighters outside spotted flames rising up the side of the building.
The Fire Brigades Union say firefighters were left facing an unprecedented fire, and officers broke their own safety protocol to rescue people.
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