Hotpoint claims Grenfell blaze that killed 72 could have been started by a cigarette thrown into fourth floor flat from the ground but furious residents dismiss ‘desperate speculation’
- Grenfell Tower inquiry heard claim fire could have been started by cigarette
- Whirlpool Corporation said it could have been ‘thrown through open window’
- But lawyer for resident in flat where blaze began dismissed it as ‘speculation’
- Calls have also been made for 999 call handlers to give evidence to inquiry
A claim that the deadly Grenfell Tower blaze may have been started by a lit cigarette being thrown into a fourth floor window has been dismissed as ‘desperate speculation’.
It is widely believed the fire originated in a faulty Hotpoint fridge freezer in a flat on the fourth floor.
But a public inquiry into the disaster today heard the Whirlpool Corporation, which owns Hotpoint, has tried to explain the blaze as being the result of ‘someone throwing something – perhaps a burning cigarette – into the kitchen through the open window’.
Rajiv Menon, who represents Behailu Kebede, 45, who lived in the flat where the fire started, called the claim ‘desperate’ and ‘pure speculation’.
The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people today heard a claim from the Whirlpool Corporation that it could have been started by a cigarette ‘being thrown through a kitchen window’. The inquiry previously heard the blaze likely started in a faulty fridge freezer made by Hotpoint, owned by Whirlpool. Pictured is the fridge freezer in the burned out flat where the blaze began
The inquiry was previously shown the tiny wire connector, pictured, that is thought to have overheated and started the fire, which quickly spread, eventually killing 72 people
Pictured are the 72 victims of the blaze and where they lived in the west London building
He said: ‘As far as the theory of the fire having started as a result of something being thrown through the open window is concerned, this is pure speculation, desperate to put it politely.
‘There is no evidence in support, it would have been impossible for a cigarette or some other mystery item to have been launched from ground level four floors down and it is equally impossible to imagine how a cigarette or some other mystery item discarded from a flat above could have miraculously entered the kitchen through the open window, let alone set anything in the vicinity alight.’
A lawyer for Behailu Kebede, pictured, who lived in the flat where the blaze started, dismissed the Whirlpool claim as ‘desperate speculation’
Whirlpool is said to have made the claim in its closing statement, which has been circulated among lawyers but has not yet been heard by the public inquiry.
Mr Menon said the suggestion was a ‘transparent attempt by a multinational corporation to try to avoid liability and minimise reputational damage and financial loss’.
Last month expert Dr John Duncan Glover concluded that the blaze probably began in the Hotpoint FF175BP in the kitchen of Flat 16.
A spokeswoman for Whirlpool Corporation said: ‘We are committed to assisting the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in any way we can as it continues to investigate all the potential origins and causes of the fire and how it spread.
‘Separately, we would like to reassure owners of these products that they are safe and they can continue to use them as normal.’
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She said two investigations had found ‘no evidence of any fault’ with the fridge freezer model and that the Government had verified their conclusions.
Mr Menon said it was important that chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick make a finding that the fire started in the fridge freezer so that ‘as a society we can try to regulate in the interest of public safety’.
He added: ‘The inquiry must set the record straight and unequivocally declare Mr Kebede bears no responsibility indirectly or directly for the outbreak of fire in his kitchen, its spread and its fatal consequences.’
When does the Grenfell inquiry end?
The public inquiry into the 2017 tragedy at Grenfell tower block in Kensington, West London, could run into 2020 by the time all evidence is taken into acount.
Below is a time line of how it has unfolded so far.
March 2018: More than 330,000 documents received in preparation for the inquiry, set to begin in May. Core participants number 547.
May 21 2018: Inquiry began. The first six months were to focus solely on what happened on the night of the fire. Testimonies were read at the Millennium Gloucester hotel, West London.
June 14: No evidence is heard for a week as the inquiry pauses during the week of the inferno’s first anniversary.
June 21: Firefighters and commanders begin giving evidence about their handling of the fire.
September: Residents offer their accounts about the blaze. Experts also tell the inquiry what they believe caused the first and allowed it to spread.
October: Closing statements submitted by fire service – including commissioner’s remarks that she would not change anything about LFB’s response.
November: Fire experts share their views on the likely cause of the blaze and the reason for it spreading so quickily.
December: Closing statements are submitted on behalf of survivors, the bereaved and organisations responsible for responding to the blaze.
2019: Phase two of the inquiry begins, focusing on the planning, design and building of the tower.
It will begin by examining the building when erected in 1974 and its subsequent modifications, including renovations to the exterior between 2012 and 2016.
Fire safety features and advice to residents will also be reviewed.
Meanwhile calls were also made for police call handlers to give evidence to the inquiry.
Leslie Thomas QC, who represents survivors, the bereaved and residents, claimed that one resident, Zaineb Deen, was told to head to the tower’s roof, wave at helicopters and await rescue.
Zainab Deen, 32, and her son Jeremiah, two, both died after becoming trapped on the 14th floor of the burning high-rise tower in west London.
Mr Thomas argued the inquiry ‘ought to establish whether others were given similar advice’.
Mr Thomas told the inquiry: ‘Our clients are genuinely concerned that other residents who travelled from the floor to the roof were advised to do so by members of the emergency services in order to be rescued by helicopters.’
He added: ‘Our clients’ own suspicions that the presence of the helicopter gave residents, particularly those on the upper floors, a false hope that they would have been rescued was shared by Farhad (a top floor resident who survived the fire) and other firefighters as we heard from Alan Moore (fire service watch manager).
‘These concerns can only be properly allayed from the testimony of Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) control staff who took calls from residents in the tower and disclosure of MPS call handling guidance protocols.’
Mr Thomas also said police first responders should also be called to give evidence to the inquiry.
Their evidence would offer a ‘unique perspective’ that differs from that given by the fire brigade, he added.
Two officers, PC Sangha and PC Rees, should be called, he said.
‘Their assessment of the incident shortly after arrival, in particular Pc Sangha’s assessment of the need for evacuation of the building at 1.28am, was at a critical time when more lives could have been saved,’ he said.
He added: ‘We are mindful of Barbara Lane’s assessment that ‘stay put’ should have been abandoned by 1.26am and that safe evacuation of those physically able was possible up to 1.40am or later depending on variables such as the floor.
‘It is therefore essential to know what discussion PC Rees had with the incident commander, if at all, and whether there was a discussion about evacuation given the MPS’ initial assessment.’
A total of 72 people died as a result of the fire on June 14 last year.
The inquiry is currently hearing closing statements from lawyers representing the bereaved, survivors, and organisations involved with the tower.
This graphic shows the kitchen where the blaze started at Grenfell after it was cleared out, including the pattern of how the flames spread
This graphic details how the blaze spread up the building at Grenfell Tower in June 2017
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