The finger of blame should not fall on Hotpoint for the Grenfell Tower tragedy, says ERT/kbbreview managing editor Andrew Davies
As the first awful reports of the Grenfell fire started to break, somewhere past the empathy and shock many people working for the big white-goods brands must have all simultaneously thought the same thing – ‘oh God, I hope that wasn’t started by one of our products’.
For a sector already reeling from very public fire incidents it would be the worst possible scenario.
Then, within hours, the first mentions of a possible origin started to emerge – people fleeing the building were saying one of the residents had alerted neighbours that his fridge had caught fire.
At that moment, the niggling worry of those in charge at the brands in question must’ve switched to cold sweats, as they put their PR and technical experts on alert just in case that dreaded call from the authorities came.
In the end, as we have learnt today, it was the phone at Hotpoint that started ringing.
A company still working its way through the colossal tumble-dryer repair campaign – and picking apart the bones of what many saw as a poorly-handled PR response to that crisis – is suddenly under the microscope again.
But, as difficult as it is, we need to take a deep breath and try to get things in perspective.
Firstly, there is currently no detail available on what caused the fridge to catch fire. Many news outlets are referring to a ‘faulty’ fridge, but there is no evidence right now to confirm it was faulty and there could be many different reasons why electrical goods catch fire.
Secondly, reports from the BBC Panorama investigation into the Grenfell fire suggested that the fridge had been extinguished by the fire service and they were actually leaving the building when they saw that the external cladding was ablaze. Something as simple as an open window in that kitchen could have led to the transfer of flames from the fridge to the cladding.
While it is, of course, quite correct that every avenue of investigation into what made that fridge catch fire should be exhausted, the investigation – and Hotpoint – should not be allowed to become the focus of people’s anger.
That anger should be directed at uncovering how a simple (and relatively common) domestic fire could engulf an entire tower block so quickly and so tragically – the design of the Titanic was to blame, the iceberg just highlighted the flaws.
For Hotpoint, it has another PR mountain to climb and its management of this crisis will be fascinating to watch – it has already issued a very contrite and heartfelt statement, every word of which must’ve been pored over forensically before release.
What is certain is that someone at Hotpoint needs to start preparing for an appearance in front of a very public inquiry, but until then the trial will be in the court of public opinion and that’s a very difficult thing to judge.
The issue of safety notices and recalls is bound to rear its head again – is it not time for manufacturers and retailers to work more closely together towards a possible solution?