Whirlpool: ‘Not possible to determine cause of Grenfell fire’

Whirlpool has rejected the conclusions of expert witnesses that the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people began in a Hotpoint fridge-freezer.

In a closing statement at the end of the first phase of the public inquiry to determine the cause of the fire, the US owner of Hotpoint said there was insufficient evidence to support the clear identification of the cause of the blaze and has urged the inquiry to conclude that the cause of the fire cannot be determined.

In paragraph 2.5 of the statement, Whirlpool said: “While Whirlpool agrees that the area of the origin of the fire is likely to have been located in the south-east corner of the kitchen [of Flat 16], Whirlpool submits that Professor Nic Daeid’s conclusion that the origin of the fire was in the tall fridge-freezer should not be accepted by the public inquiry.

“Whirlpool submits that this further refinement on the area of origin is not supported, on a balance of probabilities, through a consideration of all of the evidence that has been adduced to the public inquiry, and in particular, the evidence put forward by Dr Glover, the expert appointed by the public inquiry to conduct an electrical investigation.”

Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, a fire and forensic investigation expert based at the University of Dundee and Dr John Duncan Glover, president and principal engineer at Failure Electrical LLC, were two of the expert witnesses called on by the public inquiry to provide analysis on the cause and spread of the devastating fire in west London last June.

The first phase of the inquiry to determine the cause of events at Grenfell Tower on the night of June 17 has now concluded after almost 100 days.

The inquiry chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, has said the next step of the inquiry is to examine “the very significant body of evidence amassed by it”, including 20,000 documents and hundreds of witness statements and come to a conclusion “as soon as possible, having regard to the volume of material that has to be digested”.

“I am very grateful to all those who have given evidence to the inquiry, whether in the form of written statements or in person at the hearings, despite the difficulties many of them clearly experienced in doing so.

“It has not been possible to call all those who provided statements to give their evidence in person, but all of them can be assured that their evidence is very valuable and will be taken into account when the report is drafted.”

Giving testimony late last month, Dr Glover said that overheating wiring in a Hotpoint FF175BP was the “most probable” cause of the fire that burned down the London building in June 2017. Meanwhile, Professor Nic Daeid, in her final report, also pointed to the “tall fridge-freezer located along the south facing wall” as being “more likely than not” the origin of the fire.

But Whirlpool countered that both expert witness investigations were “limited in scope” for different reasons, contained “fundamental errors” and therefore could not be relied upon.

Plastic backed fridges versus metal backed fridges. Test done London Fire Brigade

The firm said Professor Nic Daeid’s investigation was “largely paper-based”, based on work undertaken by the initial fire investigation teams, and by her own admission was “not ideal”.

Meanwhile, Whirlpool said Dr Glover’s investigation was based on the assumption that the cause of the fire was electrical and did not examine the possibility of any non-electrical causes, like a smouldering cigarette butt that could have been thrown through the open window, or a lit candle.

“It is Whirlpool’s submission that the public inquiry cannot on the available evidence and in light of the, perhaps inevitably, limited nature of some of that evidence, come to a determination on the balance of probabilities that the point of origin was in the tall fridge-freezer and that the cause was as posited by Dr Glover.”

Whirlpool commended the bravery of the firefighters who were on the scene in the very early stages of the fire and “acknowledges the very difficult circumstances in which they were operating at the time”.

But the firm said that in some areas the recording of the fire scene and the evidence-gathering process fell short of the standards of a best practice fire-scene investigation, pointing to the failure to collect, examine and analyse potentially significant evidence.

In a statement to kbbreview, Whirlpool 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.

“Two separate investigations have been carried out into this model of fridge freezer – one by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and another by Whirlpool.

“Both investigations independently found no evidence of any fault with this model and confirmed that it fully complied with all safety requirements.

“These conclusions have also been verified by the Government’s chief scientific advisor.”

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