Bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have slammed former prime minister David Cameron for refusing to say if he’d attend a crucial public inquiry into the tragedy.
Module six in phase two of the inquiry began this week and is examining how the west London tower block came to be coated in flammable materials that allowed a kitchen blaze to grow into a deadly inferno that killed 72 people.
On Monday it was argued governments had covered up the extent of the cladding crisis for decades.
Stephanie Barwise QC said previous administrations had an ‘unbridled passion for deregulation’ that led to exploitation of building regulations by the construction industry.
And Michael Mansfield QC said Mr Cameron in particular should be cross-examined because of his policy of deregulation.
The former Tory leader said in 2010 how he wanted to ‘scrap health and safety rules that put people off’, the inquiry heard.
The following year he said ‘the shadow’ of health and safety was holding people back, adding that this was not ‘how a great nation was built’ and that ‘Britannia didn’t rule the waves with arm bands on’.
And in 2012, he said he would ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good’ describing it as ‘an albatross around the neck of British businesses’.
Mr Mansfield said such speeches were ‘ridiculing, humiliating health and safety, and relegating citizens, as it were, to effectively a bonfire’.
‘We say he needs to be here to answer what he meant,’ he told the inquiry.
Mr Cameron has not been officially called upon to give evidence.
But he refused to say whether he would attend the hearing if asked to when reporters from the Daily Mirror approached him at his home in Notting Hill – just one mile from the remains of Grenfell tower.
Campaign group Grenfell United said it showed the government’s ‘reluctance to uncover’ their role in the blaze.
The housing department on Tuesday apologised for mistakes which led up to the tragedy, saying the construction industry abused the government’s trust.
But it stopped short of accepting that rules in place were flawed.
Grenfell United said: ‘The Government’s statement at the public inquiry (on Tuesday) is deeply offensive.
‘It is a disingenuous attempt to carry on their masquerade of innocence.
‘Previous PM David’ Cameron’s refusal to come to the inquiry, despite living a stone’s throw away from Grenfell Tower, is proof of the government’s reluctance to uncover the true extent of their culpability. ‘
In response to the claims made in the inquiry, Mr Cameron’s spokesman told The Mirror he was for ‘a sensible approach to health and safety [rules] to ensure they protected people and were applied where needed rather than unnecessarily overwhelm businesses with red tape’.
Metro.co.uk has contacted him for further comment.
It comes after the government admitted that mistakes and missed chances sowed the seeds of the Grenfell fire, which happened in June 2017.
A lawyer representing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it was ‘deeply sorry’ as it acknowledged ‘past failures’ in overseeing the building control system for tall blocks.
Jason Beer, QC, said its trust in the construction industry had been ‘misplaced and abused’.
He said that if government regulations and guidance had been followed, ‘a large-scale cladding fire could not have happened’.
He said: ‘The department is deeply sorry for its past failures in relation to the oversight of the system that regulated safety in the construction and refurbishment of high-rise buildings.
‘It also deeply regrets past failures in relation to the superintendence of the building control bodies, which themselves had a key role in ensuring the safe construction and refurbishment of such buildings.
‘It apologises to the bereaved residents and survivors of the fire for such failures.’
Mr Beer added the government had trusted that building firms and official bodies in charge of approving high-rise blocks were ‘following the law and doing the right thing’.
However, he admitted this trust was abused and said the department accepted it ‘should have done more to take on board the learnings triggered by other fires’.
Mr Beer said: ‘Individually, these errors and missed opportunities from the department and across industry may not have caused the fire at Grenfell Tower, but cumulatively they created an environment in which such a tragedy was possible.’
He added a ‘functional enforcement system’ may have prevented it.
The apology followed explosive opening remarks from lawyers representing survivors and families of those who were killed.
The hearing was told that the fire occurred partly as a result of an ‘unbridled passion for deregulation’, with a desire to boost housing construction leading to the industry being allowed to exploit regulations.
Ms Barwise QC said that having become dependent on the sector, the ‘government began to realise the extent of the problem, and reacted by concealment instead of candour’.
She claimed the coverup dated back 30 years, with successive administrations ‘suppressing’ the results of investigations into earlier fires, including at Lakanal House in south London in 2009, when six people died.
‘The Grenfell disaster is a predictable, yet unintended, consequence of the combination of the laudable desire to reduce carbon emissions, coupled with an unbridled passion for deregulation, in particular a desire to deregulate and boost the housing construction industry,’ she said.
‘Government dependency on that industry resulted in Government becoming the junior partner in the relationship, thereby permitting industry’s exploitation of the regulations.
Our statement following the Government’s opening submission at the @grenfellinquiry today.
PM Johnson, Chancellor Sunak and Secretary of State Gove must finally accept that the first responsibility of government is to protect and safeguard the lives of its citizens. pic.twitter.com/dcqFQkkNGP
‘The result is a prolonged period of concealment by Government, which should properly be regarded as one of the major scandals of our time.’
The inquiry has already heard allegations that builders and designers failed to meet regulations at Grenfell, as well as claims of how manufacturers manipulated certification systems to sell combustible materials.
The hearing continues in the backdrop of a building safety scandal exposed by Grenfell, with thousands of people stuck in dangerous homes they can no longer sell because they don’t meet new regulations brought in after the fire.
End Our Cladding Scandal, a campaign for leaseholders affected by the cladding crisis, said that this week’s opening statements ‘confirmed what we have all known for years: that residents have been betrayed by successive governments and civil servants for decades’.
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