Investigators looking into insulation used in London apartment fire

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LONDON — A senior U.K. government minister said Sunday that he believed the insulation apparently used in a recent refurbishment of the London high-rise devastated by a blaze is banned in Britain for buildings above a certain height.

Speculation has focused on the role that may have been played by the insulation, also referred to as cladding, because the fire tore through the 24-story Grenfell Tower in the early hours of Wednesday, leaving at least 58 people presumed dead.

The government on Saturday promised a public inquiry and police have opened a criminal investigation. But angry residents, many of whom lost everything they had in the blaze, have voiced fears of a cover-up.

“My understanding is the cladding in question, this flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and the US, is also banned here,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said.

“So there are two separate questions. One, are our regulations correct, do they permit the right kind of materials and ban the wrong kind of materials? The second question is were they correctly complied with?

“That will be a subject that the inquiry will look at. It will also be a subject that the criminal investigation will be looking at.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the use of a composite aluminum panel with a polyethylene core would breach current U.K. building regulations guidance, which says the material should not be used as cladding on buildings over 59 feet in height.

However, the spokesman did not confirm what type of cladding was used on Grenfell Tower, adding it would be subject to investigation.

The company that installed the cladding, Harley Facades Limited, said in a statement Wednesday that it was “not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.”

Police said Saturday that 30 people had been confirmed dead since the fire, while another 28 remain missing and are presumed dead.

Nineteen people remained in hospital as of Saturday afternoon, of whom 10 were receiving critical care.

The tower’s cladding will likely be one of only many factors taken into account as investigators probe what happened.

Authorities have also faced questions about why the tower block, built in the 1970s, was never subsequently fitted with a sprinkler system that might have saved lives as the blaze took hold.

But Hammond said it was up to the public inquiry to determine whether the retrofitting of sprinklers to buildings was necessary to improve fire safety.

“What I am hearing from the leading fire safety experts is that it isn’t necessarily necessary to retrofit sprinklers to make a building fire safe,” he said. “If something needs to be done to make buildings safe it will be done.”

Councilor Nicholas Paget-Brown said this week that sprinklers were not fitted inside the building during the refurbishment “because that would have delayed and made the refurbishment of the block more disruptive.”