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Grenfell probe: PM says major national inquiry required to examine cladding use

Ninety-five samples of cladding from tower blocks in 32 English local authority areas have failed fire safety tests.

A “major national investigation” must take place into the decades-long use of potentially flammable cladding on high-rise towers across the country, Prime Minister Theresa May has said.

Mrs May’s call came as Cabinet was informed 95 samples of cladding from tower blocks in 32 English local authority areas have failed fire safety tests – amounting to 100% of all samples submitted by councils.

The PM’s official spokesman said the national investigation could be conducted as a second phase of the public inquiry already announced into the Grenfell Tower blaze, which claimed the lives of at least 79 people.

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The latest tally of fire safety checks was presented to Cabinet by Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid, who has issued an urgent call for all councils to send in samples of cladding from tall buildings.

Schools and hospitals may also do the same where they have concerns, with the Care Quality Commission having contacted more than 17,000 care homes, hospices and private hospitals to tell them to check fire safety procedures.

The figures emerged as a fire safety expert raised doubts over the combustibility tests being carried out on cladding samples by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

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Mr Javid said the combustibility test has been failed by every building examined so far (David Mirzoeff/PA)

David Metcalfe, head of the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology, a body which works with hundreds of contractors, architects and manufacturers, claimed samples are being tested “severely” in a way which may be inflating the scale of the crisis.

Regulations in force refer to insulation products and filler materials, but do not specifically state that cladding should be of limited combustibility, he said.

The Department for Communities and Local Government responded by saying an independent panel of experts had approved the test, while the BRE did not comment.

The PM’s spokesman told reporters evidence suggests the use of the suspect cladding stretches back at least into the last decade. Characterising the Cabinet response to the mounting evidence of widespread problems, he said: “It is clear that everybody is concerned about this and everybody wants to establish what went wrong.”

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Three towers in Newham, east London, and two in Sefton, Merseyside, are the latest to be identified as at-risk, the DCLG said.

It came as housing group One Manchester said 16 of the high-rise buildings it owns have now been found to be encased with combustible material.

Meanwhile, new figures released by the Home Office on Tuesday showed the number of fires in high-rise purpose-built flats fell by almost half in the years leading up to the Grenfell Tower disaster.

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