LONDON • A fire that killed at least 79 people at a London tower block started in a fridge freezer, and the outside cladding engulfed by the blaze has since been shown to fail all safety tests, London police have said.
At a briefing on the June 14 blaze in west London, Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said that in view of the heavy death toll, police were considering manslaughter charges over the disaster.
She said the Hotpoint fridge freezer involved, FF175BP, was not subject to recall and the manufacturer was doing further tests.
"We now have expert evidence that the fire was not started deliberately," Supt McCormack told reporters in London yesterday.
Britain ordered an immediate technical examination of the Hotpoint model, manufactured between 2006 and 2009, to establish whether further action needed to be taken, but said there was no need for owners to switch off their appliances.
Whirlpool Corp, the world's largest maker of home appliances, owns the Hotpoint brand in the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions.
In the United States, the brand now belongs to Haier, following the Chinese group's purchase of General Electric's appliance business.
"We are working with the authorities to obtain access to the appliance so that we can assist with the ongoing investigations," Whirlpool said in a statement.
"Words cannot express our sorrow at this terrible tragedy."
Police also said both the insulation and tiles used in cladding at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block failed all post-fire safety tests.
The cladding was installed on the council-owned tower, which was built in 1974, as part of a refurbishment completed last year. "Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the tests started," Supt McCormack said.
Such were their concerns after the tests that the information was immediately shared with the government to disseminate more widely.
"Given the deaths of so many people, we are considering manslaughter as well as criminal offences and breaches of legislation and regulations," Supt McCormack said.
The blaze, Britain's worst since World War II, has heaped pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May, already fighting for her political survival after her party lost its parliamentary majority in a snap election on June 8.
When speaking about the 79 people dead or missing and presumed dead, Supt McCormack said all "complete bodies" had been removed and there was "a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died due to the intense heat".
Police fear the toll may be higher because some residents may have been living in the tower illegally.
"Our forensic search may not be complete until the end of the year," Supt McCormack added.
Grenfell Tower is a publicly subsidised housing block that prioritised low-income and disabled residents. Prime Minister May stressed on Thursday that all Grenfell victims, regardless of their immigration status, would be able to access whatever help they need.
At least 11 public housing blocks in eight locations, including London and Manchester, have already been found to be covered in combustible material, local government minister Sajid Javid said on Thursday in a letter to MPs.
The English local authorities estimate that 600 high-rise buildings have cladding, and the race is on to establish which ones are covered in the same material that enclosed Grenfell Tower.
Each family whose home was destroyed in the Grenfell blaze is receiving a £5,000 (S$9,000) payment from the government.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST