Refrigerator Started London Tower Fire That Killed 79

  • Police mull charges if construction standards were breached
  • U.K. authorities test safety of 600 residential tower blocks

U.K.'s May Says Combustible Cladding Found in Buildings

A deadly fire that killed at least 79 people in a London tower block started in a Whirlpool Corp. fridge and spread at “unexpected speed” through the building’s exterior cladding, police said, indicating they’ll pursue charges if criminal offenses are identified.

“We are looking at every criminal offense from manslaughter onwards,” Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said on Friday in a press briefing. That includes “health and safety and fire safety offenses, and we are looking at every company involved in the refurbishment of the building,” she said.

The fire gutted Grenfell Tower, a block of mainly social housing in the U.K. capital’s most affluent district of Kensington, in the west of the city. It’s led to anger and street protests at the local and national government’s response to the disaster and questions over whether spending cuts compromised safety. 

Police identified the fridge model as a Hotpoint FF175BP, and the Department for Business issued a statement saying the device is being examined by technical experts to “establish whether any further action is required,” such as a product recall. “At this stage there is no specific reason for consumers to switch off their fridge freezer pending further investigation,” the department said.

Building Checks

Whirlpool shares fell the most intraday since May 18, and were down more than 3 percent at 11:30 a.m. in New York trading. The company said in a statement that 64,000 of the fridges were manufactured by Indesit between 2006 and 2009, when the model was discontinued, several years before Whirlpool acquired the company.

“We are working with the authorities to obtain access to the appliance so that we can assist with the ongoing investigations,” the company said in a statement. “We are addressing this as a matter of utmost urgency and assisting the authorities in any way we can.”

Inspections are being carried out on about 600 social housing tower blocks in England and 11 have so far failed initial safety tests. Checks are also being offered to owners of privately held tower blocks as well as schools, hospitals and other public buildings, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters on Friday.

Police are seizing “relevant material from a number of organizations,” McCormack told reporters, without naming the companies or authorities involved. Media attention has focused on a unit of Rydon Group, which refurbished the building last summer. The company issued a statement last week saying its work “met all required building regulations -- as well as fire regulation and health and safety standards.”

— With assistance by Thomas Penny, Jess Shankleman, and Taylor Cromwell

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