'We say it's only a matter of time' - London apartment fire horror could happen in NZ, says expert

The president of New Zealand’s top building watchdog has warned it’s "only a matter of time" before a catastrophe like the London apartment block fire happens here.

Speaking on TVNZ 1's Breakfast, Home Owners and Builders Association (HOBANZ) president John Gray said shoddy fire safety building practices by developers, and “willful blindness” from certifiers in approving them, is widespread in New Zealand.

"We have to get to the bottom of whether this cladding has been installed on New Zealand buildings, and it would be of grave concern if it was," Gray said.

"The safety and welfare of those that occupy these buildings is at risk and we’ve already seen some fires in high rise buildings in Auckland in recent times.

"We say that it’s only a matter of time that something will take hold in one of these buildings and potentially cause loss of life."

Gray said his knowledge of the poor fire safety standard of New Zealand buildings has only been discovered during the course of doing remedial work on leaky buildings around the country.

"That’s the only way we’ve been able to discover that these problems exist," he said.

"It’s a one hundred per cent hit rate in terms of the large terraced housing and the large apartment buildings that we have been assisting owners to actually remediate.

"It is gravely concerning to us and we need to know, because clearly a 100 per cent hit rate would indicate that a very high percentage of other buildings built from early 90’s through to as late as 2012 are potentially at risk."

HOBANZ president John Gray says he's aware of life-threatening defects like a lack of fire walls and fire-retardant buildings. Source: 1 NEWS

Victim of London fire had just escaped horror of Syrian war, friend says

A friend of Mohammed Alhaj Ali, the first named victim of the Grenfell Tower fire, said how unfair it is that Alhaj Ali escaped war-ravaged Syria only to die in this week's blaze in west London.

Abdullah Hourani, who is co-founder of the UK-based Syria Solidarity Campaign, told The Associated Press that Mohammed and his brother Omar lived in the Grenfell Tower but lost each other in the smoke-filled corridor as they tried to escape.

Mohammed was a 23-year-old Syrian refugee studying in London who hoped one day to return to help his war-torn country.

Hourani also said he was angry as Grenfell Tower residents had reported safety concerns about the building "many times".

At least 17 people were killed as flames raced through the 24-story Grenfell Tower early on Wednesday (Thursday NZT), trapping people inside their apartments.

Many people remained unaccounted for on Thursday (Friday, NZT), and officials weren't sure exactly how many were missing, but they expected the death toll to rise significantly.



Tonga's Prime Minister apologises to Bill English following revelations seasonal workers exchanged alcohol and drugs for sex with teens

Tonga's Prime Minister has apologised to Prime Minister Bill English for the behaviour of his seasonal workers in the last year.

Last night, 1 NEWS revealed a group of 15 workers were sent home after allegations they were giving underage girls alcohol, marijuana and money in exchange for sex.

Exclusive: Tongan seasonal workers plied underage girls in NZ with drugs, booze before sex

The number of incidents involving seasonal workers has almost doubled in the last year to 40.

1 NEWS Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver speaks about the disturbing incidents. Source: Breakfast

They were mostly alcohol-fuelled and included stealing cars and crashing, an assault and exposing to a ten-year-old girl.

In response to the 1 NEWS investigation, Akilisi Pohiva said incidents involving Tongans may have caused some uneasiness between the two countries.

Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva says he’s hoping to meet members of the victims’ families tomorrow.
Akilisi Pohiva. Source: 1 NEWS

He said he has apologised to Prime Minister Bill English, who is currently visiting Tonga on an official visit.

"I made it clear to him we would make sure the selection process from this end is done properly so that we can make sure that the people we select from this end are the right people to do the work," Mr Pohiva said.

Tongans on a special seasonal work scheme allegedly plied underage girls with drugs and alcohol before sex. Source: 1 NEWS