Chilling and dangerous: MPs blast Whirlpool bosses over gagging orders for victims of tumble dryer fires
- MPs urge Whirpool to stop using gagging orders on tumble dryer fire victims
- The MPs’ report warned this could stop customers sharing safety problems
- Bosses were accused of putting public relations ahead of customer safety
MPs have savaged white goods maker Whirlpool today, accusing it of protecting its reputation instead of fixing potentially lethal tumble dryers.
The firm was slammed as ‘chilling’ and ‘dangerous’ for using gagging orders to silence tumble dryer fire victims after the Daily Mail first exposed the ‘disgraceful’ practice.
Bosses at the manufacturer – whose brands include Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline – were accused of putting public relations ahead of customer safety when dealing with blazes in faulty machines.
This Hotpoint tumble dryer caught fire and allegedly caused ‘£10,000 worth of damage’. MPs have savaged white goods maker Whirlpool today, accusing it of protecting its reputation instead of fixing potentially lethal tumble dryers. Whirlpool deny this fire was caused by the tumble dryer
It was ‘astonishing’ that up to 800,000 defective dryers were still in people’s homes four years after Whirlpool revealed the problem, the business, energy and industrial strategy committee said.
The issue has caused more than 750 UK house fires since 2004 so the committee was especially critical of the ‘lamentable’ use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) on fire victims who received compensation.
The MPs’ report warned this could stop customers sharing safety problems and leave regulators in the dark about risks.
Stay silent, or you won’t get payout
Jemma Spurr, 35, spent months waiting for compensation for all the damage to her five-bedroom rented home in Hampshire following the blaze in 2018
A mother who fled her home with her children after a supposedly fixed tumble dryer caught fire had to sign a gagging order before receiving compensation.
Jemma Spurr, 35, spent months waiting for compensation for all the damage to her five-bedroom rented home in Hampshire following the blaze in 2018.
The mother-of-four said it was lucky no-one died after her Hotpoint, pictured, started the fire.
Whirlpool, the parent company of Hotpoint, agreed to pay her more than £11,000 only after she signed to say she would not discuss the fire with anyone, including broadcasters and social media.
Whirlpool said it ‘never used legal… enforcement mechanisms to prevent public discussions of alleged incidents’.
The mother-of-four said it was lucky no-one died after her Hotpoint, pictured, started the fire
It urged the company to stop using NDAs and said it welcomed consumer minister Kelly Tolhurst’s pledge to look into the issue amid concerns the gagging orders were being used to ‘cover up’ product safety.
MPs also questioned whether Whirlpool takes its ‘safety responsibilities seriously’ after its ‘improbable’ suggestion that the Grenfell inferno may have been started by a stray cigarette thrown into a fourth floor flat in the tower rather than a fault in one of its fridges, as the official report into the fire – which killed 72 people in 2017 – concluded this week.
The report called for the establishment of an independent body equipped with a wide range of civil and criminal sanctions to hold manufacturers to account.
The Mail first revealed earlier this year how mother Jemma Spurr, who was forced to flee her home with three children during a tumble dryer fire, had to sign an gagging order before receiving compensation from Whirlpool.
After our expose, MPs summoned Whirlpool vice president Jeff Noel for a public grilling where he apologised to Miss Spurr and admitted that similar NDAs had been used on at least 23 other occasions – but was unable to give the total number.
Charlie Pugsley, deputy assistant commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, told MPs it was ‘baffling’ that NDAs would be used to stop customers sharing product safety stories and agreed that it had huge implications for public safety.
The MPs’ report, published today, concluded: ‘It is disgraceful that Whirlpool made customers who had been victims of fires involving its products sign NDAs in order to receive compensation to which they were entitled.
It urged the company to stop using NDAs and said it welcomed consumer minister Kelly Tolhurst’s pledge to look into the issue amid concerns the gagging orders were being used to ‘cover up’ product safety. Ms Tolhurst is pictured above
‘While Whirlpool maintain that such NDAs were not intended to prevent customers sharing information with regulators and safety organisations, this is clearly contradicted by the wording in the NDA Jemma Spurr was made to sign.
‘The practice is dangerous, as regulators will be unaware of safety problems, and risks destroying consumer trust.’
Tumble dryer fires start when fluff from the cycle comes into contact with the heating element.
Whirlpool began a huge drive to modify them four years ago and in the summer finally agreed to recall the faulty products.
But MPs also referred to another Mail revelation that defective dryers which have been fixed to supposedly make them safe may remain a ‘massive fire hazard’.
Rachel Reeves, chairman of the committee said: ‘Whirlpool’s response to fixing safety flaws in its tumble dryers has too often owed more to PR management than to taking the practical steps to make its machines safe for customers.’
Whirlpool VP Mr Noel said: ‘People’s safety is our top priority, which is why Whirlpool welcomes the report by the BEIS Select Committee to raise awareness of ongoing safety improvements in the UK.
‘We have resolved this potential safety issue – which concerns tumble dryers produced by the previous owner of the company – for more than 1.75 million people.’