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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Grenfell inquiry chief accused of conflict of interest

Sir Ken Knight, a former government fire chief officer, worked for a company that certified cladding similar to that installed in the tower block

A senior member of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has been accused of facing a conflict of interests REUTERS/Tolga Akmen
A senior member of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has been accused of facing a conflict of interests REUTERS/Tolga Akmen

The inquiry into the deadly tower block fire in June at Grenfell Tower in London which killed at least 80 people has run into fresh trouble.

The head of a fire-safety panel set up by the government to investigate the disaster has been accused of having a conflict of interest, having certified cladding material similar to that which has been blamed for the rapid spread of the fire at Grenfell.

Sir Ken Knight, formerly the government’s chief fire and rescue advisor, had previously been a director of Warrington Certification, The Times reports on Friday. In that role, he operated as chair of the ‘impartiality committee’, where he passed materials as fit for use in construction.

Among dozens of certificates he signed giving products the company’s seal of approval – at a charge to the manufacturers – was Reynobond FR, a version of the aluminium panels which were fitted to the 24-storey tower during a 2014 renovation.

Although this version of the cladding was more fire-resistant than the product used on Grenfell, Sir Ken has come under fire from fellow senior fire officers for failing to recognise the conflict of interest inherent in taking on the inquiry role.

Ronnie King, a former chief fire officer and honorary secretary of the parliamentary all party fire safety and rescue group, told The Times: “Anybody signing certificates of cladding and then chairing an independent expert panel made up of people involved in cladding has got to declare their interest and explain why they should be considered as independent.”

Sir Ken has claimed that the unpaid role at Warrington was to oversee the certification process and not to sign off on individual products. He has previously been criticised as blocking reform of fire regulations: after the 2009 Lakanal House fire in south London, Sir Ken said that retrofitting sprinklers would not be “practical or economically viable” for all high-rise residential buildings.

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