A lawyer acting for some of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire has questioned the appointment of two experts by the Government to ensure tower blocks are safe in the future. Jolyon Maugham QC says Sir Ken Knight and Peter Bonfield are “tainted by association” through their links to advice given to ministers last year.
By Gerard Tubb, Sky News Correspondent and Nick Stylianou, Sky News Reporter – Exclusive
A lawyer acting for some of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire has questioned the appointment of two experts by the Government to ensure tower blocks are safe in the future.
Jolyon Maugham QC says Sir Ken Knight and Peter Bonfield are “tainted by association” through their links to advice given to ministers last year.
That advice said regulations were “adequate” to cope with combustible cladding on tower blocks.
Half of the members of a new expert panel in charge of advising the Government about what needs to be done to make tall buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire are linked to a company paid by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to provide advice on fire safety.
Dr Peter Bonfield, Chief Executive of BRE Global, sits on the new panel alongside Sir Ken Knight, who is also a trustee of BRE’s charitable parent company, the BRE Trust.
In documents seen by Sky News, BRE Global has been paid at least £250,000 by the DCLG for fire safety advice.
BRE’s report from April 2016 raised concerns that combustible cladding was fitted on buildings, but found the current regulations “adequate”.
There is no suggestion either Dr Peter Bonfield or Sir Ken Knight were involved in carrying out that research.
But Mr Maugham QC said: “I do wonder how it has come to be that of the four people appointed to this new advisory board, two of them are, to different degrees, tainted by association with advice previously given: advice that we are now suspicious of.”
A DCLG spokesman said: “The independent panel have a wealth of experience in fire and building safety, including the chairman Sir Ken Knight former London Fire Commissioner and former Government Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser with many years experience in fire safety.
“The panel will draw on wider expertise of other technical experts to inform it advice to Government.”
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, DCLG appointed BRE Global to carry out urgent tests on cladding across the country – with every sample so far failing.
These tests do not assess the performance of cladding in a fire but, instead, simply check the material composition of a panel, with a machine called a bomb calorimeter.
Following the first meeting of the expert panel, it was agreed that the members would provide advice to the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid on “whether there are any changes or clarifications required to existing regulations, and provide advice on possible changes, including making recommendations on the use of specific materials”.
BRE Global’s rolling three-year contract with DCLG is to “investigate issues that may have implications for Building Regulations and the guidance that supports Building Regulations”.
Mr Maugham QC told Sky News: “It’s very difficult to understand how they might be able to advise the Government without worrying about what effect tomorrow might have on their legal liability for advice they gave yesterday.
“Particularly for Peter Bonfield… as chief exec, you have some ownership, definitely some moral ownership, definitely professional ownership and not inconceivable some legal ownership of the advice that organisation gave.”
In a statement to Sky News, BRE said the public inquiry “will ascertain what the contributing factors to the disaster were” but defends Dr Bonfield’s position on the advisory panel as “a pragmatic step to take”.
BRE goes on to say it stands by the conclusions in its 2016 report, and that Sir Ken Knight is both a Trustee and on the Government’s Advisory Panel because he is “perhaps one of the most respected experts in his field”.