Grenfell Tower: Council official 'regrets' not asking about cladding fire safety

18 May 2021, 20:08

A council official has admitted failing to ask questions about the safety of Grenfell Tower cladding materials
A council official has admitted failing to ask questions about the safety of Grenfell Tower cladding materials. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A senior official at the council that owned Grenfell Tower has told an inquiry that it did not occur to him to ask questions about the safety of the cladding proposed for the high-rise building.

Former deputy leader and cabinet member for housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), Rock Feilding-Mellen, said he held talks over whether to approve a switch from zinc to combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding in summer 2014, but little consideration was made as to the safety of the materials.

Mr Feilding-Mellen told the public inquiry on Tuesday that he had given his "personal subjective opinion" about possible colours for the cladding but failed to asked about safety.

READ MORE: Loan scheme to remove dangerous cladding from low-rises 'could take years to set up'

The decision was taken to replace the cladding, which helped rapidly spread the fire in west London in June 2017 which claimed 72 lives.

Mr Feilding-Mellen said he regretted the decision but it did not occur to him to raise questions about the fire safety of the panels while he was discussing what colour they should be.

A council official told the inquiry more focus was on the "appearance and aesthetic" of cladding then safety
A council official told the inquiry more focus was on the "appearance and aesthetic" of cladding then safety. Picture: PA Images

He remembered opening an email from Laura Johnson, director of housing, in July 2014 containing safety guides and "skimming" the attachments but did not remember forwarding them on to any other councillors or raising them at any meetings.

Asked whether receiving these guides had led him to consider the safety of the Grenfell Tower cladding, Mr Feilding-Mellen told the inquiry: "It did not. I cannot remember why that would have been."

The council was the owner and landlord of Grenfell Tower, while the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) was the body appointed by the local authority to run its housing stock.

READ MORE: More than a quarter of cladding safety certificates 'invalid'

Mr Feilding-Mellen said he felt he had "sufficient reassurance" from the TMO and housing officers that fire risk assessments and necessary follow-up actions were being managed properly.

Asked whether he had read the coroner's recommendations following the fatal Lakanal House fire in 2009 at "any stage" before July 2014, Mr Feilding-Mellen told the inquiry: "Not that I remember."

Six people died in the blaze at the housing block in Camberwell, south London, on July 3 that year.

Mr Feilding-Mellen accepted that he did not check through documents to see if there was anything he should do as a councillor regarding fire safety of a TMO building that was being refurbished.

"I failed to do that and, knowing what has happened, I regret having failed to do that," he said.

Campaigners have criticised council leaders for failing to engage with concerned Grenfell Tower residents before the fire
Campaigners have criticised council leaders for failing to engage with concerned Grenfell Tower residents before the fire. Picture: PA Images

Mr Feilding-Mellen said he thought there were "many layers of people" in place with the necessary expertise to check on the health and safety and fire safety aspects of a refurbishment project like Grenfell Tower.

He was also asked if he, as deputy leader, or anybody in RBKC thought there should have been an effort to double-check the TMO was doing everything it ought to ensure there was an emergency evacuation plan.

Mr Feilding-Mellen said: "I didn't. I wish I had."

He told the inquiry he would "probably be haunted" by the question of whether he should have done anything differently for "the rest of my life".

READ MORE: Treatment of Grenfell Tower residents' concerns ‘a disgrace,' Sadiq Khan tells inquiry

"Based on the information that I had, and given what I considered my roles to be, I really don't know what I could have done differently but I wish from the very bottom of my heart that things had been done differently so as to have prevented that fire, and that includes anything that this inquiry decides that the council, the cabinet or I should have done differently," he added.

Mr Feilding-Mellen said the sorrow and pain he had endured was nothing compared to the bereaved and what must be their "unbearable grief".

"To those people, I want to say how really sorry I am," he added.