Grenfell Tower inquiry member resigns over link to cladding firm

25 January 2020, 21:13

Grenfell Tower inquiry member Benita Mehra has resigned
Grenfell Tower inquiry member Benita Mehra has resigned. Picture: PA / Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A member of the Grenfell Tower inquiry panel has resigned after it was found she had links with the firm that supplied the block's deadly cladding.

Benita Mehra sent her letter of resignation to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saying she recognised and respected the "depth of feeling" some people felt about her appointment.

The UK leader thanked Ms Mehra for her commitment to the role and said he was "grateful for her sensitivity to the work of the Inquiry."

Survivors group Grenfell United and bereaved families welcomed the news after previously raising concerns about her link to Arconic Foundation.

They said Ms Mehra had "done the dignified thing by resigning," but added the government "should never have put families in this situation."

Survivors of Grenfell have welcomed Ms Mehra's resignation
Survivors of Grenfell have welcomed Ms Mehra's resignation. Picture: PA

Ms Mehra was announced as Professor Nabeel Hamdi's replacement shortly before Christmas.

She was due to sit on the panel for the second phase of the inquiry, which is planned to commence this year.

However, it was found Ms Mehra was linked to a charitable arm of the firm which supplied the deadly cladding that caused the Grenfell fire to spread so quickly.

She is an immediate past president of the Women's Engineering Society which - according to the society's website - received funding last year from the Arconic Foundation for an apprentice conference.

Arconic supplied the cladding on the outside of the west London tower block that was engulfed by flames on 14 June 2017, claiming 72 lives.

Following the first phase of the inquiry - which concluded in October last year - a report found that the cladding used did not comply with building regulations and it was the "principal" reason for the fire's rapid and "profoundly shocking" spread.

Arconic said a "confluence of unfortunate circumstances" rather than the "mere presence" of the panels had caused the spread of the fire.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan had previously raised the issue of Ms Mehra's presence on the panel to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He wrote on Twitter: "I’ve raised my concerns with the PM about the appointment of Benita Mehra as a Grenfell Inquiry panel member.

"Londoners deserve to have absolute confidence in the Inquiry and Boris Johnson must listen to the concerns raised by the Grenfell community."

Ms Mehra's full letter to the prime minister read: "As you know, I had hoped to draw on my experience and knowledge of the construction industry, of community engagement and of governance within housing management to contribute to the vital work of the inquiry in discovering how and why the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower happened.

"However, it is apparent that my former role as President of the Women's Engineering Society (WES), which in 2017 accepted a charitable donation from the Arconic Charitable Foundation to support the mentoring of women engineers, has caused serious concern to a number of the bereaved, survivors and resident Core Participants."

She said her role at the WES was unpaid and the grant from Arconic was ringfenced to fund the mentoring scheme.

"For these reasons, I did not link any aspect of my former role as President of the WES to my panel member role for the Grenfell Tower inquiry. In hindsight, this was a regrettable oversight on my part.

"I am confident that had I continued in my role at the inquiry I would have approached my work with complete independence and impartiality at all times. However, I recognise and respect the depth of feeling among some Core Participants about my appointment."

Mr Johnson said: "I can confirm that Benita Mehra wrote to me yesterday to offer her resignation from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry panel and I have accepted. I would like to thank Benita for her commitment and I am very grateful for her sensitivity to the work of the inquiry.

"As the inquiry's phase 2 hearings begin, we remain completely committed to getting to the truth of what happened, learning lessons and delivering justice for the victims."

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