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Government safety adviser must be held to account, FBU says

GOVERNMENT ministers “took an axe to Britain’s fire-and-rescue service and fire-safety regulation” in the years before the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said.

The union demanded those involved are brought to book as key adviser Ken Knight, who advised the government on fire safety in the years before the Grenfell fire, is due to give evidence to the long-running inquiry today.

Mr Knight “helped provide cover” for the government to cut services and “needs to accept his share of culpability,” the FBU said.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said Mr Knight “would have had countless opportunities to raise concerns around key issues that would later contribute to Grenfell, but he failed to do so.

“We need to know from Knight whether, when and how he warned ministers of the risks from cladding and other fire-safety failures – and how these ministers responded to any such other warnings before the fire.”

The Grenfell fire happened on June 14, 2017, when flames swept up flammable cladding on the outside of the 24-storey block in Kensington in West London, causing 72 deaths. 

More than 70 people were injured. The inquiry began on September 14, 2017.

In the years prior to Grenfell, Mr Knight held a number of prominent fire related roles, including chief fire and rescue adviser to the government between 2007 and 2013, and commissioner of London Fire Brigade between 2003 and 2007, the FBU said.

The union said that he was also a leading figure advising ministers on fire safety between 2007 and 2013, but “failed to raise concerns around regulations in a significant manner, including on building safety.”

The FBU accused Mr Knight of failing to warn “about how cladding could aid the spread of fire and how this might relate to ‘stay put’ advice.”

Mr Knight was also director of a private fire testing firm between 2004 and last year, which shared a parent company with the fire safety consultant for the refurbishment of Grenfell, the union highlighted.

Mr Knight is currently chairman of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel at the government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The department was invited to comment.

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