Grenfell Inquiry told “no culture of bullying” at Kensington and Chelsea council’s building control department

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

Claims that there was a “culture of bullying” at Kensington and Chelsea council’s building control department have been rejected by a council boss.

The Grenfell Inquiry was shown two emails sent to the council by a former employee, Robert Albrow, in the days after the tragic fire at the 24-storey tower block in 2017.

Aluminium combustible cladding on the outside of the building ignited after a fridge-freezer caught fire and the blaze raged up the building uncontrollably within minutes.

The fire claimed the lives of 72 people, including an unborn child.

In the emails, Mr Albrow, a former senior building control surveyor, told the head of planning, Graham Stallwood:  “I sincerely believe surveyors’ concerns were never taken seriously.

“On one occasion I utilised the council’s whistleblowing policy. Even then the management team failed to follow the panel’s recommendations and acted contrary to the published guidance.”

Two days after the fire he wrote: “Be under no illusions, I believe the department was afflicted by a culture of bullying and surveyors’ concerns are not taken seriously when raised.”

Inquiry lawyer, Rose Grogan asked John Allen, the former head of building control, if he was aware of concerns at the time.

“I disagree with the whole essence of it,” he said. “The context I refute absolutely.”

He was asked if there had been a “culture of bullying”.

“I don’t believe so,” he replied.

Earlier he told the Inquiry: “I’m not a bully. It’s about talking to staff to get the best out of them.

“I was as supportive as I could possibly be.”

And he recalled: “It was probably one of the greatest (teams of) people I know. They organised so many things, sociable, football, walk up Snowdon, Macmillan. At Christmas we all brought in stuff and ate together – not a culture of bullying.”

Mr Allen had been involved in the pre-application stage of the work at Grenfell, which included costing a fee based on a budget which included options for cladding.

“He also paid a site visit to the refurbishment in March 2016 to look at work on the nursery at the bottom of the tower.

His site visit notes recorded the cladding was not complete but he said he was not aware that it was of aluminium composite material – which proved so deadly.

Earlier in his evidence he explained how work and workloads “ebbed and flowed” as the council competed with private firms doing building control inspections.

In 2103 it lost £500,000 which was “not sustainable” and prompted a reorganisation which saw five surveyors take redundancy.

Last week John Hoban, the building control surveyor who had the multi-million pound redevelopment of Grenfell Tower on his files, told the Inquiry he was struggling with a huge case load.

He had health problems and caring responsibilities, and told the inquiry at one time he had 120 to 130 cases and would go to sleep holding his work notebook.

Mr Allen had monthly and weekly meetings with him to discuss his work and said staff with problems could always raise them.

Pictured top: Grenfell Tower

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