Inspector saw no faults with Grenfell Tower before tragedy, inquiry hears

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

A council building inspector in charge of inspecting Grenfell Tower to check up on the work said he did not see any issues he needed to bring to the attention of bosses.

John Hoban, who resigned from his job at Kensington and Chelsea council in March 2017, just months before the fatal fire, told the Grenfell Inquiry he was struggling with a huge workload.

Fighting back tears at the end of his evidence he asked to speak to those affected by the fire.

“I am truly heartbroken at what happened that night,” he said.

He said he was devastated for the 72 who lost their lives and those who fled the blazing building.

Mr Hoban said: “Their lives have changed so dramatically since then. Their lives will never be the same. I’m truly heartbroken.”

He told the Grenfell Inquiry that if there had been a regulatory body “I don’t think we would be in a position where we are now – sitting here talking about people who have lost their lives and these buildings with flammable cladding and the stress and the uncertainty that it leaves people with now. We’ve got hundreds of buildings that could cause a fire at any time.”

Mr Hoban said the building regulations when Grenfell was refurbished were “ambiguous and confusing”.

Earlier he told the inquiry he had a very heavy workload.

He had so many cases that “some nights I did not sleep”, he said, but explained that because of the culture he felt unable to say no.

“I was coming in at weekends to keep on top of my work. I used to go to bed with a notebook thinking about work and some nights I did not sleep at all,” he said.

Finishing his evidence he stressed: “From 2013 to 2017 when I left Kensington the building control department lost 10 surveyors who had more than 230 years’ experience and there was one replacement. I don’t believe that’s the correct way to run a department.”

The fire in the tower got out of hand in June 2017 with fatal consequences after flammable cladding was substituted instead of more expensive insulation material when the building was refurbished.

Mr Hoban had told his bosses the building control team needed more staff because they had lost six team members.

He added: “I did ask for help I think in April 2015. I felt I was struggling with my workload. I made a number of suggestions what we should do with another colleagues’ area. I felt I was in a position that I couldn’t refuse.”

Mr Hoban joined the council in 1996 and had 35 years of experience in the construction industry.

But Grenfell Tower was the first building over 18m high he was involved with.

He added: “I had health issues going on. Sometimes I had to go home early from work because I was unwell. I was going to various hospital appointments. I felt I was unable to say no.

“I did say on a number of occasions in the office that we needed more people . We lost six people in September 2103.  Five colleagues retired and one passed away.”

He said he felt he could not escalate his concerns further.

“I felt it was a culture in the department”, he added.

Mr Hoban said he had not seen anything he felt needed “escalating” during his inspections at Grenfell Tower as multi-million pound renovations got under way.

He did not accept a suggestion from the Inquiry’s lawyer, Richard Millett QC, that he was less rigorous because there were professionals working on the site including the contractor Rydon and clerks of works.

“At the time I had 120 to 130 jobs,” he said.

“When doing your job you’re not a resident clerk of works, you’re coming in at a particular part of work and making your judgement at that time.

You’ve got to take into account other work.

“I went in from time to time and what I saw was satisfactory.”

And he said he would not have signed off a safety certificate for the council-owned tower block if he did not think it was compliant.

The inquiry heard the council could not find his notebooks detailing site visits.

Mr Hoban explained the building control team had been told not to put the names of people they met in notes.

And he said the department regularly “weeded out” paper files after jobs were completed.

Documents including design calculations, which could take up hundreds of pages, were weeded out.

But he said he did not “weed” the entire Grenfell file.

“It shouldn’t be the case, you should keep all the information in my view. The managers said they wanted them done,” he said.

North Kensington residents staged a protest outside the inquiry building in Bishops Bridge Road on the same day.

One, Leearna Oliffe, said: “We felt it was important to remind the local authority that we have not forgotten Grenfell and they will continue to hear from us until justice is served.”

Pictured top: Grenfell Tower (Picture: PA)

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