Ken Knight’s testimony before the Grenfell Tower Inquiry must mark a sea change in holding key government advisers to account for the fire, the Fire Brigades Union has said. The union has demanded he is held responsible for his actions.
His testimony is due to start at 2pm on Wednesday, 9 March.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: ‘Ken Knight was a senior adviser to the Westminster government on fire safety in the years running up to Grenfell, and he needs to accept his share of culpability. In the run-up to the fire, government ministers took an axe to the UK’s fire and rescue service and fire safety regulation, and Ken Knight helped provide cover for them to do that. He would also 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.
‘Any line of questioning that fails to take into account Knight’s role in creating and sustaining a system that failed will be one that falls short and fails the bereaved, residents and survivors of Grenfell. He must be held responsible for his actions, both at the inquiry and more widely.’
In the years prior to Grenfell Knight held a number of prominent fire-related roles, including Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor to the Westminster Government between 2007 and 2013, and Commissioner of London Fire Brigade between 2003 and 2007.
The union is of the view that several specific areas of Knight’s record are particular causes for concern, including:
- He was 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. Concerns have since been raised since around various regulations that would be relevant to this role, such as Approved Document B.
- His failure to warn about important high-rise firefighting risks during his time as Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor to the government when contributing to the production of several important pieces of vital guidance, including the much-criticised LGA Fire safety in purpose-built flats guidance (2011), and new guidance on high rise firefighting. This includes warning about how cladding could aid the spread of fire and how this might relate to ‘stay put’ advice.
- He was director of Warrington certification, a private fire testing firm, between 2004 and last year. As part of his work for Warrington Knight certified similar cladding to that fitted on Grenfell. Warrington shared a parent company with the fire safety consultant for the refurbishment of Grenfell.
- His ‘efficiencies’ review of the fire and rescue service in England, carried out as the government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor and published in 2013, which gave the green light to saving money through a variety of untested suggestions. These included the use of non-operational ‘Green Book’ staff to conduct regulatory fire safety work such as audits and inspections and substituting on-call firefighters for wholetime crews. See p23 www.fbu.org.uk/publications/grenfell-tower-fire-background-atrocity
- His writing of a report for the government on the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, which killed six, which said that requiring fire suppression systems, a group which includes sprinklers, to be fitted to existing high-rises was not ‘economically viable’.
- He effectively ignored a warning from London Fire Brigade in the wake of that same fire to issue ‘a warning to housing providers’ about the danger of combustible materials used in external cladding systems.
Knight is currently chair of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities which was formed in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell to advise on fire safety.