Fire consultant Carl Stokes, who was paid £250,000 to inspect the high-rise block, plotted with Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) to hide the failings from both residents and London Fire Brigade.
Until now, the identity of the fire risk assessor who signed off Grenfell Tower has not been disclosed. The Mail on Sunday can report Mr Stokes’s role in the tragedy for the first time today.
Remarkably, his advice not to disclose life-threatening fire risks was backed by housing chiefs, who were looking to avoid safety improvements which they considered unnecessary.
The Mail on Sunday has obtained a copy of a Fire Risk Assessment for Grenfell Tower, submitted by Mr Stokes to KCTMO in November 2012, in which he advises officials to exploit a legal loophole.
Under the heading ‘Legal Statement’, he wrote: ‘You do not have to give a copy of your fire risk assessment to anybody, not even the fire authority, if you do give them a copy this could be used against you at a later date.’
Mr Stokes, who served for many years with Oxfordshire Fire Service, then explained that withholding his report from London Fire Brigade was important because they ‘have the power to undertake an audit of the fire risk assessment to determine if it is suitable and sufficient or not’.
Mr Stokes added that such scrutiny could in turn lead to KCTMO being forced to implement ‘additional fire safety measures’ – measures which would have been expensive for housing bosses.
Yet in showing housing chiefs how they could cover up safety failings, Mr Stokes was merely fulfilling his brief as KCTMO’s independent fire consultant.
Safety failings at Grenfell Tower in Mr Stokes’s assessment included a failure to test emergency escape lighting, to inspect escape staircases and to maintain fire extinguishers. He wrote in the 2012 report: ‘The fire extinguisher in the basement boiler room, the lift motor room, the ground-floor electrical room plus other areas were out of date, according to the contractor’s label on the extinguishers. Some located in the roof level areas [of Grenfell Tower] had “condemned” written on them in large black writing, with a last test date of 2009 or 2010.
In a letter notifying KCTMO directors of Mr Stokes’s appointment, housing official Janice Wray wrote that not only did he ‘offer the best quality at the most competitive price’, but, controversially, he was also ‘willing to challenge the fire brigade on our behalf if he considered their [safety] requirements to be excessive’.
Last night, fire safety expert Arnold Tarling, a chartered surveyor at London-based Hindwoods, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The attitude of Mr Stokes and KCTMO towards the fire brigade and their determination to ensure the Fire Risk Assessment for Grenfell Tower was never shown to the LFB absolutely stinks.
‘Enforcement authorities such as the LFB have a right to see all the documents they need to assess fire safety.
‘KCTMO should have had a policy of openness, not non-disclosure. The idea that a fire consultant should actually challenge LFB is incredibly dangerous. These are the kind of decisions that kill people.’
In accordance with Mr Stokes’ advice, KCTMO has consistently refused to release copies of fire assessments for Grenfell Tower, including the most recent report in 2016 after highly flammable cladding panels were added to the tower. It is impossible to obtain these documents by submitting a Freedom of Information request – as a private body, KCTMO is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Last night, speaking outside his home in Oxfordshire, Mr Stokes told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I’ve been advised not to say anything. I don’t want to be stitched up because frankly I’m the little guy in all this. If others want to leak stuff they can, but I don’t want to get involved because of the inquiry.’
Mr Stokes was appointed by KCTMO in 2010 and has received £244,318 in consultancy fees since then.
According to his website, he has been an independent fire risk assessor for seven years – the same length of time he has been employed by KCTMO.
Kensington and Chelsea Council has fallen into disarray, with the resignation on Friday of leader Nicholas Paget-Brown and deputy Rock Feilding-Mellen, who had responsibility for housing, property and regeneration and oversaw the Grenfell Tower refurbishment.
Last week, police said the death toll was at least 80 but that the true number may not be known until the end of the year.
Last night, KCTMO said: ‘As we continue to co-operate fully with the investigation into the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, KCTMO has to put on hold all requests for disclosure of relevant information.
‘We recognise our responsibility to ensure that the investigative process is not hampered or undermined in any way.’