Grenfell expert witness is father of council's head of fire safety

An expert witness to the Grenfell Tower public inquiry tasked with assessing how the council landlord handled fire risk is embroiled in conflict of interest claims after it emerged that his son now works for the council as its head of fire safety.

Colin Todd is advising the disaster inquiry on the adequacy of fire risk assessments carried out on the council block before the fire, which killed 72 people. His son, Keith Todd, works as director of fire safety for the tower’s owner, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

Grenfell United described the arrangement as “distressing”, while another of the bereaved, Nabil Choucair, who lost six relatives in the fire, said it was a conflict of interest and added: “It can’t be allowed to happen.”

The situation, first revealed by Inside Housing magazine, emerged after Monday’s opening of the latest phase of the inquiry, which places under the microscope the conduct of the council and its arm’s-length social housing body, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

A key theme would be “RBKC’s leadership, culture and purpose insofar as they influenced fire safety”, the inquiry heard.

Colin Todd’s evidence was already set to be controversial, with one lawyer for the bereaved alleging he is not “an appropriate expert to guide the inquiry”. Adrian Williamson QC cited Todd’s view that “little if any special competence is required in relation to the principles of fire safety to enable a competent fire risk assessor” to assess the fire risk to a block such as Grenfell.

Another, Stephanie Barwise QC, said Todd’s report vindicated the conduct of RBKC’s appointed fire risk assessor, Carl Stokes, who she claimed “lacked any professional registration and invented some of his professional qualifications”. She said Todd’s position was “unlikely to withstand scrutiny”.

Todd’s evidence is also at odds with another inquiry witness, Dr Barbara Lane, and lawyers for the bereaved want the inquiry panel to follow Lane’s analysis. By contrast, the lawyer for RBKC described Colin Todd as a “distinguished” expert.

Choucair told the Guardian the relationship created “a conflict of interest”. “It doesn’t look good at all,” he said. “You can’t have a father and son like this. It’s totally wrong.”

Keith Todd worked for his father’s fire safety consultancy for six years.

Grenfell United said in a statement: “With so much at stake in the public inquiry, this is careless at best. Is it just a coincidence that Colin Todd has opposed every other expert’s opinion at the inquiry and that most lawyers apart from RBKC and TMO have no confidence in him?

“We do not trust him. It’s distressing to know that his son, who might share similar views, has been the head of fire safety at RBKC from 2019.”

The group concluded: “How can we have faith in a process to uncover the truth by using the same tools that the inquiry has heard were part of the problem? Once again, we’re let down by a system which allows the perpetrators to mark their own homework.”

Both the inquiry and the council have claimed potential conflicts of interests are being managed and said Todd and his son had signed undertakings not to discuss the inquiry.

“Colin Todd informed the inquiry of his son Keith Todd’s intention to take up employment with RBKC at an early stage,” a spokesperson for the inquiry said. “Keith Todd will not be involved in any way in advising RBKC regarding evidence it gives to the inquiry about the Grenfell Tower fire and … Colin and Keith Todd will not discuss in any way fire safety matters relating to RBKC.”

A council spokesperson added: “Both Keith and Colin have entered into legal undertakings not to discuss matters relating to the inquiry with each other. Grenfell is a tragedy that should not have happened and can never happen again. Our duty is to the truth and we will continue to cooperate fully with the Grenfell Tower inquiry – whatever it takes and whatever the consequences for the council.”

Colin Todd has been contacted for comment.

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