A former government official has apologized to the bereaved families of the Grenfell tragedy for an email in which he appeared to ignore the issues surrounding another deadly fire 13 years ago.
Richard Harral told a colleague by email that following the Lakanal House fire in 2009 he had “never quite understood” a coroner’s recommendations to ensure that fires similar ones would not happen again in the future – something his division was responsible for implementing.
The blaze left six people dead and at least 20 injured, and Mr Harral said he felt ‘very embarrassed’ and ‘very ashamed’ by the email, later adding that he had left the job public in 2017 because he thought the workload would “kill” him.
Mr. Harral was Head of Technical Policy at the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) from 2014 to October 2017, where he was responsible for ensuring that “proper procedures were followed to develop and implement building regulations policy”.
In response to the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, London, Deputy Coroner Frances Kirkham has advised the DLUHC to clarify its official fire safety guidance for the construction industry, known as Approved Document B (ADB) , March 28, 2013.
The Grenfell Inquiry received an email sent over three years later by Mr Harral to his colleague, Brian Martin, saying: ‘I never really understood what needed to be sorted out at the AfDB following Lakanal House.”
Mr Harral told the inquest that in reality he had a clear idea, but due to ‘tensions’ between him and Mr Martin he had asked the question as a sideline attempt to assess the extent to which he was was in the modification of the ADB.
He suggested that Mr Martin was about to leave the department because he felt ‘dissatisfied’ and asking the question directly might have ‘unnecessarily upset him’.
I am very embarrassed by this email and apologize if it caused any distress or anger
After reading the email exchange, Assistant Inquiry Solicitor Kate Grange QC asked Mr Harral: ‘It’s been over two years since you became Chief Technical Policy Officer in January 2014 – can you explain how you were still unclear on what needed to be sorted in ADB at this time? »
Mr Harral said: ‘I am very embarrassed by this email and apologize if it has caused any distress or anger.
“This is a naive email and it was deliberately written in a naive way.
“At the time, there was some tension between me and Mr. Martin, largely, I think, because of my pressure on Mr. Martin regarding the AfDB’s simplification work.
“I had probed Mr. Martin several times about the scope of Lakanal’s recommendations and I think the intent when I first wrote this I probably wrote, ‘Can I just verify that there are no technical changes needed for ADB which flows?” from Lakanal House’, because time was moving on…
“But because of that tension and not wanting to go deeper, I wrote a very open and naive email to try to seek out a slightly broader conversation about whether any technical changes were needed.
“I am very ashamed of this email exchange.”
Mr Harral added that “there was no protocol within the department on how to record or deal with coroners’ recommendations” and that employees were “struggling” with their workloads.
He said he himself left public service in 2017 due to stress.
Mr Harral told the inquest: ‘I decided to leave the civil service because the role made me sick.
“I was ill twice in 2016, mainly stress-related issues and exhaustion.
“I had gotten to a point where I had to recognize that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve, and the anxiety and frustration of not being able to actually get things done…I remember very clearly realizing that it was going to kill me if I stayed.
Mr Harral added that policies under David Cameron’s government and his previous coalition with Nick Clegg had discouraged adding new regulations to building safety documents because of the additional cost associated with them.
He said: ‘I remember clearly that at the end of 2016 an official in the Regulatory Improvement Unit told me not to consider proposing regulation because the department was having difficulty with its regulatory budget.”
The investigation is continuing.