Benita Mehra steps down from Grenfell Tower fire inquiry panel


Benita Mehra speaks at the Technology with Heart: Jaguar Land Rover's Tech Fest at Central St Martins on September 7, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover)
Benita Mehra speaks at the Technology with Heart: Jaguar Land Rover's Tech Fest at Central St Martins on September 7, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover)

An engineer has stepped down from a government-appointed fire inquiry panel over an alleged conflict of interest.

Benita Mehra had been appointed recently to replace a member of the panel set up to probe the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, which claimed 72 lives when the west London housing block burst into flames in June 2017.

She was selected as an expert for the second phase of the inquiry, due to begin on Monday, but was linked with the charity arm of one of the companies which supplied material for Grenfell Tower.

“As you know, I had hoped to draw on my experience and knowledge of the construction industry, of community engagement and of governance within housing management to contribute to the vital work of the inquiry in discovering how and why the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower happened,” Mehra said in her resignation letter to British prime minister Boris Johnson on Saturday.

“However, it is apparent that my former role as President of the Women”s Engineering Society (WES), which in 2017 accepted a charitable donation from the Arconic Charitable Foundation to support the mentoring of women engineers, has caused serious concern to a number of the bereaved, survivors and resident Core Participants,” she said.

Victims” families had raised concerns with Downing Street about her former role as a past president of the Women”s Engineering Society.

Mehra said that while she recognises and respects the depth of feeling among victims’ families, it was a “regrettable oversight” on her part to not link her former unpaid role with her current inquiry duties.

Johnson accepted the resignation and thanked Mehra for her commitment and said he was “grateful for her sensitivity to the work of the inquiry”.

However, Downing Street maintains that there was no conflict of interest.

Arconic supplied the cladding on the outside of the west London tower block, which caught fire on 14 June 2017.

Families had been threatening to boycott the opening of the second phase of the Grenfell inquiry due to the alleged conflict of interest.

The Grenfell United group said the resignation had helped to “lift growing anxiety ahead of phase two”.

It said: “The government should never have put families in this situation.

“They failed to carry out basic checks and understand the importance and sensitivities around a fair and proper process”.

The group has called on the government to urgently find a new panellist to replace Mehra.

A report which followed the first phase of the public inquiry into the fire found in October last year that the tower block”s cladding did not comply with building regulations and was the “principal” reason for the fire”s rapid and “profoundly shocking” spread.

Arconic said a “confluence of unfortunate circumstances” rather than the “mere presence” of the panels had caused the spread of the fire.

On Monday, the inquiry will switch from focusing on the night of the fire to the refurbishment of the building and its role in the blaze, as well as issues surrounding building regulations.