Campaign group denounces loss of ‘community expertise’ with new appointee
A community group representing victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has denounced the replacement of a housing expert who was due to participate in the second phase of the inquiry into the tragedy.
Professor Nabeel Hamdi, an AA graduate described as an “accomplished academic with an international reputation in housing and participatory design and planning”, had been lined up to serve as a specialist panel member for the second-phase hearings, starting in the coming weeks.
But a letter from prime minister Boris Johnson to inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick on 23 December said Hamdi was now “unable” to take part in the second phase and proposed chartered engineer Benita Mehra as his replacement.
In a social media post reacting to the announcement, Grenfell United said Hamdi’s replacement had been identified without consultation with the community and suggested Mehra – currently director of strategic assets at the London Ambulance Service – would not be able to offer comparable insight.
“We have lost a panelist with community expertise – replaced with an engineer, which is NOT what is needed,” the group said.
“We have yet to get a proper explanation. With just weeks until phase 2 starts, yet again wishes of survivors & bereaved have been sidelined.”
We have lost a panelist with community expertise - replaced with an engineer, which is NOT what is needed. We have yet to get a proper explanation. With just weeks until phase 2 starts, yet again wishes of survivors & bereaved have been sidelined #grenfell @cabinetofficeuk— Grenfell United (@GrenfellUnited) December 24, 2019
Hamdi is professor emeritus of housing and urban development at Oxford Brookes University’s School of Architecture. He worked for the Greater London Council between 1969 and 1978, where award-winning housing projects established his reputation in participatory design and planning.
Johnson’s update letter did not give a reason why Hamdi was no-longer able to take part in the second phase of the inquiry, which will look at events that led up to the night of the 2017 fire that claimed 72 lives – including the refurbishement and cladding of the 25-storey block.
The prime minister said only: “Sadly, Professor Hamdi was unable to proceed with the appointment.”
However, he added that he hoped Mehra’s appointment would “provide additional reassurance” that the inquiry had the “breadth of skills and experience to conduct a thorough investigation of the phase 2 issues”.
Mehra is a past president of the Women’s Engineering Society, where her biography lists the social-housing sector as an area in which she has worked, in addition to the construction of airport terminal buildings.
Moore-Bick had the right to veto Mehra’s appointment under the Inquiries Act 2005, but chose not to do so.
>> Also read: Grenfell Inquiry: new details of tragic refurb emerge
“I agree to Ms Mehra’s appointment as a member of the panel and I look forward to working with her on phase two of the inquiry,” he replied to Johnson.
“My team and I will ensure that she is given every assistance in carrying out this important task.”
Hamdi’s appointment to the phase-two panel was announced in May, alongside that of Foster & Partners’ Thouria Istephan, who is construction design management manager at the practice.
Architect and former RIBA president Paul Hyett was appointed as an expert witness to the Grenfell Inquiry in 2018.