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Grenfell: Former official apologises to bereaved families of Grenfell tragedy after exposed email
Richard Harral, former head of technical policy at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, gave evidence on Monday.
A former government official has apologised to bereaved families of the Grenfell tragedy over an email in which he appeared ignorant of issues surrounding another fatal fire 13 years ago.
Richard Harral told a colleague via email that following the 2009 Lakanal House blaze he “never quite understood” a coroner’s recommendations to ensure similar fires would not happen in the future – something which his division was responsible for implementing. The fire resulted in six deaths and at least 20 injuries, and Mr Harral said he felt “very embarrassed” and “very ashamed” by the email, later adding that he left the civil service in 2017 because he thought the workload would “kill” him.
Mr Harral was head of technical policy at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) from 2014 until October 2017, where he was in charge of ensuring “suitable procedures were followed to develop and implement building regulation policy”. In response to the Lakanal House blaze in Camberwell, London, assistant deputy coroner Frances Kirkham advised the DLUHC to clarify its official fire safety guidance for the construction industry, known as Approved Document B (ADB), on March 28th, 2013.
The Grenfell Inquiry was shown an email sent more than three years later from Mr Harral to his colleague, Brian Martin, saying: “I’ve never quite understood what needed to be sorted out in ADB as a result of Lakanal House.”
Mr Harral told the inquiry that in reality, he did have a clear idea, but due to “tensions” between him and Mr Martin, he had posed the question as an indirect attempt to gauge how far along he was in amending ADB. He suggested that Mr Martin had been on the cusp of leaving the department because he felt “dissatisfied” and asking the question directly might have “upset him unnecessarily”.
After reading the email exchange, assistant counsel to the inquiry, Kate Grange QC, asked Mr Harral: “This was over two years since you became head of technical policy in January 2014 – can you explain how you were still unclear about what needed to be sorted out in ADB at this time?”
Mr Harral said: “I’m very embarrassed by this email and I apologise if it has caused any distress or upset”.
“It’s a naive email and it was purposefully written in a naive manner”.