The RIBA statement in the appendix to this blog is indirectly related to a convoluted train of events which has had profound repercussions for me and involved a deliberate process of victimisation which I bitterly resent. Today’s blog will, therefore, seek to elucidate the main details and implications of what transpired. Some of the less important detail in the email exchanges to which I will refer has been left out in the interests of simplicity. If Bhatt Murphy Solicitors or Grenfell United have any problem with these omissions I would be more than happy to publish the email exchanges in full.
On the afternoon of Friday 5 October I received a telephone call from the solicitor, Shamik Dutta of Bhatt Murphy, who until recently had represented me in relation to the Grenfell Tower Fire and the Grenfell Inquiry. To my complete surpise he castigated me over a blog I had posted the previous day and demanded that I delete it or rewrite it in a manner that he found acceptable and considered consistent with a policy he had agreed with his other Grenfell clients, mostly, I have since discovered, members of Grenfell United. The blog in question was:
FLAMMABLE CLADDING – NO UNIVERSAL BAN
When I published this blog I had no knowledge of the policy which Shamik Dutta has since alleged that I breached, having been excluded from all discussions that took place with his other Grenfell clients, all of whom it seems enjoyed Core Participant status in the Grenfell Inquiry. I had repeatedly been denied CP status at the Inquiry despite three applications, (an initial application followed by two subsequent appeals lodged by my legal team).
During the above mentioned ill-tempered telephone exchange Shamik Dutta made it clear to me that unless I deleted the blog in question, or radically altered the content, he would withdraw the legal representation that Bhatt Murphy had hitherto been providing for me (although not always to my satisfaction). In effect he was threatening me with the most severe consequences within his power unless I agreed to his demands. I refused to capitulate. At the end of this exchange he said that he would consider the matter further over the weekend and would inform me of his final decision on the following Monday. I believed that this final decision might well depend on whatever actions or compromises I agreed to in the meantime.
Shortly after the end of this telephone exchange I received a lengthy email from Mr Dutta explaining the nature and rationale of the policy that Bhatt Murphy had agreed with their other clients. This concerned the minimum future standard of combustibility they would be seeking from the government for external cladding systems on high-rise buildings. He also revealed that this policy had been agreed in tandem with what he called the G4 group of legal firms. I presume this G4 to be composed of other legal firms acting on behalf of the majority of the bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell fire. He claimed both my blog and the Dear Kitty blog, on which it was closely based, had fundamentally breached the policy in question and accused me of a serious and deliberate breach of trust on this issue.
He made it clear that Bhat Murphy, in tandem with the G4, had agreed with the majority of their clients to lobby against all materials that failed to meet the A2 standard of ‘limited combustibility’ and he accused me of explicitly supporting the stricter A1 standard that the FBU, and I later discovered, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) favoured and to which Bhatt Murphy strenuously objected. He described my blog as “depressingly inaccurate” and said it was “the collective view of the G4 legal team that the A1/A2 debate is a distraction” (and apparently an unwelcome complication of the pursuit by the G4 of their preferred objective).
It seems to me that describing an opposing policy objective held by both the FBU and RIBA in such unduly dismissive terms does justice to neither body and disrespects both in the process. Furthermore, I believe that the Grenfell and other affected communities are entitled to be fully informed of both sides of this argument and allowed to debate the merits of both positions openly to enable them to make an informed decision as to which standard is preferable.
Shamik Dutta also asserted (and I understood this statement as indicative of the threat he was making against me);
“…the mere fact of the Grenfell Action Group promoting a view which is contrary to our advice is detrimental to my other Grenfell clients’ interests”
However, these allegations he was making against me were fundamentally flawed in a number of respects. Firstly, the allegation that I had promoted the A1 standard in opposition to the A2 standard (agreed without my knowledge by the G4) is completely false. I invite my readers to re-read the blog (Flammable Cladding – No Total Ban) to which he had so aggressively objected (and the Dear Kitty blog from which it is derived). They will find that neither blog contains any reference to either the A1 or the A2 standard.
Moreover prior to receiving this email, that had quickly followed the fraught telephone exchange on Friday 5 October, I had no knowledge of the terms A1 or A2, or what they signified. Nor had I any knowledge that Bhatt Murphy and its ‘other clients’ (many or most of whom it was now revealed are Grenfell United members) had agreed to promote the A2 standard while the FBU had opted to promote the stricter A1 standard. This difference of opinion had led, apparently, to a significant conflict between Bhatt Murphy and the FBU on what appears to have been no more than a minor policy difference. Shamik Dutta had failed to inform me of the existence of this disagreement, and of the fact that the FBU were not alone in their preference for the A1 Standard, as the RIBA statement in the appendix below illustrates.
Ironically the same email that Dutta had sent me on that fateful Friday also contained the following passage;
“A1 and A2 materials are very similar, the figures for relative thermal energy outputs of A1 and A2 are 2MJ/m2 and 3MJ/m2 respectively (this is a negligible difference) and the experts in the Inquiry do not address a significant difference in behaviour between the two.”
More than ironic, I find it deeply troubling, that Dutta (and presumably his pet clients at Grenfell United) would describe the difference between the A1 and A2 standards as ’negligible’ while at the same time expressing significant hostility towards the FBU and their support of the A1 standard. Furthermore the imposition of a strict boycott on anyone within Bhatt Murphy’s sphere of influence (in this case myself) who dared to quote the FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, regardless of whether or not that quote included any reference to the FBU’s preference for the A1 policy or indicated agreement with, or adherence to that policy strikes me as unacceptably arbitrary and unreasonable. For the avoidance of any confusion or misunderstanding I reiterate again that I had expressed no such agreement with or adherence to the FBU policy.
I have still not adopted a position favouring either the A1 or A2 standard and do not yet feel well enough informed to make such a choice. I wrote to Shamik Dutta late on Sunday night 7th October defending myself defiantly against the outrageously false allegations he had made against me, drawing his attention to the inconsistencies in the lengthy email he had sent me on Friday 5th October and defending my right to publish whatever material I saw fit in the Grenfell Action Group blog, regardless of his opinion of it. I had no expectation that he would respond positively to this communication so I didn’t mince my words, but I did specifically ask him how it could be reasonable for him to penalise me for allegedly failing to agree with a collective policy, shared by the G4 and their clients, all knowledge of which had been withheld from me and discussion of which I had been entirely excluded from. This question went unanswered then, as it remains unanswered now.
Sure enough, and exactly as expected, he emailed me on Monday ignoring my protestations of innocence and confirming what he had threatened right from the start. I reproduce below the key conclusions which he expressed in that email;
“At this stage your legal team considers it inadvisable to support the FBU position, there is evidently a risk of conflict where you appear to publicly disagree with the position I am instructed to advance on behalf of other clients. The matters set out above mean that I cannot now represent you in relation to a renewed application for core participant status or in the preparation of a statement for the inquiry and your best interests will be properly served by seeking alternative representation from a solicitor who does not find him or herself in a position of conflict.”
I don’t know why or how Shamik Dutta was so willfully deaf to my protestations of innocence, but what I do know, with complete certainty, is that this ‘deafness’ must have been willful, contrived and disingenuous and was therefore unworthy of the ethical standards expected and required of anyone in his profession, just as they are of any other human being with moral integrity and a moral compass. This leads me to conclude that something more sinister and macchiavelian was afoot here, a power play of which I was entirely ignorant, but which I am now, as the victim, perhaps beginning to comprehend.
Ultimately I suspect that ‘what done for me’ may have been posting, in several Facebook groups, beneath the link to the blog I had posted on the previous Thursday, what I considered to be a relatively mild but well deserved rebuke to Grenfell United for hobnobbing too closely with the Tory Government, naively believing the lies they were peddled by the Cabinet Member for Housing and pre-announcing those lies publicly. James Brokenshire’s policy announcement to the Conservative Party Conference on 1st October contradicted promises he had earlier made to representatives of Grenfell United. Those promises had been disingenuous and Grenfell United should have known better than to naively swallow his lies hook, line and sinker.
The comment I had posted on Facebook was as follows;
“The softly-softly approach of Grenfell United (cosying up to Brokenshire) didn’t help. Believing in their own self-importance they pre-announced a total ban and prematurely congratulated themselves on their great achievement. Fools rush in…..”
When I posted it I was completely unaware, as I’ve indicated above, that many, if not most, of Bhatt Murphys’ Grenfell clients are members of Grenfell United. I didn’t know this because I had never been told, just as I had never been told about the A1-A2 conflict with the FBU and had been entirely excluded from the decision making process during which Bhatt Murphy and its CP clients had agreed to promote the A2 minimum standard.
In that final email in which Shamik Dutta withdrew legal representation from me he made a point of referencing my criticism of Grenfell United as though it was a serious breach of trust and implied some future intention on my part to publicly contradict evidence given by Grenfell United members to the Grenfell Inquiry;
“In the event you are granted core participant status in the Inquiry or choose to submit a witness statement for the Inquiry and wish to repeat these or similar criticisms of Grenfell United and its members you are free to do so but it would place me in a position of conflict because I am unable to advance that position on your behalf at the same time as properly representing my other clients’ interests.
The proposal that I might “repeat these and similar criticisms of Grenfell United“ in evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry is utterly ridiculous and Shamik Dutta knows it. I had no intention, and had expressed no intention, of criticising Grenfell United or their members in any evidence I might give to the Inquiry, but that, it seems was entirely irrelevant. What mattered was that representatives of Grenfell United had apparently complained privately to Bhatt Murphy about my comment. I had posted the comment on the five Facebook groups of which I am a member and it had attracted no response whatever. It seems, therefore, that Grenfell United, who clearly resented my criticism, preferred the cowardly back stabbing approach to engaging in open debate.
From my perspective, all the signs suggest that Bhatt Murphy and Grenfell United conspired together to contrive my expulsion from the Bhatt Murphy fold and that this whole sordid affair was designed to justify this expulsion of a lone independent voice, without powerful friends, who no longer fit whatever secretive ideology they had cooked up without my knowledge or agreement. There may be more to my expulsion, and there probably is, than the A1-A2 issue, but I believe it is vital that they debate this issue with RIBA and the FBU and any other bodies who disagree with their A2 policy. I don’t believe their machiavellian scheming and backstabbing, or their bully-boy tactics, will serve them well in that debate – but then I have seen no sign so far that they have any intention of engaging in any such debate.
I am now without any legal representation and it seems highly unlikely, given that I have been repeatedly refused Core Participant status, that I will be giving evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry, regardless of the value of the evidence I have to offer and which I have previously published on the GAG blog, including strong evidence of a culture at RBKC and KCTMO of complacency, incompetence and negligence, especially with regard to fire safety issues at Grenfell Tower, dating back at least as far as 2004. It is a great pity that the Inquiry will now be deprived of that evidence.
If I can so easily be cast into outer darkness on trumped up charges, the first of which has no basis in fact and the second of which comprises a relatively mild but well deserved criticism I dared to express of Grenfell United, then this flies in the face of natural justice and of the ethical standards required of Shamik Dutta and the legal firm he represents.
A pox on both their houses!
Francis O’Connor – Author Grenfell Action Group blog
Appendix – RIBA calls for comprehensive ban on combustible materials
14 August 2018
The RIBA has submitted evidence to the Government’s consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings.
After a lengthy investigation, the Institute has concluded that a ban on combustible materials is the only way to ensure that our buildings are safe and fit for the future.
The response was made to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation that was launched in the wake of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The architect’s body argues for A1 ‘non-combustible’ certification, contrary to those who continue to suggest that products of ‘limited combustibility’ should be permitted. The Institute also strongly recommends that the ban is extended to include any high-rise buildings, such as offices and educational buildings, to ensure that the public is properly protected in the event of a fire.
Adrian Dobson, Executive Director Professional Services says,
“The RIBA strongly recommends that the Government supports a comprehensive ban on combustible materials for all high rise buildings. Continuing to allow materials of ‘limited combustibility’ (A2 classification) is unacceptable in the wake of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the evidence from the UK and around the world that these materials do not provide adequate protection for the public.
There is a lot of confusion in the industry over what materials are, and should be, permitted on both new buildings and in the retro-fitting of existing buildings. Banning these materials is the first step towards restoring the trust in our regulatory system and the building industry.”
The RIBA Expert Group on Fire Safety set out four key recommendations for baseline prescriptive requirements:
- Non-combustible cladding – significant products in external wall construction for existing or new buildings over 18m in height must be certified ‘non-combustible’ (European classification A1) products only.
- More than one means of escape – in all new multiple occupancy residential buildings, a requirement for at least two staircases, offering alternative means of escape, where the top floor is more than 11m above ground level or the top floor is more than three storeys above the ground level storey (as required for commercial buildings).
- Sprinklers – retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems and centrally addressable fire alarm systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level as ‘consequential improvements’ where a building is subject to ‘material alterations’.
- Mandatory requirement for sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems and addressable central fire alarms in all new and converted residential buildings, as already required in Wales.
The key RIBA recommendations to the MHCLG consultation include:
- A ban on combustible materials in external wall construction on buildings over 18m in height must be imposed.
- The ban should restrict window spandrels, balconies, brise soleil, and similar building elements to European classification A1 products only
- The ban should restrict plasterboard to European Classification A2-s1, d0 products and above only.
In addition, within external wall construction, the ban should restrict sheathing boards, insulation and outermost cladding products to European classification A1 products only. The ban should not include the buildings primary structure. The primary structure should have adequate fire protection (see Building Regulations Requirement B3). The RIBA recommends European Classification A1 rather than A2 in the external wall construction, to protect against production of smoke and flaming particles/droplets. If the government decides to proceed with the ban using the lower classification (A2), the RIBA recommends that this be strictly limited to A2-s1, d0. This would ensure very limited smoke production and no flaming particles/droplets from the products included in the ban.
Combustible materials: RIBA’s position explained;