Housing association boss supporting BAME communities appointed to Grenfell panel

The boss of a housing association supporting BAME communities has been appointed as the third member of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry panel.

Ali Akbor is chief executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise based in Leeds, and will sit at hearings from November 2, the Cabinet Office said.

On its website, Unity is described as a “modern, successful and visionary organisation that understands and represents the needs of all tenants of all ethnic backgrounds,” and in 2019 Mr Akbor was made an OBE for services to the community in Leeds.

The hearings have been without a third expert since January, when an engineer resigned over links to the firm which manufactured the block’s flammable cladding.

Confirming Mr Akbor’s appointment on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “He will bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the role, as well as a crucial understanding of the issues at the heart of Phase 2 and an unwavering commitment to improving people’s lives.”

Bereaved and survivors of the 2017 fire said they hope Mr Akbor has been “thoroughly checked” and can “live up to the responsibility he has before him”.

Grenfell United added in a statement: “We have already heard evidence on how we were labelled as troublemakers for speaking out for our safety.

“It’s imperative that the panel learn the lessons and produce meaningful recommendations so that social housing tenants are never treated in this way again.”

Last month, the group had written to the Cabinet Office to express their “frustration” at the Government’s lack of appointment.

A letter from Natasha Elcock, chair of the Grenfell United committee said: “The failure of the Cabinet Office to address this issue is beginning to place the whole process of the public inquiry in jeopardy, and puts at risk the belief of many bereaved and survivors that the public inquiry can be a vehicle that delivers truth and accountability to those so profoundly impacted by the events of June 14 2017.”

The vacancy was left after Benita Mehra resigned from her spot on the panel early this year, when it emerged she was an immediate past president of the Women’s Engineering Society.

The charity has received funding from the Arconic Foundation, the charitable arm of Arconic – the manufacturer of Grenfell’s cladding.

The cladding panels on the outside of the Kensington tower block were the “principal reason” behind the fire’s rapid spread up the 24-storey building three years ago, claiming 72 lives, the inquiry’s first stage report found.

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

Mr Akbor will sit on the inquiry panel alongside chairman, Sir Martin Moore Bick, and architect Thouria Istephan.