Boris Johnson is being urged to look again at his choice to lead the Grenfell enquiry after it was revealed she was linked to a charitable arm of the firm which supplied the tower block’s deadly cladding.
It was announced shortly before Christmas that Benita Mehra would replace academic Professor Nabeel Hamdi on the panel for the second phase of the inquiry, which is due to begin this year.
It has since been disclosed that Mehra is an immediate past president of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) which, according to the society’s website, last year received funding from the Arconic Foundation for an apprentice conference.
Arconic supplied the cladding on the outside of the west London tower block, which went up in flames on June 14 2017, claiming 72 lives.
A report following the first phase of the inquiry concluded in October last year that the 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.
The second phase of the public inquiry will examine the causes and circumstances of the blaze.
Mehra’s appointment – after Professor Hamdi was unable to proceed – was requested in a letter from prime minister Boris Johnson sent on December 20, and was announced three days later, after receiving the consent of inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick.
Karim Mussilhy, vice-chairman of the survivors and bereaved group Grenfell United, has raised concerns as to any link between Mehra and Arconic.
“How can she sit next to Sir Martin Moore-Bick when Arconic will be on the stand and is one of the organisations we need answers from in terms of what caused the deaths of our loved ones?” she told the Guardian.
“Her society has been supported by Arconic. She will look at it from the perspective of Arconic doing good things for the industry, that they are a great organisation. Her perspective will be affected.”
David Lammy MP called the appointment by Boris Johnson “scandalous”.
“Grenfell survivors are right to describe this appointment as a slap in the face,” he tweeted. “Mehra must stand down so there is no conflict of interest. The 72 who died in the fire deserve justice.”
A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said: “There are robust processes in place to ensure the Grenfell Tower Inquiry remains independent and that any potential conflicts of interest are properly considered and managed.
“The Arconic Foundation donated to a specific scheme which provides mentoring for women in engineering, and is unrelated to the issues being considered by the inquiry.”
Ms Mehra was formerly director of strategic assets and property, and has 16 years of experience working with the British Airports Authority in areas including risk assessment and property management.
Grenfell United has previously lamented the loss of Professor Hamdi from the panel, saying he was the only person there with experience in the community.