Nicholas Holgate quits in wake of Grenfell Tower fire


The chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council has been forced to quit his £187,000-a-year post after a flood of criticism over the handling of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Nicholas Holgate said Sajid Javid, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, had “required the leader of the council to seek my resignation” on Tuesday.

Cambridge-educated career civil servant Mr Holgate added in a statement that he would have been a “distraction” if he had stayed in his post after the “heart-breaking tragedy”, which left at least 79 feared dead.

Mr Holgate said: “Serving the families so desperately affected by the heart-breaking tragedy at Grenfell Tower remains the highest priority of the council.

“Despite my wish to have continued, in very challenging circumstances, to lead on the executive responsibilities of the council, I have decided that it is better to step down from my role, once an appropriate successor has been appointed.

“Success in our efforts requires leadership across London that sustains the confidence and support of central Government. 

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Council chief executive Nicholas Holgate has resigned.

He said there is a “huge amount” still to do for the victims and added: “If I stayed in post, my presence would be a distraction.”

Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown, whose own offer to resign was rejected by members of his cabinet earlier this week, said he accepted the resignation “with great regret”. He added that “the council will now need to work in a new way with different partners to take this forward”.

A council source said Mr Holgate’s departure “will not prevent the ‘next Grenfell’”.

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Nick Paget Brown, leader of the council, with Police Commander Stuart Cundy in the wake of the fire. (Getty Images)

They added: “The Leader and the Cabinet set the tone, the strategy and the culture. Officers, including the chief executive, do very well what they are required to do.

“This is a scapegoat strategy that will brush under the carpet the underlying problems. Getting rid of Mr Holgate will not help the problems to go away. The problem is the leadership and the complacency of monopoly.”

Many survivors and victims’ families have been angry over the authorities’ response to the deadly blaze.

Fury came to a head on Friday night as protests erupted across the capital as people stormed Kensington town hall and activists marched to Downing Street.

Theresa May has apologised for the failures by local and national government in reacting to the tragedy and will address the Commons on Thursday.

Mr Holgate began his career as an administration trainee at the Treasury in 1984 after graduating in economics from Trinity College.

He was director of welfare reform between 2001 and 2004 and then chief operating officer at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. He joined Kensington and Chelsea in 2008 as executive director for finance, information systems and property before becoming chief executive in October 2014.

Labour councillor Mohammed Bakhtiar, who lives in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, said he was “not surprised” at Mr Holgate’s resignation.

He told the Standard: “I would like to see many resignations. We have failed our residents.”

Mr Paget-Brown said: “It is with great regret that I have today accepted Nicholas Holgate’s resignation. Like everyone else, the council has been grief stricken by the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire and has sought to provide the greatest level of support we can to victims.

“That is a huge challenge and Nicholas has led from the front in seeking to do this. However, the council will now need to work in a new way with different partners to take this forward.

Nicholas has made a huge contribution to Kensington and Chelsea during his eight years with us and is greatly admired by staff and members. I am enormously grateful to him. “

It came as inquests were opened and adjourned at Westminster Coroner’s Court into the deaths of five victims, with a married couple officially named as among the dead.

Omar Belkadi, 32, died from inhaling fire fumes, while his wife, Farah Hamdan, 31, was killed by smoke inhalation.

They lived on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower with their daughters Malek, seven, Tazmin, six, and Leena, just six months old.

Grenfell Tower aftermath – In pictures

The two eldest daughters were found in hospital by family members but the fate of their youngest girl remains unknown.

Abufars Ibrahim, 39, died of multiple injuries, while Anthony Disson, 65, and a 52-year-old woman, Khadija Khalloufi, both died from inhalation of fire fumes.

A highly toxic gas released by insulation on the outside of the building may have contributed to deaths.

The boards, fitted during a refurbishment of the tower, could have produced enough deadly hydrogen cyanide to fill every flat, it has been reported.

Richard Hull, professor of chemistry and fire science at the University of Central Lancashire, told Sky News: “The outside wall of the building had 150mm of PIR foam (fitted), and once the fire had spread to that every flat would have its own source of PIR foam, which would have produced enough hydrogen cyanide to kill all the people in that flat.”

Manufacturer Celotex stated that the insulation would have released “toxic gases” if it caught fire.

King’s College Hospital confirmed to Sky News that three of its 12 Grenfell patients were treated with the hydrogen cyanide antidote Cyanokit.

The renovation works were inspected 16 times by Kensington and Chelsea council, it has been reported.

Inspections were spread over almost two years during the £10 million project between 2014 and 2016, according to the Guardian.

Judith Blakeman, a Labour councillor who represents the Grenfell residents, told the paper: “This raises the question of whether the building regulations officers were sufficiently competent and did they know what they were looking at.”

Earlier on Wednesday a funeral for 23-year-old Syrian refugee Mohammad Alhajali, the first victim to be identified, was attended by his family and London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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