At least 15 more forged fire safety certificates have been linked to a company in Wales.
After an investigation by Gist Vile revealed a forged signature was found on the fire safety certificate for a Cardiff block of flats, more evidence has surfaced about the wider extent of the problem.
Responding to concerns of fraudulent EWS1 forms raised in the Senedd, the First Minister said police and trading standards are “actively investigating”.
An industry-wide certificate was brought in last year, following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, when 72 people died. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) introduced the External Wall Fire Review, or EWS1, to certify the safety of cladding on blocks of flats.
According to RICS, these forms must be completed by a “fully qualified member of a relevant professional body within the construction industry”, like a chartered surveyor or fire engineer.
In August, a retired police officer living at Century Wharf, Cardiff, found EWS1 forms issued by Newbridge -based Specialist Facade Inspections were signed with a forged signature.
Specialist Facade Inspections said they had used “third-party authentication” — a chartered surveyor near Liverpool — to sign off the form, and they said that this third party was responsible for the use of a forged signature.
It has now emerged that the forged signature was also found on several other EWS1 forms and the company has reissued certificates under a new inspector’s name, who they say has “huge experience” and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).
However, according to the CIOB, the new inspector is neither a current member nor qualified to sign the forms — invalidating the new fire safety certificates.
At least 15 more fire safety certificates were issued by the company with the forged signature, and likely even more.
David Kennedy is the chief executive of Columbia Group, a property development investment company. He said Specialist Facade Inspections issued EWS1 forms with forged signatures for 15 buildings owned by Columbia across London, affecting around 1,000 residents.
Mr Kennedy said: “I started to hear about problems when there was a person trying to get their property remortgaged. They asked me for help getting an EWS1 form at the beginning of this year.”
After Specialist Facade Inspections replaced the certificates for Columbia, Mr Kennedy attempted to verify the qualifications of one of the new named inspectors. He wrote to the CIOB, who told him the inspector is not a chartered member, nor ever has been.
Mr Kennedy said: “What these operators are doing is they’re undermining certain parts of the building profession.
“There needs to be better guidance on the level of qualification that is acceptable. There should be greater transparency. You have to put some leg work in to get some information.”
Specialist Facade Inspections said the new surveyor is registered with the CIOB — but coronavirus has caused an administrative error.
In an interview, Paul Tedstone, who founded the company with his son in October last year, said: “He is registered with the CIOB. I don’t know anybody better. He’s a very good guy. He rang me and said he’s waiting for a confirmation letter from the CIOB. Huge experience, no question.
“All I know is he told me it’s not an issue. I had his certificate, and from personal experience I know he’s more than well versed in rain screen cladding.”
Mr Kennedy also pointed out a potential conflict of interest, as Specialist Facade Inspections offer to survey buildings and then carry out any necessary work to remediate fire safety problems, like replacing combustible cladding.
Mr Tedstone denied this, and said: “We’re a local Welsh company trying to do a good job at half the price. We won the project because we were the most competitive, and by a fair margin.
“There’s no conflict of interest because we’re totally up front. We want to be part of the solution. Our strategy is to go in, we can do the intrusive survey, we could write the specifications, tender the works, and give us the option of being one of the people to tender the works, because we would have an advantage of knowing the job.
“Our business model is potentially full circle.”
On Tuesday, October 13, concerns about forged signatures on EWS1 forms were raised in the Senedd, by Neil McEvoy MS.
Mr McEvoy, leader of the Welsh National Party, said: “Will the First Minister make a statement on cladding and fire safety in Wales, in light of revelations that fire safety certificates were fraudulently signed for blocks of flats in Cardiff and beyond?”
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Fraud is a matter for the police and trading standards. Reports of fraud in fire safety matters are currently being investigated by them.
“In this case, Gwent Police and Caerphilly trading standards are carrying out an active investigation into the matters.”
A spokesperson for Gwent Police said: “We are not able to confirm nor deny the arrest or investigation into named individuals or businesses. Nor can we supply any other information that could be considered to have the same effect.”
Caerphilly council was asked to comment.
Specialist Facade Inspections said they are now “taking on three fellows from RICS”. Mr Tedstone said: “Anybody who has any worry with any certificate that we’ve supplied, I’ll happily pass straight to them, and they can further endorse it. It should be fine.
“I’m really sorry for any of the hassle or stress that has been brought on any resident. It’s certainly not fraudulent or a financial scam, far from it. It’s naivety on my part, that I really, really want to put right.
“We are passionate about the problem. We are very passionate about doing the right thing.”