Following this, on the same day, the All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group met to discuss the Furniture Regulations and fridge-freezers with the BEIS Minister, Kelly Tolhurst MP (this meeting is not publicly available). The Furniture Regulations were also on the table for the EAC session. Because of this, the CEO of the Office for Product Safety and Standards (part of BEIS), Graham Russell, was present at both meetings. His demeanour varied considerably, however, between the two, mainly because at the EAC he was under direct questioning while at the second all he had to do was sit next to the Minister who did all the talking. At one he looked nervous and shifty, at the other he appeared rather smug – I'll leave the reader to guess which was which.
Let's take a closer look at Graham Russell. Yesterday, an article appeared in Civil Service World about the OPSS and Mr Russell:
Here are a few quotes from it:
Simply put, Russell says, the primary purpose of the office is to “make sure that consumers in the UK have confidence in the safety of the products they buy”.
[On the Grenfell Tower fire and BEIS's investigation of the fridge-freezer that is alleged to have started it] “The way that fire developed and had such a horrendous effect on human life, I think has also made us all rightly think again about making sure we’re doing enough, particularly for the most vulnerable people,” Russell says.
Products the OPSS regulates include toys, furniture and children’s clothing. “These are not products that people think are going to put their lives at risk.”
“What motivates me is that this is about protecting people – particularly the most vulnerable people. I think that’s what drives a lot of people in this area,” he says.
What motivates him most is protecting people, he says. And yet this man has known for several years that the Furniture Regulations do not work and are therefore putting the entire population at risk from toxic poisoning. He's right when he says people don't think that furniture is going to put their lives at risk – partly because he's telling everyone, including his Minister, that the Furniture Regulations actually work.
He also knows that people in his OPSS team have been telling other civil servants behind closed doors meetings that they know the Furniture Regulations don't work but don't know what to do about it. They're terrified at what the public will think and do if it gets out that these regulations have never worked and that his Department proved conclusively that they don't in 2014. In short, his successors and now he as the product safety boss are lying to the public and politicians purely to protect their backs.
He and his OPSS officials have also lied about their investigation into the Grenfell fridge-freezer that caught fire. They concealed the actual report into the product, just told the world that 'independent experts' (which were almost entirely just their own staff) had concluded that the product was safe. But if you get hold of the actual test report, it shows that in key areas the product is actually dangerous. How about that? Two products – furniture and white goods – that are putting the population at risk and Mr Russell is lying about them both. With the result that the people of Grenfell are being blocked from an important aspect of the truth about the fire.
Russell is also blocking the truth about the toxicity of furniture which is further preventing the Grenfell community from learning the full truth about what they were exposed to.
If you watch his performance at the EAC, it's apparent that the committee was very exasperated with his ducking and diving around the fact that the OPSS in practice has been pretty useless since its formation at the start of last year. Also, he kept insisting that consumers were well protected from defective products, even though everyone in the room knows they aren't. For example, Robert Chantry-Price from the Trading Standards Institute, another witness, informed everyone that Trading Standards has lost 59% of its officers in recent years and had its budgets slashed. There were several wry smiles when Russell said the OPSS has £500K for Trading Standards to undertake product safety, which increased when Chantry-Price commented that TS officers do not have the funding to travel to the products and pay for them in the first place.
At one point in the APPG meeting, Lady Mar asked the BEIS Minister a question about the fact that organophosphate chemicals were removed from weed-killers because they're so toxic but they're heavily used in mattresses, including children's. Lady Mar asked Tolhurst what she thought about the fact children are being poisoned as they sleep. Tolhurst chose to go on the offensive, stating that this was an "aggressive" question and how dare anyone question how she felt about children's health. This led to Lady Mar having to clarify that of course she is criticising the Department's policy. Which should not have been necessary of course, since Kelly Tolhurst's personal feelings are irrelevant. However, acting outraged allowed her to avoid answering the question and Lady Mar's additional point that the match test doesn't work.
Instead, Tolhurst repeated endlessly that while BEIS is looking at the possible negative effects of flame retardants, she will not do anything to risk fire safety (of furniture). Let's be clear about this: Graham Russell knows full well that the Furniture Regulations do not work and represent a huge risk to the entire UK public. Yet he's briefing his Minister that they working, which is a lie, pure and simple.
In short, he is the key person responsible for ensuring that millions of children in this country are being poisoned by toxic flame retardants on a daily basis.
What kind of man is that?
Oh, at the end of the EAC session I approached Mr Russell and introduced myself. I started to ask him if he'd read his own Department's 2014 consultation document and technical annex, since these prove that the current match test doesn't work. But he jumped to his feet, avoiding my gaze, and said, "I'm not hear to talk to anyone; I'm not discussing anything with you!" I started to point out that he's a public servant and I'm a member of the public but he literally shoved me aside and, now red-faced, rushed from the room.
Now, I don't know about you but I figure that's not the way a man behaves who believes in what he's saying. Such a man would stand his ground, look me in the eye, and point out exactly why I'm wrong, along with warning me to stop spreading lies about his Regulations and unnecessarily spooking the UK public.