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Fire safety certificate for Cardiff flats signed with forged signature

 

Fears of fraud have been raised as a fire safety certificate for a block of flats in Cardiff was signed with a forged signature.

Concerns about combustible cladding after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 has led to inspectors across the country checking several buildings for similar risks of a fire spreading rapidly.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) created an industry-wide certificate to check the safety of cladding on buildings, called an External Wall Fire Review, or EWS1.

RICS said EWS1 forms must only be completed by competent chartered professionals with suitable fire expertise, like a chartered surveyor or fire engineer.

But the current high demand for these certificates in the wake of the Grenfell disaster has led to scammers hijacking the process and issuing fake EWS1 forms, according to consumers association Which? in a report in August.

Which? said: “Leaseholders are being duped into paying thousands of pounds to fraudsters faking inspection forms amid concerns over fire safety.

“The scammers have forged the names and signatures of qualified surveyors to pass and fail buildings. Some forms we’ve seen have been signed off by surveyors who simply don’t exist.”

An EWS1 form was filled out in July this year for Marseilles House at Century Wharf, a block of flats in Butetown overlooking the river Taff. In August, however, a resident suspicious of the certificate contacted the chartered surveyor whose name was signed on the form.

The chartered surveyor told Gareth Griffiths, 66, a retired police officer who lives at Century Wharf, that she had not signed the form, inspected the building, nor had any contact with the company contracted to carry out the fire safety survey.

Mr Griffiths said: “When I looked at it, the writing didn’t look great for a professional RICS surveyor. When I rang the surveyor, she was horrified that the survey took place with her signature.”

WalesOnline has spoken to the surveyor whose name is on the form. She did not wish to comment or for her name to be used in this article. But she confirmed she had not carried out the survey or signed off the form.

Century Wharf is run by Warwick Estates, a property management company who contracted the Newbridge-based Specialist Facade Inspections to conduct the EWS1 survey.

Paul Tedstone, chief technical officer of Specialist Facade Inspections, founded the company with his son in October last year. The company offers EWS1 certifications, cladding inspections and remedial works like re-cladding.

Mr Tedstone explained while he is not qualified by a professional body to carry out an EWS1 survey, he has “twenty-odd years of experience in the industry”. He claimed the company would conduct the survey, then send a detailed report with photographic evidence to a third-party chartered surveyor, who would sign off the certificate for a fee of £200.

Mr Tedstone said: “We supply a report with everything in it. EWS1 is a bloody piece of paper. In order to tick that box you need a [qualified person]. None of those accreditations I hold, nor did the business hold.

“It was nonsense: you need someone else just to confirm what we already know. Just for the last piece of paper, as I didn’t have the letters after my name to sign it off.”

Specialist Facade Inspections claim they have been the victim of fraud, as they allege the surveyor they used for third-party authentication of EWS1 forms forged the signature.

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Mr Tedstone could not provide contact details for the third-party surveyor nor the name of the surveyor’s company.

The fee Specialist Facade Inspections charged Century Wharf for the EWS1 certificate was £110,500, according to Mr Griffiths. He said Warwick Estates cancelled the cheque after he discovered the forged signature.

As well as Century Wharf, the forged signature was used on “five or six” other EWS1 certificates, Mr Tedstone claimed. He said the company has withdrawn every certificate with the false signature on, reviewed each case and reissued each certificate.

He said: “There has been weeks and weeks of intrusive surveys. We have done nothing wrong, apart from being a bit naive. We’re victims too.” 

Amid concerns of a wider problem, the issue was raised in the Welsh Parliament on Tuesday, September 29 by Neil McEvoy MS, after a resident contacted him with evidence of the forgery.

Mr McEvoy, leader of the Welsh National Party, said: “The person who supposedly signed off this safety certificate has stated in writing that they did not carry out the inspection, and they did not sign the form.

“They have no connection to Specialist Facade Inspections, based in Newbridge. And the signature on the letter is not [hers].

“Specialist Facade Inspections say they’re the victim. But the bottom line is we have a safety certificate which I don’t know who it has been signed by, and this really is a pressing issue.

“When will the housing minister get a grip on matters? Set up a task force and sort this out.”

Meanwhile, the residents of Century Wharf are still unclear whether the cladding on their building is safe, after the forged signature cast doubt on the findings of the EWS1 certificate.

Mr Griffiths said: “We don’t know. Until it’s properly surveyed, we don’t know the extent. We don’t know whether combustible material is in the walls or cladding outside the building. I’m very concerned about the safety of the building.”

Warwick Estates were approached for comment.

A spokesman for RICS said: “All buildings where the make-up of the wall system is uncertain must be checked by a qualified professional for safety. The extent of the inspection will depend on the information available.

“It is likely that a physical inspection will be preferred but if enough prior knowledge and drawings exist, a desktop inspection may be sufficient.

“RICS condemns anyone using the current situation for their own personal gain, with potentially dangerous consequences for residents, and would urge that any further information related to this is made available to trading standards and RICS if appropriate.”

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