A new phase of the Grenfell inquiry is now looking at how the building was managed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Conservative Council (who owned it) and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), who ran it and oversaw its refurbishment. Surprisingly, the inquiry has revealed a culture of cost cutting, as well as an indifference towards the care of vulnerable and minority groups, in favour of commercial interests, which was all spurred on by the then Conservative Prime Minster David Cameron and the Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Here are some of the key points being raised during this phase, as outlined in a BBC report…
- The lawyers for the victims of the Grenfell fire are accusing the council and the TMO of “neglect, indifference and discrimination” towards residents.
- They are also accusing them of bullying and stigmatising any residents who raised concerns about safety.
- The TMO are being accused of being “dismissive” towards residents and their concerns.
- Lawyers are also accusing the council of an agenda to beautify what they saw as an “eyesore” by applying some simple “cosmetic surgery” in order to “make it more palatable to its elegant and wealthy neighbours” and chose to ignore any “underlying deficiencies”.
- We’re also learning that one Grenfell resident, Shah Ahmed, who had formed the ‘Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association’ had previously written to senior executives, after an earlier fire in 2010, warning them that there was “a high probability that, in the event of another fire, the whole building can become an inferno,” and even notified them of an “interior staircase and malfunctioning ventilation system”. Shah was demanding an independent investigation into the safety of the building and said residents were viewed as “sub-human”.
- Lawyers also explained how Edward Daffarn, a member of the Grenfell Action Group, had written a series of blogs raising concerns about the safety issues at Grenfell and had also raised these concerns directly with the council, including a broken fire door that he’d reported in 2015, which the TMO simply dismissed and the council simply described as “scaremongering”. In fact, that fire door still hadn’t been fixed on the night of fire (14th June 2017) and it allowed smoke to leak into a central area on one of the floors where two people died.
- Lawyers have also cited an email from one the Conservative council’s director of housing, Laura Johnson, in which she informed residents that councillors didn’t care to attend a public meeting where residents would be “moaning about minor issues” and then accused them of being “bad-tempered”. She even accused some residents of having “agendas”. Lawyers point out that amongst the issues being described as “minor” were gas pipes in hallways, problems with fire doors, power surges, a failed ventilation system and access for fire engines.
- Lawyers have further revealed that the London Fire Brigade had in fact contacted the council, 2 months before the fire, and issued a warning about the dangerous cladding. The council simply passed the buck on to the TMO to look into.
- We also learned that there were no special arrangements made for vulnerable residents, which resulted in a disproportionate number of deaths amongst children and disabled residents. Infact, there was no “emergency or evacuation plan” in place.
- Michael Mansfield QC, acting for some of the bereaved, has described a dangerous “political climate” fostered by David Cameron, while he was prime minister and Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London. PM Cameron, he said, was keen to go light on safety regulations because they would “get in the way of profit” while Mayor Johnson was pushing “austerity cuts to the fire brigade”.
- It’s also emerged that about 60 residents had sign a petition asking the council to investigate the treatment of residents by the TMO, however the council chose to dismiss their complaints and accused one of the residents, Edward Daffarn of engineering the petition. They then instructed the TMO to investigate their own conduct and, naturally, the TMO “glowingly commended itself”.
- Stephanie Barwise QC, representing other bereaved people and survivors, described how the council exhibited classist and racial undertones in the treatment of Grenfell residents, including discrimination and neglect.
- Barwise also reveals that, shortly before the fire, Mayor Boris Johnson delayed installation of door-closers shelved an inspection programme because of the cost.
- Interestingly, the Guardian adds that Council had sat on some minutes from a 2014 meeting between Edward Daffarn and the London fire brigade, in which they’d discussed concerns around the safety of the planned refurbishment, because they considered the information to have “commercial sensitivity”.
- Daffarn’s minutes would have revealed that they’d been asking the contractor to appoint a fire consultant for 5 solid months.
- Stephanie Barwise QC also revealed that, back in 2015, the London fire brigade had sent Nick Paget-Brown some audit tools designed to ensure that the refurbishments did not impact upon fire safety (Paget-Brown was leader of the council at the time), however he ‘failed’ (or chose not?) to implement them.
- Barwise further revealed that the council’s half-yearly reviews of the TMO were not undertaken by the council. In fact, the council simply allowed the TMO to ‘mark their own homework. Even the Health and safety reports were written by the TMO’s own fire safety adviser.
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