Lawyers for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire have told the inquiry into the disaster that residents were “bullied” and “stigmatised” for raising safety concerns.
Michael Mansfield QC, representing a group of survivors and the bereaved, said Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council regarded the 24-storey block in North Kensington as an “eyesore which required cosmetic surgery to make it more palatable to its elegant and wealthy neighbours”.
So it provided a refurbishment between 2012 and 2016 that was only a “superficial facelift while neglecting underlying deficiencies”.
The council, along with the body that ran Grenfell Tower and oversaw the refurbishment, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), ran a complaints system for residents that was “outdated, cumbersome, not simple and was used to shut them off, lock them out essentially”, said Mr Mansfield.
He said the council and TMO had a “culture of indifference”.
Edward Daffarn, a member of the Grenfell Action Group, wrote a series of blog posts about safety issues in the building and raised concerns with the council – such as a fire door with a broken closing mechanism.
This was pointed out in 2015 and the door still wasn’t working on the night of the fire in 2017, allowing smoke into a central area on one floor where two people died.
The inquiry heard the council described Mr Daffarn’s blog posts as “scaremongering”.
Another lawyer, Stephanie Barwise QC, read an email from council worker Laura Johnson, sent during the building’s refurbishment, saying that a councillor would not want to attend a public meeting of people “moaning about minor issues”.
In fact residents had correctly identified issues such as gas pipes in hallways, problems with fire doors, power surges, a failed ventilation system and access for fire engines.
London Fire Brigade warned in the months before the fire that cladding could be dangerous. The inquiry heard the council simply forwarded the letter from the fire brigade to the TMO, saying: “FYI.”
James Ageros, lawyer for the TMO, said: “The TMO does not accept that it ever adopted a dismissive attitude toward residents or indeed toward their complaints and concerns.”
He said the inquiry should consider whether the TMO could have been expected to see through the “deceptions” of cladding manufacturers about the safety of their products.
Hundreds of other building owners and management organisations had not been able to “untangle this subterfuge”, he said.
In its submissions, the council apologised for its failings in monitoring the TMO and said “the council could have, and should have, done more to stop it happening”.
It’s a big buck-passing exercise, isn’t it?
The council apologises and says it should have monitored the TMO; the TMO doesn’t apologise and says it could not have been expected to see through “deceptions” by the manufacturers of the cladding.
My opinion? Residents are right to blame them all. The council, at least, has admitted a failing. The TMO should have recognised any false claims by the cladding manufacturers; that’s part of its reason for existing and the council should have realised this wasn’t happening.
And residents were ignored – until they died.
And now, residents at other blocks with similar cladding are being penalised for living in places where the landlord made the wrong decision because the Tory government is ignoring their concerns.
History repeats itself. The UK is run by people who want to take your money and do nothing in return – especially people in government.
We can vote them out – for example at the local elections in May.
But that rarely seems to happen. Why?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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