By Danielle Aumord

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s (RBKC) arms-length management organisation, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), who were managing nearly 10,000 properties at the time of the Grenfell fire, cited government-endorsed guidance as the reason that no plans were made for evacuating disabled Grenfell residents.

The inquiry into the Grenfell fire heard that the council that owned Grenfell Tower also ignored recommendations from a coroner’s report on a fire in 2009 at Lakanal House in South London, in which six residents were killed.

The inquiry heard that in March 2013 RBKC staff were briefed on the outcomes of the Lakanal House inquest, which included calls for landlords to ensure that they had evacuation strategies in place.

Recommendations also included fitting sprinklers within high-rise buildings and that staff involved in the procurement of refurbishment projects were trained in understanding the fireprotection qualities of the materials being used.

Tessa Brown, former KCTMO director of housing, was grilled at the public inquiry about their lack of personal emergency evacuation plans, known as PEEPs, for vulnerable residents.

She blamed their “stay put policy” and the lack of PEEPs before the blaze on the 14 June 2017 on the London Fire Brigade (LFB). “We weren’t expecting to evacuate. My experience was that the fire brigades arrived, and they made the decision to move from a stay put to an
evacuation policy. And we did a review, there was no recommendation from the LFB or from anyone else to have changed that,” she said.

Many disabled and vulnerable residents sadly struggled to escape on the night of the tragedy and paid with their lives as a result of KCTMO’s lack of evacuation planning.

Minutes of KCTMO meetings in October 2016 revealed that the former head of housing at RBKC, Laura Johnson, failed to check whether issues raised by the LFB with regards to self-closing fire doors had also been rectified at the time of the blaze.

She was also a leading figure in securing Studio E as the architect for the Grenfell refurbishment scheme, the inquiry heard.

Residents local to Grenfell told Housing Quality Network that Ms Johnson “literally went home on the night of the 13th [the night of the fire] from a normal day at work and then sent her laptop and key card into the town hall on the 14th [June 2017] in a cab, not even in person, having seen the news” about the fire and that they’ve waited nearly four years to hear her evidence after she left RBKC.

The public inquiry heard that there was increasing pressure by KCTMO’s former director of housing to retain Studio E to achieve a cheap job for the Grenfell refurbishment, but it’s now emerged that Studio E had no previous experience of cladding high-rises.

Ms Johnson admitted that she didn’t ask Studio E about their previous experience working on cladding projects. We continued to hear tales of KCTMO bullying and intimidating residents, with former director of assets and regeneration Peter Maddison accusing Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn of “agitating” when he raised fire safety concerns on the Grenfell Action Group blog.

The inquiry heard that Mr Maddison instructed colleagues to investigate whether the resident’s criticism could be considered “libellous”.

“Mr. Daffarn is continuing to agitate in Grenfell Tower,” he wrote in an April 2015 email. “He is clearly distributing misleading information. Fola [a colleague at KCTMO] – I wonder if you could advise on the point at which his comments become libellous?”

We saw that he was referring to a blog post in which Mr Daffarn stated that KCTMO and lead contractor at the Grenfell refurbishment Rydon were “using threatening and intimidatory tactics to scare residents into allowing them to access our homes”.

Mr Daffarn was at the time in the process of forming a group to represent residents who were concerned about the refurbishment but the ALMO refused to acknowledge the residents’ group, with one internal email branding it “a showcase for Mr. Daffarn”.

The Grenfell Action Group’s blog went on to warn of a disaster in November 2016, with a post that said “only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation”.

The inquiry continues.