Grenfell: Council and TMO ‘preoccupied with profit margins’

Image: Dreamstime/Alex Danila

Lawyers for the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster have accused the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) of ignoring residents’ fire safety concerns and being “preoccupied with profit margins”.

The accusation came as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry moved on to examine how residents’ fire-related complaints were handled, as well as the extent to which the building’s owner and managers complied with their fire safety obligations, and the fire safety measures within the Tower.

The new module in the second phase of the Inquiry, module three, follows on from module two, which looked at construction products and the way in which materials used in Grenfell Tower were presented to the market.

Divided into three topics, module three will first look at fire-related complaints from residents, followed by examining the extent to which RBKC and the TMO complied with their obligations under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Finally, topic three will address active and passive fire safety measures within the tower.

The third module began yesterday (29 March) by hearing a series of opening statements from witnesses.

‘Ignored and marginalised’

Lawyers for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people in June 2017, said residents were “ignored and marginalised at every turn”.

Referring to the refurbishment of the building, carried out between 2012 and 2016, they said work to fix combustible cladding to the building turned it into a “death trap” that was “singularly ill-equipped to respond to or withstand a catastrophic fire”

They said the “sick building” was an “eyesore” for RBKC, which required “cosmetic surgery to make it more palatable to its elegant and wealthy neighbours”. But they argued that the refurbishment the building was given was “a superficial facelift” that neglected “underlying deficiencies”.

Meanwhile, they claimed residents and those who supported them in their complaints were “bullied” for raising concerns. They also branded the attitude of the council to resident Shah Ahmed, a resident in the tower for 25 years, who complained about gas pipes being inserted into the only means of escape in the tower and vents not being serviced as “dismissive”.

The lawyers accused the TMO’s protect managers, directors and safety personnel of “incompetence” and argued that the building’s safety was “not at the centre of TMO/RBKC considerations”. It added: “Their minds were pre-occupied with profit margins, cost cutting and a race to the bottom”.

Another resident to raise concerns was Edward Daffarn, a member of the Grenfell Action Group (GAG), who blogged about safety issues. However, his blog was dismissed as “scaremongering”, lawyers for the victims claimed.

TMO rejects claim of ‘dismissive attitude’

But James Ageros, lawyer for the TMO said it “did not accept” that it adopted a dismissive attitude towards residents or to their complaints.

Ageros said there appeared to have been a breakdown in trust between the TMO, RBKC and some residents that “impaired TMO achieving a good relationship with some tenants going forward”.

He added: “When considering the nature and volume of complaints made by residents during the refurbishment, it should be kept in mind that, for residents, continuing to live in situ when major works were occurring both inside and outside their flats can only have been extremely difficult. The construction work was intrusive and noisy, and one lift was often unavailable to residents because it was being used by builders. Against this background, it’s possibly unsurprising that there was an increased number of complaints and expressions of dissatisfaction from residents.”

And referring to the Grenfell Action Group blog, he said: “The language often used in the blog was indicative of the levels of mistrust that had built up in the minds of some residents towards the TMO. What we on behalf of the TMO submit is that the Inquiry should be cautious about the contents of the GAG blog because it contains a highly personalised narrative, including a number of personalised attacks on TMO and RBKC employees.”

James Maxwell-Scott, lawyer for RBKC, said the council was “truly sorry” for the suffering and loss of life caused by the fire and that “the council could have and should have done more to stop it happening”.

On the issue of complaints, Maxwell-Scott said: “It is clear that a significant number of residents of Grenfell Tower felt very strongly that it was not being managed as well as it could and should have been. Some of them were frustrated by how they were treated by the TMO, Rydon and the council. Some of them complained. Some of those who complained were dissatisfied with how their complaints were handled, and did not feel respected. Matters which led to high volumes of frustration and complaints included: the power surges in 2013, issues which arose during the refurbishment, lifts breaking down, and the gas riser works in 2016 and 2017. It is entirely understandable that residents were frustrated by these matters, and complained about them.”

The Inquiry continues.

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