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GRENFELL TOWER residents were ignored when they raised serious concerns over health and safety before the blaze and were treated as “sub-citizens,” an inquiry into the fire heard today.
In the months before the June 2017 fire that killed 72 people, staff managing social housing for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea adopted an “us vs them approach,” one resident told the public inquiry.
Resident Lee Chapman said that he had repeatedly been refused an independent fire assessment of the building by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) in March 2017.
As secretary of the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders’ Association (GTLA), Mr Chapman had raised concerns about bare gas pipes being run through the stairwell of the building, which was the only fire escape, during the recent upgrade works.
He had also warned that there was a lack of emergency access for vulnerable and disabled residents.
The inquiry saw chains of emails between Mr Chapman and KCTMO supporting the claims.
“[KCTMO’s responses] made me have the impression that the council would essentially be against the residents because they might think: ‘They keep complaining so we need to prove that we are right’,” Mr Chapman told the inquiry.
“That was the impression that I had at the time, that it was ‘us against them’.”
He and other members of the GTLA repeatedly requested copies of fire safety reports from the National Grid and the fire brigade, which KCTMO claimed it possessed.
But these requests were never complied with, the inquiry heard.
Mr Chapman said that the responses did not address the issues raised and were “very generic.”
He told the inquiry: “I also believe that as residents in a so-called ‘social housing block,’ we were treated as sub-citizens or sub-class.”
Grenfell United, a group of bereaved families and survivors, said in a statement: “It is a disgrace that the litany of complaints over health and safety at Grenfell Tower were not addressed and that some residents were labelled as ‘rebel residents’ and ‘a problem’ by KCTMO and its contractors for having raised their concerns.
“This is one example of a chronic lack of respect for people living in social housing, many of which are vulnerable, who have fought for their right to safe homes.”
The group said it hoped the inquiry would lead the way for lasting and wide-ranging changes to how housing safety is regulated and how residents are treated.
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