Landlords for the Grenfell tower have unveiled shocking revelations at the inquiry into the blaze. Their evidence shows that at every turn profit was prioritised over safety.
The Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) has been giving evidence in phase two of the inquiry since 12 October.
Residents from the local community have been organising protests outside the inquiry building to demand justice for the 72 dead, survivors and bereaved.
KCTMO managed the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s housing. It was responsible for the refurbishment of Grenfell that was completed in May 2016.
Last Thursday protesters dressed as housing bosses in prison uniforms, painted blood on their hands and called for those responsible to be jailed.
“Phase two was delayed to grant people immunity from prosecution—they only agreed to talk once they had this,” Grenfell activist Emmaluna told Socialist Worker.
The inquiry heard that David Gibson, KCTMO’s former head of capital investment, admitted to holding a secret meeting about cost cutting.
Negotiations with Rydon, the contractor for the refurbishment, took place before it was formally offered the contract.
By switching to the flammable aluminium composite material cladding, KCTMO saved £293,000.
“It’s entitlement and greed. It’s property development at any cost”, Emmaluna said.
“The system only works for the elite. They pit white working class people against black. It’s a distraction. They think ‘while we profit, you fight among yourselves’.”
Peter Maddison, the former director of assets at KCTMO, handed over notebooks covering 2013 to 2017 on Friday afternoon, four days before giving evidence.
It was the first time in 40 months that Maddison had admitted that the notebooks even existed. And on Monday last week it was outrageously admitted by former KCTMO refurbishment project manager Claire Williams that she “binned” her notebooks from the time of the construction.
She threw them away a year after the fire while the public inquiry and police investigation were under way.
Emmaluna said, “It’s not for her to decide what is and isn’t evidence.
“She even emailed Peter Maddison on the morning of the fire without mentioning the tower was burning.
“Evidence and computer hard drives have disappeared. The police have stood by and let this happen.”
After being confronted at the inquiry, Williams started to cry.
Protester Isla told Socialist Worker, “What is she crying for? There are people who have lost their family, friends and homes.”
The inquiry has also heard how former KCTMO project manager Paul Dunkerton labelled residents as “antagonists” for raising their concerns about fire safety.
Critical safety mechanisms failed on the night of tragedy in June 2017.
There was only one staircase and exit to the entire building, fire alarms failed to sound.
Grenfell Tower, which was 24 storeys high, didn’t even have a sprinkler system.
Cladding dangers were ignored by housing bosses
Grenfell residents voted for fire-resistant zinc cladding when consulted about the refurbishment.
A blog by Grenfell Action Group—made up of residents—had warned of a “serious fire”. It said, “Only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord”.
At the inquiry David Gibson said discussions over which cladding should be used consisted of “what does it look like, is it acceptable for planners and what’s the cost?” Safety was not a consideration.
And no evidence has been found to support Gibson’s claim that he was assured the cladding “would not burn at all”.
Emmaluna said, “Before the cladding was put on people warned it was dangerous and were dismissed as ‘fantasists’.”
Grenfell’s lethal cladding is not an isolated case.
Some 1.5 million residents are trapped in dangerous flats and owners are being forced to pay for the removal, with costs of up to £50,000 each.
Isla said a resident who died in the fire had been part of a campaign against the cladding, and “now his son can’t go in and listen to them admit their guilt.”
“The bereaved and survivors can’t go into the inquiry. Security and the press have more rights that they do”, she said.
Protester Leearna added, “Initially they said this was because of Covid-19. Now it’s an excuse. There were seven guards the other day, yet they can’t let the bereaved and survivors in?”
Residents won’t give up fight
The protesters outside the inquiriy chanted, “Corporate greed kills”, and “Justice for the 72 plus”.
Some people could be heard from the inquiry room.
Leearna said, “It’s systemic, institutional indifference and racism. Justice means an end to the cladding scandal.
“Nothing has changed. I’ve got nothing but contempt for the Tories. They haven’t carried out any of their promises.”
Emmaluna added, “The trauma has not gone 40 months on. People watched their friends and family die with no escape.
“Healing comes with justice. Those in KCTMO and RKBC need to do jail time.
“We want to change the system with this case. Things should’ve changed after Hillsborough. It’s inhumane.”
Activists are planning to continue demonstrating outside the inquiry to demand justice.
Grenfell campaigner Moyra told Socialist Worker, “We won’t accept this any more. This is a national scandal that affects the whole country.
“We will be making demands and won’t let this be whitewashed.
“People from black communities and the working class cannot face this again. No more.
“They brushed aside concerns and it’s got to stop. We will not be silenced."