A Grenfell Tower resident who raised numerous fire safety complaints with the building’s management company before the fire has described how he felt “stigmatised as a ‘trouble maker’” for raising complaints.
Ed Daffarn assisted in organising a residents association within Grenfell Tower to raise residents’ concerns during the refurbishment with the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and contributed to a blog which famously warned of the potential for a “catastrophic” fire at the tower.
In a 127-page witness statement released by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry today, Mr Daffarn wrote: “I never believed that the TMO was capable of keeping residents safe… The underlying reasons for this lie in the culture of governance that prevailed and because the personnel held prejudiced views about how residents should behave: essentially to be thankful for their service or effectively be damned.
“Their dealings with me were institutionally biased and, in many instances, animated by individual prejudice. In their eyes I was stigmatised as a ‘trouble maker’.”
Following his testimony, which concludes three days of evidence from former residents, bereaved families and survivors group Grenfell United said “the brave testimony of those who gave evidence” shows there was “no doubt about how our concerns before the fire were ignored and mishandled”.
He explained several complaints he raised in oral evidence to the inquiry today, including one instance in August 2015 where the door next to him – Flat 136 – became jammed open after the residents moved out. When he investigated, he discovered the self-closer was broken.
But when he wrote to KCTMO to raise the issue, Peter Maddison, director of assets and regeneration, claimed the door would have closed if Mr Daffarn had pulled it.
“I sit here under oath telling you that was a lie and I sit here under oath telling you that was how they treated me,” Mr Daffarn said. “Just to lie to me and make out that I was a vexatious complainer.”
It has since emerged that there were major and widespread issue with self-closers inside Grenfell Tower, which has already been identified by the inquiry as a reason smoke spread so rapidly through the lobbies and homes, trapping many residents and hindering their rescue.
Mr Maddison has not yet been asked about this complaint.
Mr Daffarn also raised regular concerns about how the fire service would access the building, especially after the removal of a car park due to the construction of a school, and how residents would escape the building, particularly during a period of the refurbishment when the ground floor was closed and access was through neighbouring low-rise blocks.
He said that he was never comfortable with the stay put policy, especially after becoming aware of a fire in Shepherd’s Court, not far from Grenfell Tower, which spread over six floors.
“I had always thought about if there was a gas explosion or something quite catastrophic happening and there was a need to get people out of the building in a quick way,” Mr Daffarn said.
“The stay put policy was never a satisfactory policy for Grenfell Tower. It was a very convenient policy for the TMO because it meant they didn’t have to do anything.”
Asked in detail about the consultation period for the refurbishment, he explained that cladding was “barely mentioned at all” at meetings he went to.
He also said residents concerns about the refurbishment – such as the ability to open windows and retaining a canopy around the lower floors – were ignored.
“It [the consultation] was about coming to tell residents what they were getting… they didn’t do things with us, they do things to us,” he said. “They would have learned a lot from us… These were our homes, it was our community, it was our residential amenity.”
Mr Daffarn helped establish a residents group for Grenfell Tower during the refurbishment in March 2015 to help address widespread dissatisfaction about the impact of the ongoing works on the residents of the building.
KCTMO initially refused to recognise the group, but did eventually attend a meeting with them in July 2015, thanks in part to pressure from the local MP and the support of Unite the Union. The group were eventually able to form as a ‘compact’ representing residents of the tower.
Residents were particularly unhappy at this time with plans to place ‘heating interface units’ that controlled the hot water from the communal boiler in hallways, instead of in kitchens as had previously been planned.
Some were refusing access to contractor Rydon to do the work until the issue was resolved.
In his witness statement Mr Daffarn alleged that when he raised complaints with a Rydon worker, they told him “I wouldn’t mind if I were getting it for free”.
“This attitude that we were getting the refurbishment ‘for nothing’ so shouldn’t complain permeated the whole refurbishment process,” he said.
The inquiry also saw notes of a KCTMO board meeting which said Mr Daffarn and local Labour councillor Judith Blakeman “are a negative force at Grenfell at present” and warned “there is concern this unrest will spread to [neighbouring estate] Silchester”.
Asked if people did come to him instead of KCTMO with issues, Mr Daffarn said: “They would have known that using the TMO complaints process was a complete and utter waste of time.
“The TMO were a completely non-functioning, non resident-focused organisation… Lots of residents would complain, not get their complaint addressed and then think I will repair it myself or put up with a bit of damp in my kitchen and get on with my life.”
Asked at the end of his evidence what he believed KCTMO should have done differently, Mr Daffarn said: “They didn’t treat us with respect or empathy or humanity, and if they had I wouldn’t be sitting here now.
“The culture of the TMO and the lack of scrutiny by RBKC [Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea], I believe and many residents believe, is a causative factor in what happened… and I ask you to bear that in mind.”
He concluded his witness statement by describing his heartbreak at the loss of the Grenfell Tower community.
“I dearly miss our community. We came together in the face of adversity before during and after the fire. We were not just neighbours,” Mr Daffarn said.
“Since the fire there are people out there who have said terrible things about our community, things that are so far away from the reality of what it was actually like that it has really hurt. We will never have the chance to really show people what that community was like. That thought is truly heartbreaking.”
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues.
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