The head of health and safety and the risk assessor for the organisation that managed Grenfell Tower were “economical with the truth” when it came to fire safety, a former inspection officer for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has said.
Matthew Ramsey was questioned this morning about his engagement with Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) during his time inspecting premises for the LFB in the early 2010s.
In his witness statement, he said he had a “prickly” relationship with Janice Wray, head of health and safety at KCTMO, and Carl Stokes, the self-employed fire risk assessor who KCTMO used to inspect its buildings.
“At times I felt they were economical with the truth, especially in regard to the standards of the flat entrance doors,” he said. “I can’t say for certain that they outright lied but I’m not entirely sure that the whole truth was told. They claimed fire doors were up to standard, this had proved untrue during my audits of TMO-managed properties.”
Asked about these comments today, Mr Ramsey said: “At times, information fed back from the bi-monthly meetings the TMO had suggested that there were very few non-compliant flat entry doors remaining.
“However, each time I’ve done an audit on the TMO premises I found a significant number.”
He said that a review of the low-rise blocks adjacent to Grenfell Tower had uncovered more non-compliant doors that Ms Wray had claimed existed across the entire KCTMO stock.
The inquiry has previously heard that around two-thirds of fire door closers within Grenfell Tower were either broken or non-functioning – a failure that was identified in the inquiry’s first phase as a major cause of the rapid loss of ‘compartmentation’ inside the tower on the night of the fire.
Mr Ramsey was asked about a meeting he held with KCTMO in November 2012 to discuss concerns about fire doors, following the discovery of a seriously sub-standard door during one of his audits and wider concerns about maintenance.
He was then shown an email between himself and Ms Wray a year later in which she said KCTMO’s approach to flat entrance doors had been “discussed many times with the LFB”.
This approach consisted of checking doors only when a flat was empty because a tenant had moved out or during major works. However, Ramsey told the inquiry today that this approach “fell short” of what the LFB believed necessary.
“It was so easy for any door to become non-compliant over that period of time,” he said. “It could be 10 years between checks, which is clearly insufficient to ensure something as important as a self-closer is functioning.”
He could not recall whether he responded to the email, but said that his colleagues would have “taken it forward” in further meetings with KCTMO.
His colleague, the more senior enforcement officer Andy Jack, was also asked about the approach.
He said: “This would appear to state that somebody may have moved into a flat 30 years ago and it will never be checked until they’ve moved out… That would be wholly unacceptable.”
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, chair of the inquiry, asked him how he believed building owners should go about maintenance programmes, given legal difficulties obtaining access to buildings.
“I mean it’s very easy to say that you must check your doors every six months. The response to that is how. And what’s the answer to that question?” he asked.
“I think that with the different working methodologies of landlords, leases and tenants, we expected them to come to a view on how they would be able to achieve it, rather than us seeking to direct things that they must do in that regard,” Mr Jack replied.
“It sounds like a problem that’s too difficult for you to suggest the answer to,” Sir Martin said.
“I certainly think the comeback one gets from property owners, around anything which is brought forward such as that, can be problematic,” Mr Jack replied.
Mr Jack was asked about further documents from November 2015 where – following a fire in Adair Tower in Kensington – Mr Stokes’ risk assessment said the building did not require self-closers and KCTMO claimed this had been agreed with the LFB.
“I was shocked,” said Mr Jack. “I was quite certain and am quite certain that no such agreement was given and secondly that Mr Stokes was a former foot-serving fire officer and he has experience of such matters and the devastation that can be caused by such fires. I was quite shocked that he would come to any conclusion that doors should not be self-closing.”
The inquiry also heard about a review Mr Ramsey carried out in March 2014, where he raised significant concerns about Grenfell Tower’s smoke ventilation system – which he discovered to be deficient.
He recommended the issuance of a deficiency notice, rather than the stronger enforcement notice, because he was assured that the system would be repaired during the refurbishment and that plans were in place to do this.
However, shown documents which revealed that KCTMO did not review the tower again until October 2014, he said: “Had I known they were taking the replacement of the ventilation system so lightly… I would have recommended an enforcement notice.”
In the afternoon session, Barbara Matthews, former executive director of financial services and IT at KCTMO, began her evidence to the inquiry.
She managed Ms Wray and told the inquiry that her job was “managerial rather than technical” in regard to fire safety.
She was asked in detail about the organisation’s fire safety policies. Asked why a requirement to provide ‘personal emergency evacuation plans’ applied only to staff and not to residents, she said: “In relation to personal emergency evacuation plans for residents, the policy in our buildings was a stay put and defend in place policy, and therefore we had not addressed personal emergency evacuation plans.”
Asked how a disabled resident was expected to evacuate if they were affected by the fire, she said: “I don’t think we had considered that aspect, as we probably should have done.”
She will continue giving evidence throughout the whole day tomorrow.
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