Residents of Grenfell Tower were not told that the smoke ventilation system in the block was not working for a period of at least a year despite the landlord knowing that the system was broken “beyond repair”, the inquiry into the fire revealed today.
The inquiry heard today that Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) was aware that the smoke ventilation system in the tower was not working for over a year before a new system was installed in 2015/16 and failed to tell residents about the increased fire risk in the building.
During the period when the smoke ventilation system was not working, Janice Wray, former health, safety and facilities manager at KCTMO, said in an email to a colleague: “Let’s hope our luck holds and there are no fires in the meantime.”
Last week the inquiry heard that KCTMO was informed as early as 2010 that the smoke ventilation system had experienced a “catastrophic failure” during a fire in which three residents were injured.
Today the inquiry learned that the London Fire Brigade issued KCTMO with a deficiency notice relating to the building’s smoke ventilation system in March 2014, which said that roughly a quarter of the “automatically opening vents within the smoke ventilation system were found not to be in working order”. KCTMO was given a six-week deadline to resolve the issue.
The inquiry heard that KCTMO missed its deadline for fixing these issues and an inspection of the system in October 2014 confirmed it was “beyond repair”.
A new system was eventually installed in 2015/16, however this system is also believed to have failed on the night of the fire in 2017.
Despite this being aware of the system’s deficiencies, Claire Williams, project manager at KCTMO for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, told the inquiry she did not consider telling residents about the defective system.
“Did it not occur to you that it was important for the residents of Grenfell Tower to know that one of the major active fire-prevention mechanisms in the building wasn’t working?” asked lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC.
“Hindsight is a great thing. It is something that we could have told people about, but we didn’t,” replied Ms Williams.
The inquiry was then shown emails in which Ms Williams discussed the smoke-control system with a colleague in connection to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to KCTMO by Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn.
Ms Williams and her colleague were discussing whether the monthly meeting minutes Mr Daffarn had requested were commercially sensitive and therefore exempt from the Freedom of Information Act legislation.
Ms Williams wrote: “Typical examples in this month’s meeting shows that the building contract is not yet signed, that in the flats there is asbestos left, which will be ‘managed’, and issues taken up with the fire brigade over the smoke detection system – all of these could cause Mr Daffarn to raise more queries either on his blog or via further FOI requests.”
It came after Ms Williams spent the morning being grilled about her interactions with residents during the refurbishment of the tower and KCTMO’s process for dealing with complaints.
Ms Williams was asked whether she was aware of the blog written by Mr Daffarn and Grenfell Action Group, which raised concerns about the refurbishment and famously predicted the fire at Grenfell seven months before it happened.
She said she read some blog posts when she first started her role, but the blog was then blocked by KCTMO’s system.
The inquiry also heard this morning that KCTMO refused to recognise a group of residents named Grenfell Community Unite as an official residents group until the local MP intervened in 2015.
In an email Ms Williams told the group they would not be recognised as Grenfell Tower already had a residents association named Lancaster West Residents’ Association.
However, the inquiry heard that this residents association was not functioning in the period when Grenfell Community Unite asked to be recognised.
“Was there a reluctance, so far as you could see it, within the TMO come the spring of 2015 to allowing the Grenfell residents to express themselves collectively so as to make a louder larger voice?” Mr Millett asked.
Ms Williams said she did not think there was a reluctance, but that KCTMO wanted to make sure the group was “representative”.
Last week the inquiry heard that Ms Williams had described Grenfell Community Unite as a “showcase”.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues.
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