Grenfell landlords ‘chose the price tag’ of tenants’ lives, inquiry hears

Tess de la Mare, PA
·4-min read

The landlords of Grenfell Tower were allowed to “choose the price tag” of tenants’ lives, a former resident has said.

Speaking at an inquiry into the fire that killed 72 people in June 2017, Emma O’Connor – who lived on the 20th floor – said she had struggled to deal with the “rude” tenant management organisation.

Ms O’Connor, who has mobility problems and walks with crutches, said the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) would only give selective information on refurbishment work.

Residents were sent a newsletter on the works but Ms O’Connor said it was “only the bits they wanted to share with us”.

Ms O’Connor said she knew she could become a member of KCTMO but felt like she would not be taken seriously as her complaints were never handled properly.

“They didn’t really like coming out to you,” she said.

She added: “On the phone they were quite rude sometimes.”

Ms O’Connor became distressed when an image of a former employee at KCTMO appeared on a screen at the inquiry and asked for it to be removed, saying: “I have so much anger.”

At the end of her evidence, an emotional Ms O’Connor said: “I don’t think it’s fair that these corporate companies were given the choice to choose what the price tag on our lives should be.”

She continued: “I just lost possessions, thankfully not my life, but my heart goes out to all my fellow neighbours and the bereaved.

“We fight this together, and we’ve got so much support, and thank you for the opportunity to speak.”

Corinne Jones, who lived on the 17th floor with her partner and two sons, described Grenfell Tower’s flimsy fire doors – which should have held for 30 minutes in a blaze – as “ridiculous”.

“Thirty minutes for a door to hold a fire on the 17th floor is ridiculous – it could take firefighters 30 minutes to get to my floor or even to the 10th floor,” she said.

Tower block fire in London
A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell Fire (Steve Parsons/PA)

Ms Jones said she knew the advice was to “stay put” in the event of a fire but said she would always have ignored it.

“Prior to moving to Grenfell Tower, one of my worst nightmares was to be trapped high up,” she said.

“If I ever thought there was a fire in the building, I am not going to stay put and rely on anybody to save my life or my children’s lives – I’m going to take that into my own hands.”

Earlier, nurse Betty Kasote said she had been treated as a “troublemaker” by KCTMO when she tried to get leaks in her flat fixed.

Ms Kasote, who moved into the tower in 1996, said in a statement: “As time went on, I felt that interactions with the TMO – not just for complaints – became much worse.

“Staff were shorter with me and were less open to trying to sort things out for me – it felt like I had to chase and fight much more.”

The inquiry heard that as those living in the tower became more frustrated at the poor quality refurbishment works, KCTMO decided to scrap regular residents’ meetings.

In a witness statement, KCTMO project manager Claire Williams said “meetings could become difficult with disruptive conduct from a small number of residents”.

She said these people “took over and dominated the meetings with their comments to the exclusion of other residents”.

Ms Kasote said she could not remember anyone being disruptive, saying only: “There were a few residents that wanted to give their opinion and what they thought about the refurbishment.”

Youssef Khalloud, who lived on the 11th floor with his family, said he joined a residents’ group when KCTMO tried to “pressure” him into moving the boiler into his hallway.

Mr Khalloud said KCTMO had only engaged with residents once “forced” to do so when residents enlisted the support of former MP for Kensington Victoria Borwick.

Both Ms Kasote and Mr Khalloud said they were not told they were entitled to become members of KCTMO and attend annual general meetings.

Rosita Boniface, who also lived on the 11th floor of the tower with her husband, said she had never heard a fire drill in her 36 years living at Grenfell.

She said she had not told KCTMO her husband, who is blind, would need a special evacuation plan in the event of a fire “because I did not think they would care”.

“It was always a struggle to get them to respond to my complaints, so I felt that there was no point going to them for help,” she said.