The “dismissive treatment” of Grenfell Tower residents who made “prophetic complaints” about fire risks was a “disgrace”, according to London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
A “manipulated” complaints procedure and “appalling” treatment of tenants’ concerns illustrate an “institutional indifference” towards people in social housing which was uncovered on an “alarming scale with catastrophic results” in June 2017, legal submissions on behalf of Mr Khan state.
The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster, which killed 72 people, is now examining issues around social housing management, including risk assessments and handling of tenants’ criticisms.
Lawyers for victims and their families on Monday severely criticised the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), which owned the block, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), an arms-length body which ran it and oversaw the refurbishment.
Submissions from the London Mayor were heard by the inquiry on Tuesday, delivered by counsel Anne Studd QC.
She said in her written statement: “The Mayor of London wishes to make clear that he regards the dismissive treatment of the tenants of Grenfell Tower when they were making justifiable and, as it turned out, prophetic complaints to be a disgrace.
“The conduct of the TMO towards the residents of Grenfell Tower demonstrates a total failure in ensuring that Grenfell Tower was a safe place to live.
“Those that persevered with trying to get their complaints recognised, resolved or even taken seriously were branded as troublemakers.
“The tragedy at Grenfell has uncovered institutional indifference towards those living in social housing on an alarming scale with catastrophic results.”
Ms Studd added that the TMO “manipulated the complaints system” including by failing to record telephone conversations, which were “therefore not acted upon as all knowledge of them was denied”.
“Not only was this contrary to published policy, but it also discriminated against those who were unable to confidently register a written complaint in English,” she said.
Another example included the act of a complaint being “downgraded to an ‘inquiry’”, she added.
This next part of the inquiry “must provide the answers as to why residents’ complaints, inquiries and questions were not appropriately answered or resolved and why no-one took responsibility for this building being so dangerous in the event of a fire when the residents themselves, without any expertise, appear to have been able to recognise the risks”, according to the submissions.
Martin Seaward, counsel for the Fire Brigades Union, said there were no firefighter lifts installed at Grenfell Tower, and that firefighters were unable to take control of the lifts because a switch was blocked by builders’ debris.
The inoperable fire control (FC) switch impeded firefighting work and exposed occupants to danger, he said, adding that three residents are believed to have died after getting into the lift on the 11th floor and exiting when its doors opened on the floor below.
Mr Seaward said: “None of the residents should have been able to use either lift after the firefighters had tried to take control by operating the FC switch at 1.01am.
“The inoperable FC switch thus probably had fatal consequences.”
He added that proper firefighter lifts would have enabled emergency responders to move equipment up the tower faster and “would have been of great assistance” in the early stages of the fire when lobbies were not heavily clogged with smoke.