ICO COMPLICIT IN KCTMO GRENFELL COVER UP

By now it almost goes without saying that a catalogue of failures and criminal negligence contributed to the Grenfell Fire disaster. The criminally negligent decision to replace the external cladding and insulation with inferior alternatives that were highly toxic and highly combustible was of course chief among these. But there were many other factors that contributed to this catastrophe: the gross overdevelopment of the adjacent area that badly compromised emergency access, the gross underfunding of the fire service over recent years that left them ill-equipped to deal with the enormity of the challenge they were faced with, the smoke detection and extraction system and the fire alarms, all of which appear to have failed, the botched installation of the windows and the decision to fix gas pipes for the new heating and hot water system to the walls of the stairwell and lobbies. All of these factors appear likely to have contributed significantly to the disaster.

As of now we can only hope and expect that all contributory factors will  be identified and fully addressed in both the criminal investigation and the public inquiry.

Today’s blog, however, will focus on none of the above but will seek instead to reveal the failures of the Information Commissioners Office, the flawed interpretations of the Freedom of Information Act on which their decisions were based, and the shameless exploitation of these failings by the KCTMO, who were thereby enabled to avoid public scrutiny of their grossly negligent housing management practices by conducting their affairs behind a veil of secrecy.

In 2012, following a refusal to disclose information requested from the KCTMO on behalf of the Grenfell Action Group, Edward Daffarn, co-founder of the Grenfell Action Group and co-author of our blog appealed against a KCTMO refusal to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). To our great surprise and consternation his appeal was denied by the ICO. The reason given for this decision was as follows:

“KCTMO is not a public authority as defined by the FOIA and does not have a duty to respond to information requests made under the FOIA.”

2012 ICO Appeal refusal email

in 2014, shortly after the Genfell Tower refurbishment works had begun Eddie again requested information from the KCTMO. This time he asked for copies of the minutes of monthly meetings attended by representatives of the TMO, the architects Studio E, and the contractors Rydons who were involved in the Grenfell refurbishment. Unsurprisingly the TMO refused his request. Already discouraged by the outcome of his 2012 ICO appeal, Eddie decided it would be pointless to appeal again on this this occasion. He was probably right and as a result we never got sight of the minutes in question.

The reaons given by the company secretary of the TMO (at that time Fola Kafidiya) for witholding the minutes Eddie had requested are extremely revealing. She claimed, not that the TMO was exempt from the FOIA, as the ICO had earlier claimed, but that the requested information was not held on behalf of the public authority (RBKC) and stated that the Freedom of Information Act applies not just to information held by public authorities but also to information held on behalf of public authorities. ICO guidance updated in 2017 confirms the latter part of Ms Kafidiya’s statement, in particular paragraphs 17 and 39 of the guidance which is quoted below:

“17. The definition in section 3(2) of FOIA of information “held by a public authority” includes information “‘held by another person on behalf of an authority”. Therefore, information that a contractor holds on behalf of a public authority is also in scope of a FOIA request, even if the authority never physically holds it in its own hard copy or electronic files.

39. Public authorities cannot contract out of their FOIA responsibilities.”

https://ico.org.uk/media/1043530/outsourcing-and-freedom-of-information.pdf

The reasons offered for the KCTMO refusal to disclose are noteworthy, and highly significant, for the following reasons:

(i) In refusing Eddie’s appeal in 2012 the ICO failed to inform him that information held on behalf of a public authority is still subject to the FOIA. The decision notice issued by the ICO in 2012 was therefore based on a partial and highly misleading interpretation of the Act and was therefore incorrect.

(ii) The claim by KCTMO in 2014 that the minutes Eddie was seeking were not held on behalf of the public authority is highly questionable if not entirely bogus. All major works carried out by KCTMO are carried out on behalf of the local authority and all associated documentation is, therefore, held on behalf of the local authority. The KCTMO exists solely to manage the housing stock owned by the local authority (RBKC) Therefore all information held by KCTMO related to the condition of the housing stock theey manage, including information related to fire safety, or other health and safety issues, is held on behalf of the local authority and should be copied to the local authority.

(iii) At no time did the KCTMO or the ICO refer any of our FOI issues with the TMO to RBKC or advise us that we should consider doing so.

The minutes Eddie had been seeking would almost certainly have recorded discussion of the decision to replace the fireproof cladding and insulation specified in the planning application with cheaper alternatives that had not been specified and which we now know were highly flammable and highly toxic. Had we had access to that information at the time, or enough of that information to enable further research, we would almost certainly have discovered the dangers inherent in the alternative products that were used.

Armed with that information we would have raised hell. It is impossible to know now whether publishing that information would have made any difference to subsequent events, or whether there was any way we could have prevented the atrocity that subsequently befell the residents of Grenfell Tower, but we never had a chance to raise this issue because the minutes we needed were so cynically and illegally witheld from us.

On 15th june 2017, the day after The Grenfell Fire, I made a Freedom of Information request to the KCTMO. Eddie, who had lived in Genfell, had lost his home and narrowly escaped with his life. He had of course also lost his computer and was virtually unreachable by phone, so it fell to me to continue alone the important work of the Grenfell Action Group blog. Before then I had assumed that because I had moved to Ireland in 2013 I could no longer use the UK Freedom of Information Act. I was amazed to discover this was not true and that I could make a FOI request from anywhere.

I requested a copy of a consultants report from 2005 which documented a serious failure by the TMO and one of its contractors to maintain the emergency lighting system in the stairwell of Grenfell Tower. The report confirmed that two thirds of the emergency lighting had failed a routine inspection in February 2004 and was a damning indictment of the mismanagement, negligence and incompetence of the TMO and its contractor at that time.

My reasons for making the request were twofold. Firstly, I recognised the evidential value of the report in relation to the Grenfell fire, particularly if further evidence emerged that the TMO had failed to properly maintain the Grenfell tower emergency lighting during the  succeeding years, as I had long suspected.

My second reason for pursuing the request was to test to destruction repeated KCTMO refusals to disclose vital information by appealing and re-appealing to both the KCTMO and the ICO until I had exhausted all avenues open to me. It simply made no sense to me that the biggest public housing management company in London, which had been created for the sole purpose of contracting out the management of the entire RBKC housing stock, had no legal duty to publicly disclose vital information about the condition of that housing stock, especially information relating to fire safety and other health and safety issues.

On 14th July I received a refusal notice from Sinead McQuillan, the latest company secretary at the TMO, which stated in part:

“The TMO is a private company limited by guarantee. It is not a body which is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The Act applies principally to public authorities as defined in the Act. The TMO is not one of those organisations.”

Because the KCTMO had once again claimed that they were not subject to the FOIA it seemed pointless to follow the normal mandatory procedure of requesting a review of the initial decision, so I immediately appealed to the ICO.

What followed over the next several months was a series of flip-flops by the ICO, the like of which I had never before witnessed, in which they refused my initial appeal on 1st August, then suddenly reversed that decision on 8th August, on receipt of a further appeal by me. The new decision was accompanied by a letter addressed to the KCTMO, key details of which I quote below:

“There would appear to be conflicting evidence on your website as to the status of your organisation for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). There is evidence to suggest that your organisation is an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. ALMO’s are regarded as public authorities and are therefore subject to the FOIA. Based on the information available to me I have therefore taken the view that you are a public authority for the purposes of the FOIA….It would be appreciated if you could now issue a response that complies with the FOIA within 10 working days of receipt of this letter. “

8 Aug decision notice from ICO to KCTMO

However, instead of accepting the ICO decision, and complying with the instruction issued with it, to my horror the KCTMO instead appealed against it. The outcome of the TMO appeal was that the decision of 8th August, which had favored me, was overturned on 30th August by a more senior ICO officer, the KCTMO was again declared by the ICO to be exempt from the Feedom of Information Act, and the case was closed. What’s more the ICO had once again failed to clarify that information held by a contractor (KCTMO) on behalf of a public authority (RBKC) falls within the scope of the FOIA.

30 Aug ICO final decision

A crucial implication of all of the above is that we were repeatedly denied by KCTMO, on false pretences and with the full support of the ICO, important and sometimes vital information to which we were fully entitled under the Freedom of Information Act.

I finally succeeded in obtaining a copy of the Grenfell Tower emergency lighting report, not from the TMO, but by asking Robin Yu, the Information Governance and Management Officer at RBKC, to request a copy from the TMO. He did so and forwarded it to me on 16th October. A copy is attached below and I strongly urge anyone with knowledge of subsequent failures of the Grenfell emergency lighting system to contact the Metroplolitan Police Grenfell Investigation team (Operation Northleigh) and make a statement.

Grenfell emergency lighting report 2005

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this entire saga is the repeated failure of the ICO to advise us at any time that the definition in section 3(2) of the Freedom of Information Act implicitly recognises that information ‘held by a public authority’ includes information ‘held by another person on behalf of a public authority’ and that information held by a contractor (eg KCTMO) on behalf of a public authority (RBKC) falls within the scope of the Act, even if the authority never physically holds it in its own hard copy or electronic files.

Almost as disturbing, and I use the word ‘almost’ because we have learned from experience to expect nothing better from them, is the attitude of the KCTMO which, knowing full well that most, if not all, of the information in their possession is held on behalf of RBKC, failed on every occasion either to provide us with information we requested or to refer our FOI requests to the Council, and never once advised us that we could have redirected our FOI requests to the Council. Indeed the KCTMO were culpable not just in failing to discharge their duties under the FOIA, they were also in breach of their management agreement with RBKC. According to the email I received from Sinead McQuillan on 14th July:

“KCTMO are obliged to provide information about their services under the terms of their management agreement with RBKC where that information relates to the Council’s obligations under FOIA or other legal requirements.”

Both of these bodies, KCTMO and ICO, were complicit, through their failure to discharge their duties fully, competently and impartially, in the deaths of the many who perished in the Grenfell Tower fire and should be held to account for their failings. Whether they resulted from negligence or incompetence the fact remains that the failure to discharge their duties fairly, competently and with due care and diligence had consequences of the utmost gravity for the residents of Grenfell Tower, both the living and the dead.

 

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HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS CASH IN ON GRENFELL TRAGEDY

The latest housing association scandal is probably the worst so far. Notting Hill Housing and other ‘registered providers’ delayed the permanent rehousing of Grenfell survivors while they held out for a £40m deal with Kensington and Chelsea Council to pay them for doing what they’re supposed to do – house people at social rents.

One household explained to members of the committee against the Notting Hill housing/Genesis merger what happened. They were offered a flat by Notting Hill Housing. But NHH wanted more than double the £90 rent they had been paying K&C for their Grenfell flat. The £200 rent that Notting Hill Housing demanded is well above a social rent. Even though a solicitor became involved, NHH refused to budge.

Kensington and Chelsea, on some estimates the richest borough in the UK, can afford £40m. In June 2017 their budget surplus was £274m. Because public housing is off the agenda of wealthy Tory councils, and plenty of Labour councils too, especially in London, K&C found themselves in a tight corner. They had no housing to offer Grenfell survivors. They weren’t about to requisition any of the 1,652 private and housing association empty properties in the borough either, so they had to turn to housing associations for help.

The deal went through in late September, according to K&C Labour Councilor Monica Press. On 17th September, three months after the fire, 2 survivor families out of 150 were reported to have moved into permanent accommodation. On 29th Sept, the K&C website said that 53 offers of permanent accommodation had been accepted.

This heinous delay is still happening.

It would appear that modern housing associations, like Notting Hill Housing and other ‘registered providers’, view the Grenfell Tower tragedy primarily as an opportunity to maximise profits by putting the squeeze on RBKC, attempting to ruthlessly exploit the K&C Council’s total lack of preparedness for the major rehousing headache it is now faced with.

[All content courtesy of HARA (October 12, 2017) and Gemina Tronix, Westway23]

http://haresidentsaction.org.uk/

http://haresidentsaction.org.uk/uncategorized/housing-associations-cash-in-on-grenfell-tragedy/

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KCTMO – BREAKING NEWS ON AGM

The Board of the TMO have today agreed to recommend a motion to adjourn tonight’s AGM.

The advice of our solicitors is to attend the meeting if you are eligible to vote and to vote for the adjournment.

This is a significant victory given the TMO’s previous reluctance to adjourn!

Urgent Barristers Advice on TMO AGM

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KCTMO – CHAOS AND INCOMPETENCE STILL RULE

From: Shamik Dutta
Sent: 15 October 2017 17:15
To: ‘companysecretariat@kctmo.org.uk’
Subject: KCTMO AGM 17 October 2017 – urgent attention required
Importance: High

Dear Madam,

We write further to the letter of 13 October 2017, on behalf of clients represented by Bindmans LLP and Bhatt Murphy solicitors, which raised a number of concerns of both procedure and substance concerning the Annual General Meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, 17 October 2017. We again write on behalf of clients of both Bindmans LLP and Bhatt Murphy. We have copied in Bindmans LLP and also those representing RBKC.

Over the weekend, upon our 13 October letter being sent to you and then publicised (inter alia in The Guardian), we have learned that at least one resident Member of the TMO who is also a survivor of the fire at Grenfell Tower (a Bhatt Murphy client XXXXX previously resident at XX Grenfell Tower) has not received notice of Tuesday’s AGM. It appears to us that this may be a result of the fact that notice is typically given by post, but those who lived both in Grenfell Tower and the Walkways blocks surrounding it have been evacuated and are in temporary accommodation including in hotels. We are, to say the least, surprised that in the circumstances you have not been more diligent in ensuring that notice was properly received by all members, in particular victims of the fire. We are taking steps to establish how many Members have not received such notice. XXXX will attend the AGM on 17 October and we trust you will accept this email as formal notification and that there will be no difficulties in his attendance and participation in the AGM being facilitated?

In our view, in light of these circumstances, any resolution passed at Tuesday’s AGM will be invalid. As you ought to be aware, s.301 Companies Act 2006 provides that a resolution is only passed validly at a general meeting if notice of the meeting and the resolution is given, inter alia, in accordance with the company’s articles and Chapter 3 of the Act.

Under Article 14.3 of the Articles, notice must be given in writing either by post or in electronic form at an address notified to the TMO by the relevant Member. In light of the above, the TMO is obviously aware that Members who were formerly resident in Grenfell Tower and the Walkways might not receive such notice (and to the extent necessary, we will contend that you had consequently been constructively notified of the ineffectiveness of notice at those addresses under Article 14.3). Consequently, notice has not been validly given.

To the extent that you seek to rely on the saving provisions of Article 14.5, our position is that that article is inapplicable. The reference to ‘non-receipt of notice…by any person entitled to receive notice of the meeting’ is qualified by the word ‘accidental’ which appears at the beginning of that sentence. In light of the points made above, you have obviously been (at best) reckless as to the requirement to give notice, and consequently such non-receipt cannot sensibly be considered ‘accidental’.

In light of the above, our clients would be entitled to a declaration of the invalidity of any resolutions voted on at the AGM, and an injunction restraining you from carrying out the same. If you insist on refusing to adjourn the meeting, there will be an inevitable increase in costs and trauma for those seeking appropriate redress and accountability for the TMO.

In light of the above we invite you to confirm that (1) at the outset of the AGM on Tuesday, the Chair will put to a vote a motion to adjourn the AGM for 21 days under Article 20.3; (2) the Chair will recommend such an adjournment to those present and voting. Failing such confirmation being given by 3pm on Monday 16 October 2017, we reserve our right to seek injunctive relief from the High Court prior to the AGM to restrain you from conducting the meeting.

In the event that there is no adjournment for any reason, we seek a further undertaking that you will not put into effect any of the Resolutions for at least 28 days to allow our clients sufficient time to seek further legal advice and apply for appropriate redress from the court.

We look forward to hearing from you urgently both in response to this email and our letter of 13 October.

Regards,

Shamik Dutta
Bhatt Murphy
10 Tyssen Street
Dalston
Tel: 020 7729 1115
Fax: 020 7729 1117

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KCTMO – THE NEED TO SAVE THE TMO (FOR NOW)

Many of our readers may already know, there is to be a KCTMO AGM on 17 October and RBKC is proposing to end the modular management agreement (MMA) with KCTMO. A resolution is also being proposed, with the support of RBKC and the TMO, that RBKC becomes the sole member of the KCTMO.

These proposals are reflected in ordinary resolution 5 and special resolution 6 which are due to be voted on at next week’s AGM of the KCTMO (or on-line) and which all residents with voting rights  (ie members of the KCTMO) should have received in their AGM voting packs. Many local residents and many others elsewhere in the borough are members of the KCTMO and have the right to vote at the AGM.

Legal advice has been sought  to determine the best advice to local residents on how to vote and whether the vote should be postponed. Whilst we all want to see the end of the KCTMO and a way of ensuring residents have control over the future management of their homes there are the following concerns about the resolutions:

1)   We understand that a motion calling for an adjournment of the vote on the resolutions was filed in time and in accordance with the relevant rules. It appears that it was nevertheless rejected by the KCTMO and was not sent out to members. We understand it will be proposed again on the day of the AGM

2)  We understand that the venue for the AGM may have changed but formal notice of this change hasn’t been sent out.

3)  If RBKC becomes sole member of the TMO there are concerns that:

  • The TMO might cease to exist as an organisation and therefore might not be subject to prosecution for corporate manslaughter;
  • If the TMO no longer exists liaison with the Inquiry, including on important matters of disclosure and witness participation and attendance, could be undermined.
  • Additionally, the TMO might not exist as an entity capable of being sued in civil proceedings for its acts and omissions prior to the Grenfell Tower fire;

Crucially, all of these matters could prevent or undermine (a) the TMO being held accountable in relation to the fire and (b) prevent or undermine the search for the truth through all available legal avenues.

4)  In any event, even if the TMO were not wound up, RBKC would have sole control over the manner in which the TMO interacts with the Public Inquiry and other criminal and civil justice processes including requests for disclosure.

It is unclear why there is any need for haste in making a decision on this and a vote could be adjourned to allow for more information to be provided and further legal advice obtained.

A letter from two of the legal firms representing many of the bereaved, survivors and others affected by the Grenfell Tower fire has been sent to RBKC and the TMO. The letter supports postponement of the vote and seeks further information about the procedures adopted for the AGM and further assurances and clarification from RBKC that voting against the resolutions won’t – inevitably – result in the TMO being wound up.

Strange as it may seem we need, at least temporarily, to postpone any vote that could lead to the TMO’s management agreement being cancelled and the TMO being wound up!

We can only accomplish that if enough people actually vote the way we want at the AGM and vote to adjourn the meeting so the status quo is maintained with the TMO remaining in existence.

WE URGE ALL THOSE WHO ARE KCTMO MEMBERS TO EXERCISE THEIR VOTES TO ADJOURN THE AGM!

17 10 13 Bhatt Murphy and Bindmans letter to RBKC on AGM_1_Redacted

17 10 13 Bhatt Murphy and Bindmans letter to KCTMO on AGM_1_Redacted

Motion to postpone voting

NEWS UPDATE  – AGM CHANGE OF VENUE

The AGM will be held at the Great Hall,  Town Hall, Hornton Street, Kensington, London, W8 7NX.

Time and date remain the same, 6.30pm 17th October.

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Translations – Coping with Stress Following A Major Incident

The NHS leaflet, “Coping with Stress Following a Major Incident” contains important information on recognising the signs of PTSD, with helpful guidelines on recognising such signs in children. Thanks to pressure from Health Watch CWL, this leaflet has been translated into 14 languages. It represents, for the first time, a recognition by Public Health England that a need exists for multi lingual trauma related literature. We believe the material below is a good first attempt at making this kind of literature available for public use. Today we are pleased to be able to provide translations of official guides aimed at helping victims of traumatic events to recognise the signs of depression and/or PTSD, with helpful information on basic self help for all those so affected.

English – http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Coping-with-stress-following-a-major-incident-English-Language-leaflet.pdf

اُردُو | Urdu – http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/coping-with-stress-following-a-major-incident-urdu.pdf

فارسی | Farsi – http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/coping-with-stress-following-a-major-incident-farsi.pdf

বাংলা | Bengali – http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/x-coping-with-stress-following-a-major-incident-bengali.pdf

عَرَبِيّ | Arabic – http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/x-a-coping-with-stress-following-a-major-incident-arabic.pdf

Wikang Tagalog | Filipino – Pagkontrol sa stress pagkatapos ng isang malubhang insidente

magyar | Hungarian – Megbirkózás a stresszel egy nagyobb, negatív esemény után

русский язык | Russian – Преодоление стресса после серьезного происшествия

af Soomaali | Somali – Wax ka qabshada welwelka dhacdooyinka weyn ee soo socda

español | Spanish – Hacer frente al estrés después de un accidente grave

italiano | Italian – Affrontare lo stress in seguito a un grave incidente

limba română | Romanian – Cum să faceți față stresului după un incident major

हिन्दी | Hindi – http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/NHS-Trauma-Leaflet-AW_HINDI_LR.pdf

français | French – Gérer le stress après un incident grave

Português | Portuguese – Lidar com o stress após um incidente grave

Guidance from the Royal College of Psychiatrists

One of the most helpful resources available on the internet, regarding self help and analysis, is the royal college of Psychiatrists. There are a number of resources available, on Grief, Depression and PTSD.

پښتو | Pashto – Depression: دیپرشن یا ژور خبګان
پښتو | Pashto – PTSD: یا روحي ضربه څه ډول وي

A comprehensive set of resources available:

español | Spanish – Información sobre salud mental en español

français | French – Le Therapie Cognitivo-Comportementale (TCC), La Dépression : les faits essentiels, Le Deuil: les faits essentiels

Język polski | Polish – Informacje na temat depresji i zespołu stresu pourazowego

русский язык | Russian – Информация: душевное здоровье

Türkçe | Turkish – Depression: Depresyon
Türkçe | Turkish – NHS Coping with Panic Attacks:  Panik ve fobiler Kişisel gelişim kılavuzunuz
Türkçe | Turkish –  NHS Coping with stress and worry: Stres ve endişe Kişisel gelişim kılavuzunuz

اُردُو | Urdu

رائل کالج آف سائیکاٹرسٹس کی طرف سے ذہنی صحت کے بارے میں اردو میں معلومات

بص±¾صZ | Japanese –  Z°و‚±‚±‚ë‚جŒ’چNƒKƒCƒh

हिन्दी | Hindi – मानसिक स्वास्थ्य के विषय मे हिन्दी मे जानकारी

فارسی | Farsi – Depression: افسردگی
فارسی | Farsi – PTSD: اختلال استرسي پس از حادثه يا
فارسی | Farsi –  Bereavement: سوگواری

বাংলা | Bengali – Depression:

http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/x-rcp-depression-leaflet.pdf

বাংলা | Bengali – NHS, Coping with Panic Attacks:

http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/x-11-draft-panic-attack-2012-bengali-final1.pdf

বাংলা | Bengali – NHS, Coping with Depression:

http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/x-10-draft-depression-2012-bengali-final1.pdf

বাংলা | Bengali – NHS, Coping with Stress and Worry:

http://hereisthetranslation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/x-12-draft-stress-and-worry-2012-bengali-final1.pdf

عَرَبِيّ | Arabic:

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/translations/arabic.aspx

PLEASE SHARE THESE LINKS WITH EVERYONE YOU KNOW WHO HAS ANY CONNECTION TO THE GRENFELL TOWER DISASTER – ESPECIALLY THOSE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES OR CULTURES WHO MAY BENEFIT FROM THE TRANSLATIONS SERVICE

ALL MATERIAL COURTESY OF:

http://hereisthetranslation.com/

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