As with the fire safety issue at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in the borough, this is another issue which we have covered at some length, since May 2016 when it first came to our attention. Below is a list of links to our previous blogs on this important issue:
“When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.”
These words were written by Friedrich Engels in 1845, in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’. Over 170 years later, Britain remains a country that murders its poor. When four separate government ministers are warned that Grenfell and other high rises are a serious fire risk, then an inferno isn’t unfortunate. It is inevitable. What happened wasn’t a “terrible tragedy” or some other studio-sofa platitude: it was social murder.
Today’s blog will be about the plight of a particular section of the Lancaster West community who have become the forgotten forgotten victims of the Grenfell Fire Atrocity. The graphic above (borrowed from Google Earth) shows Grenfell Tower shaded red on the left of the picture. It also shows an extensive complex of low rise blocks, two smaller blocks adjacent to Grenfell and three long blocks (‘the finger blocks’) radiating away from it. This blog will focus on the plight of the hundreds of households in these low rise blocks.
We should begin with a short history lesson. Before the recent ‘improvement works’ that replaced the heating system in Grenfell Tower, this whole part of the Lancaster West Estate was served by a communal heating system that was powered by a series of massive gas fired boilers in the basement boiler room of Grenfell Tower. The so-called ‘improvement works’ freed Grenfell Tower residents from dependence on this outdated and dysfunctional system by installing individual heating systems in all of the Grenfell Tower apartments. However, everyone else living in the nearby low rise blocks remained dependent on the communal heating system – in the Grenfell Tower boiler room.
This boiler room no longer exists and, since the night of the inferno, the many hundreds of households living in the low rise blocks have been left without hot water and without gas, which most use for cooking. Their homes no longer satisfy the ‘Decent Homes’ standard and so they they should be entitled to rehousing until such time as the gas supply is restored to their homes and new heating and hot water systems can be provided. Many have appealed to the TMO and the Council for rehousing – and all have been refused.
These same forgotten households are also subject to other hidden dangers that no-one, not a single official or media reporter – has made any public reference to. ASBESTOS. There was lots of this in Grenfell Tower, notably in the artex coated ceilings of every apartment, and there were small solid asbestos panels in all apartments too. When challenged about this several years ago KCTMO technical services officers assured members of the local Estate Management Board (now defunct) that all this asbestos was safe as long as it wasn’t disturbed – by sanding for redecoration or drilling it etc. These assurances were offered as justification for a policy of avoiding the substantial cost and disruption of removing the asbestos. Most people in Lancaster West know already that asbestos is dangerous but may not know if there’s any in their own homes, and if so where it is located.
Here are some of the facts:
In the 1970’s , when Lancaster West was built, asbestos was widely used as a fire retardent in public buildings and in social housing, especially high rise blocks. Artex was commonly used to fireproof ceilings. Until the mid-1980s Artex coating was made with white asbestos to strengthen it and make it fire resistent. These older coatings that contain asbestos, pose particularly serious health hazards. Inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, a fibrosing lung disease; pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung; and peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the abdomen. Those most at risk are the young because these diseases typically take many years to manifest.
The Grenfell Tower inferno has surely released large amounts of asbestos laden smoke, dust and ash into the air of the entire surrounding area and who knows what other toxic substances, lead and other metals etc, may have been reduced to ash and carried by the wind and smoke all over the neighbourhood. So why has no-one in authority made any public statement about this risk to public health, or begun the process of measuring the concentration of these deadly toxins in the air and the local environment?
Here’s another little conundrum. According to Transport for London, following the Grenfell Tower inferno, Latimer Road Tube station has been closed on the instructions of the London Fire Brigade, and some London Underground services have been suspended ‘due to the risk of falling debris from Grenfell Tower’. The blackened shell of Grenfell Tower stands at least 50 yards from the viaduct carrying the tube line that passes by. There is no danger of debris falling from the Tower landing anywhere near that tube line.
What they are not admitting is that there may well be a risk that the weakened structure of the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower may collapse. If it does it still seems unlikely that such a collapse would reach the tube line. It might well, however, fall on the low rise blocks that are so much closer to it and, as stated above, are still very much inhabited.
So what’s going on? Is the attitude of contemptuous indifference towards local residents that caused the Grenfell Catastrophe continuing still? Are they (the authorities) already covering up the unpalatable truths behind the crime against humanity that the Grenfell Disaster represents, a crime that is screaming from the rooftops just as the screams of the bereaved could be heard in the background when the Queen came to visit?
Finally, returning to the right to rehousing of those left without gas or hot water, a local resident, who knows about such things, has prepared a guide for residents of the finger blocks to use when seeking temporary rehousing and are met with bland refusals.
You can download the guide from here: Obtaining Hotel Accommodation
The many who lost their lives in this catastrophe were our friends and neighbours. We tried to speak for them in life and we will continue to speak for them now. We share the pain of the homeless, the injured and the bereaved to whom we offer our heartfelt sympathy, condolences and solidarity. We also share the sense of anger and injustice that has troubled this community for years. That is why we started this blog and that is why we will continue as we started, speaking truth to power whether or not they choose to listen.
Even the dogs in the street know that the flammable cladding encasing the exterior of Grenfell Tower played a major part in spreading and accelerating what began as a single dwelling fire with such rapidity that the entire interior of the 24 storey building became a raging inferno in less than an hour. It is incumbent on us also to state our firmly held belief that the cladding in question was not introduced for the benefit of the residents of Grenfell Tower but because Kensington and Chelsea Council had redeveloped the surounding area, building another of their flagship academy schools right next to Grenfell Tower, and a new sports and leisure centre next to that. The cladding on Grenfell Tower was intended to pimp it up so that it wouldn’t spoil the image of creeping gentrification that the Council are intent on creating, here and throughout the rest of North Kensington.
According to an article published on 14th June in the Guardian government ministers were warned numerous times that breaches of fire safety standards are common in the UK and that the use of cladding on high-rise blocks is unsafe. The government ignored the advice of these fire experts. In the 1990’s the Home Office received a damning report by architect Sam Webb following a survey of hundreds of residential tower blocks. The study found that half of the buildings inspected did not meet basic fire safety regulations. Webb described the state of Britain’s tower blocks as ‘a disaster waiting to happen’.
The Lakanal House fire in Southwark in 2009 subsequently proved him right. Six people, including three children, died when a fire in the high rise block in which they lived spread from the ninth floor to the tenth and eleventh floors of the building via flammable cladding that had been fixed to the exterior of the block.
Southwark Council subsequently pleaded guilty to four breaches of fire regulations. Labour MP Harriet Harman, whose constituency includes Lakanal House, said that those who had escaped with their lives were those who had ignored fire brigade instructions to ‘stay put’ and fled the building via the emergncy stairs. Those who died were those who obeyed instructions to stay in their homes. The advice to stay put would have been correct were it not for the recent obsession with cladding high rise buildings and in particular with the use of cheaper flammable cladding, which renders the standard fire safety advice redundant, and caused the fires at Lakanal house and at Grenfell Tower to spread so rapidly and uncontrollably from floor to floor. The Lakanal inquest arrived at a number of conclusions and recommendations which included the following;
Since then there have been a number of high profile high rise fires in which the presence of cladding played a key role, notably in Dubai where, in February 2015 fire engulfed the 79 storey Torch skyscraper, one of the tallest residential buildings in the world, and the 63 storey Address Hotel where, on New Years Eve 2016, there was a similar fire. In both of these cases external cladding was implicated in the extremely rapid spread of the fire up the exterior of both buildings. There was one fatality and 14 were injured in the Address fire and no casualties at the Torch. It would seem that the rich of Dubai are far safer in their luxury skyscrapers than the poor of Kensington were in the 28 storey Grenfell Tower.
The fire risks from cladding of high rise residential blocks have been known for years. The Government dragged its feet after the Lakanal fire, despite the recommendations of the inquest judge and a report the Government commissioned in 2013 that recommended an urgent review of fire safety policies for high rise blocks. We believe the dangers of cladding must have been known by the Council and TMO technical staff involved in planning the Grenfell Tower ‘improvement works’ and by the contractor Rydon and sub-contractor who carried out the works and seems to have opted for cheaper highly flammable cladding.
Needless to say none of this information about the known fire risks associated with the use of cladding was ever communicated to the residents of Grenfell Tower
Of course there is more to all this controversy than the media have so far reported and we have evidence that we will present here that strongly supports the widely held local belief that a culture of complacency, indifference and negligence has continued for many years at the KCTMO and with which the RBKC are complicit and equally negligent.
THE GRENFELL TOWER EMERGENCY LIGHTING CRISIS – 2004/5
Early in 2004 Lancaster West Estate Management Board received leaked information indicating that the emergency lighting system in the staircase at Grenfell Tower was in a dangerous state of disrepair. This information proved to be entirely accurate and strongly suggested that the contractors who were responsible for inspecting the emergency lighting system had been falsifying their inspection certificates for several years and giving the system a clean bill of health. The reality was that the system had been badly neglected for years and by 2004 two thirds of the lighting units were non-functional because the battery packs that powered them were too old, worn out, and useless. In response to this information the EMB began a campaign aimed at ensuring that all emergency lighting systems at Lancaster West were functioning properly and seeking answers to the serious questions the lapse at Grenfell Tower raised. For several months the TMO denied there was any problem or negligence, but the EMB continued to press them and eventually they relented and commissioned an independent investigation of the issues. This was conducted by Peter West of Capita Symonds Ltd and was completed in May 2005.
Mr West’s investigation was based on a study of all relevant documentation including the report submitted by the EMB in August 2004 which he found to be ‘substantially accurate’. Some of his conclusions were based on inconsistencies in the available documents held by the TMO and the unexplained absence of some essential documents. His report was as thorough and comprehensive as could be expected under the circumstances and its main conclusions were summarized as follows:
- Lack of suitable communications between the contractor and the TMO
- Lack of suitable communications within the TMO
- Failure to acknowledge the importance of undertaking urgent remedial works by both the TMO and the contractor.
- Lack of communications between the TMO and the EMB
- Inadequate installation standards of the contractor
- Lack of adequate strategy planning by the TMO, suitably supported by the contractor
The West Report also concluded that all aspects of the contract conditions and management required extensive review in order that the TMO ‘could be proactive in its approach and be able to develop a specification that reflected the skills and resources available to appoint and manage a suitable contractor’. It also recommended that the TMO should review whether the current contractors were suitable to continue with the contract, and whether they should even be allowed to submit a bid for a new contract.
According to the Report the primary causes of the problems were the contractors poor administration, communication, management procedures and the quality of installation works. However, it also stressed that the TMO had a responsibility to the Borough, the public and the residents of Grenfell Tower, to ensure that contractors comply with their specification requirements and provide a duty of care to residents. This objective, it found, had not been demonstrated and it had been concluded that a considerable effort would be required to amend the culture and procedures at the TMO to ensure effective management. The West Report ultimately led to replacement of all emergency lighting systems at Lancaster West and a thorough overhaul of systems throughout the borough.
THE GRENFELL TOWER FIRE RISK ASSESSMENT – November 2012
We somehow acquired this fire risk assessment report some time ago and blogged it at the time, but were unable to acquire any of its siblings. We may have simply googled it and got one single hit. The 32 page report is unremarkable except for the section of inspector’s ‘comments or observations’ quoted below from page 28 which gives serious cause for concern;
‘The fire extinguishers in this building, the basement boiler room, the lift motor room, the ground floor electrical room plus other areas were out of test date according to the contractors label on the extinguishers. The last test date was on the 8th August 2011. Some located in the roof level areas had “condemned” written on them in large black writing with a last test date of 2009 or 2010. This seems to indicate that monthly occupier inspections are not being carried out.
It is not known if the caretaker is undertaking the monthly occupier’s tests of the installed emergency lighting system, fire extinguishers and structural items as per the caretakers check list. This would include the external stairs and lift checks with the results being kept as a record of testing having been undertaken.
From the asset records provided by the TMO the emergency lighting and fire alarm systems along with the dry riser, fire fighter lifts and the hose reels installed in this building are all subject to a maintenance contract. Testing, servicing and maintenance is carried out by professional third party contractors on a planned preventative maintenance programme with records kept centrally by the TMO and by the contractor for all these systems. No test certificates have been seen to confirm this.’
Most alarming is the fact that the inspector could not locate any of the test certificates pertaining to inspections of the emergency lighting and fire alarm systems (and other vital fire fighting equipment) which were supposedly held centrally by the TMO. We are entitled to suppose that he requested these certificates from the TMO who were unable (or perhaps unwilling) to produce them. This raises crucial questions about whether the remedial actions and protocols agreed after the 2004 emergency lighting crisis had ever been followed through and whether the culture of negligence and incompetence evident from the Capita Symonds Report of 2005 had ever changed, as it absolutely should have done.
THE GRENFELL TOWER POWER SURGE CRISIS – May 2013
In May 2013 a serious electrical fault causing multiple power surges at Grenfell Tower posed a major fire risk to residents many of whom witnessed smoke coming from light fittings and other electrical appliances, some of which actually exploded. Despite the fact that these highly alarming incidents were reported to the TMO on 11th May no effective action was taken until the problems escalated out of control on 29th May 2013.
The power surges had been ongoing for 18 days with multiple reports by residents of electrical appliances catching fire and sometimes exploding, but multiple reports to the TMO by Grenfell Tower residents were treated with a dismissive and sceptical attitude. When electrical engineers were sent to investigate they insisted that the apparent smoking of electrical appliances was probably caused by steam from water dripping onto the appliances. Residents found these dismissive theories deeply insulting and we believe they demonstrated a shockingly blasé and complacent attitude by the TMO and its agents.
Consequently no effective action was taken until a near catastrophic incident occurred on the weekend of Sunday 29th May which affected multiple households and damaged many electrical appliances beyond repair. On that Sunday there were severe power surges throughout the night that continued through the following morning. A flood of calls from Grenfell Tower residents to the TMO out-of-hours emergency repairs service finally prompted the TMO to order a more thorough investigation of the power surge issue. They installed specialised metering equipment that soon revealed that there were indeed serious power surges which were subsequently traced to arcing in a damaged mains power cable supplying Grenfell Tower. The cause of the damage, they claimed, was unknown. The mains cable was subsequently repaired and surge protection was later added.
The residnt groups, having been vindicated at last, were furious at the complacency and negligence of the TMO responses throughout the 18 days of the power surge ordeal. They appealed to the RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee and it was agreed that representatives from Grenfell Tower would attend the meeting of the Committee on 16th July 2013 to report and discuss their concerns. The TMO also attended the meeting and presented their own report which contradicted the residents accounts of what had occurred and downplayed the seriousness of the matter and the fire risk involved.
Robert Black, the CEO of the TMO, also alleged that the Grenfell Action Group and other local stakeholders, such as the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, had made misleading statements on our blog and in round robin emails. When we later challenged him to substantiate these allegations by specifying which of the statements he believed to be misleading he declined to do so and failed to provide any evidence for this and other derogatory statements he had made to the Scrutiny Committee.
When the residents groups were eventually able to study the minutes of the meeting and the report that was submitted by the TMO we were horrified to discover that the Scrutiny Committee had chosen to accept the TMO version of events and had given little creedence to the explicit health and safety concerns highlighted earlier by the resident groups in an email to the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee on 9th July.
Incidentally the Committee Report, submitted several weeks after the incident, included the following remarks: ‘It is too early to say whether the problem has been fully resolved and where responsibility lies for the cause. It is possible that the fault that has been rectified is not the primary cause.’ Grenfell Tower residents were never informed whether the primary cause of the electrical problem was ever identified.
It seems that RBKC social housing tenants can never win an argument with the TMO, despite the evidence overwhelmingly backing our accounts, and complaining to the Council is just as pointless because they will invariably treat residents concerns with the same contempt shown by their bedfellows and partners in crime the KCTMO.
We had hoped when we began writing this piece to keep abreast of breaking news, but that was a futile effort as the story developed and unfolded at such a pace that we couldn’t keep up. Nonetheless the opinion we expressed so strongly about the role of the cladding still holds good and we are confident it will remain a crucial part of the final account of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
We had another objective in mind when writing this piece. It was to chronicle the history of complacency, negligence and incompetence that has defined the RBKC and KCTMO for as long as we can remember. We had enough evidence in our possession to begin making that case and we believe it was vitally important to begin the task of recording it in the hope that those tasked with investigating the causes of the Grenfell Tower inferno would be forced to investigate this history and would be unable to ignore or bury it.
The short blog we posted on the night of the fire went viral, to our enormous surprise, and has been quoted and used as source material by a great many journalists. We are counting now on these same journalists to publicise the years of TMO and RBKC negligence that we have recorded today. We are convinced there is plenty more of such evidence waiting to be uncovered.
Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC.
ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:
WATCH THIS SPACE – UPDATE COMING SOON!
Back in April 2016 the Grenfell Action Group published a blog highlighting our concerns regarding the long term future of Wornington College. We provided a link to a RBKC Cabinet Key Decision report (KD04801R) that revealed that the Wornington College building had been secretly sold to the Council for demolition, after which the site would be privately redeveloped as housing.
The report was markedly vague on specifics, presenting instead a mish mash of options that ranged from selling the entire site (planning permission included) to a private developer or alternatively entering into a partnership with a Private Rented Sector (PRS) developer. The plans appear to have been conditional on retention of some unquantified educational component, provision of some ‘affordable housing’ by the developer, and possibly an option for the Council to to repossess part of the finished development for use as decant housing for council tenants displaced from redevelopment elsewhere. Under this mish mash of half baked ‘planning’ many, perhaps most, Wornington students would presumably have to travel to Hortensia Road in Chelsea if they wished to access education.
Rather than deal with the concerns raised by our blog, and by supporters of the Save Wornington College Campaign, the management at Kensington and Chelsea College attempted to demonise those trying to protect this much loved educational institute. Members of the KCC management team abused their power by attempting to intimidate our supporters, and shamelessly spread rumours that the Save Wornington College campaign was responsible for declining student enrolment numbers at Wornington and for endangering the future of adult education in North Kensington. When Interim Principal Michelle Sutton was invited to provide credible evidence that the Save Wornington Campaign was responsible for these negative effects she failed to do so.
Instead of working in partnership with the North Kensington community, acknowledging the management and financial problems at KCC, and the threat to the long term future of Wornington College following the departure of Principal Mark Brickley, the College opted instead for a disingenuous propoganda campaign. Using similar tactics to those employed by the neo-Cons at RBKC, when they sold off the North Kensington Library to their friends at Notting Hill Prep School, the KCC management claimed, in a Press Release in April 2017, that the Wornington building was no longer fit for purpose, was too large and could not meet the needs of those students and staff with disabilities. The KCC Press Release also sought to negate and dismiss the fears and concerns of the existing College’s supporters by stating that KCC remained committed to expanding its presence in North Kensington, claiming that it planned to replace the Wornington facilities on-site or nearby with modern state-of-the-art facilities for both school-leavers and adults, creating space for increased student numbers and potentially more courses.
We now understand that despite these promises the future of Wornington College and the provision of adult education in North Kensington is still very much under threat. Instead of securing the long term future of Wornington the KCC Board appears to have begun making existing staff redundant, pending a merger deal in which they will become the subserviant partner to a rival adult education college and in which they are unlikely to have any say in whether adult education will survive in any form in North Kensington.
In a serious and troubling development, it has come to our attention that members of the Wornington College teaching and auxillary staff have been issued with voluntary redundancy notices. These have been distributed to staff recently and cast doubt on KCC’s previous claim that staff numbers will be protected by virtue of an increase in student numbers and an expansion in the number of courses that the College will be offering.
It is our understanding that members of staff who might be tempted to accept offers of voluntary redundancy will not have their length of service or seniority taken into consideration as part of any financial settlement and will simply receive a statutory redundancy pay out. Any member of staff who accepts voluntary redudancy and is below retirement age will not be able to apply for social security payments such as unemployment benefit, housing benefit, etc if they fail to find replacement jobs, as they will be deemed to have made themselves intentionally unemployed.
It is also our understanding that the KCC Board were preparing to make a vitally important decision concerning the future of the College at a Corporaton meeting last Tuesday 6th June. We applied for permission to attend this meeting but were refused, ostensibly due to the sensitivity of the issues scheduled for discussion. It is a matter of record that major changes in adult education have been encouraged at a national and regional level following major cuts to government funding and a recent government review of further education which recommended that local colleges (such as Wornington) should merge with neighbouring colleges in order to protect their longer term prospects.
In line with this recommendation KCC and City Lit have conducted merger negotiations on two occasions since 2012. Both of these attempts failed, the most recent, earlier this year, because KCC failed a due diligence test performed by City Lit, apparently because of poor financial viability and poor Osted inspection results over the past three years. We have made a Freedom of Information request to City lit seeking access to the due dilignce report. We will publish this when and if we acquire it as it may shine some light on the management failings at KCC under former Principal Mark Brickley. The failure of KCC to satisfy this due diligence test has left KCC in an invidious position and vulnerable to a hostile take-over from either Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College or the recently merged North West London/City of Westminster College.
Ideally we would all prefer that KCC remain a fully independent college serving the specific needs of the local RBKC communities but we acknowledge that, in the present austere financial climate, a merger appears to be a necessary evil. With this in mind, we feel that it is a great shame that the proposed merger between KCC and City Lit failed. The benefits of a merger with City Lit have been explained in the minutes of previous confidential discussions by the Governors of KCC who stated that:
KCC students have good reason to fear the consequences of the failure of the City Lit merger. It has left KCC extremely vulnerable to a hostile take-over by either Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College or the North West London/City of Westminster College and we believe that such an outcome will greatly disempower and reduce the quality of our local education provision. There are concerns also that if either of the two aforementioned colleges are successful in a take-over of KCC the provision of adult education at the Wornington Centre, and in North Kensington generally, may cease altogether and adult educational courses may be halved at the Hortensia Centre.
These concerns are based on hard evidence obtained through Freedom of Information requests and access to supposedly confidential minutes of the KCC Corporation. We also have a copy of an email sent to RBKC councillors by Tony Redpath, a member of the KCC Board of Governors and a senior Officer at KCC in January 2017, that refers to Kensington and Chelsea College as some kind of tempting carcass that other ‘suitors‘, including Ealing Hammersmith and West London College and North West London/City of Westminster College ‘are already circling’ and waiting to devour. Redpath goes on to identify the predatory nature of such a take-over in that ‘KCC’s problem, put baldly, is that it’s attraction to other College’s is based on it’s assets rather than it’s activities’ and that following any take-over ‘a longer than anticipated period of change and uncertainty for the College beckons’. We believe that this statement from Tony Redpath unequivocably highlights the clear and present danger that faces the future of adult education in RBKC.
Redpath’s analysis is entirely consistent with minutes already quoted of a KCC Board meeting in 2012 when a hostile take-over by Ealing, Hammermith and West London College was characterised as an unwelcome but distinctly possible outcome. Confidential minutes from that Board of Governors meeting state the following:
We have little doubt, based on the evidence above, that the kind of take-over that now seems inevitable will be extremely detrimental to the future of adult educational provision in RBKC generally, and North Kensington in particular. We believe that the failure of the proposed merger with City Lit has left KCC at the mercy of more powerful and predatory organisations that are primarily concerned with KCC’s financial assests and property portfolio rather than with providing the adult educational services our communities need.
The KCC Board of Governors and senior management team need to be held fully and properly accountable for their failure to secure a more propitious merger with City Lit. This failure has left KCC open to a hostile take-over by either Ealing, Hammersmith and West london College or City of Westminster/College of North West London. Both of these outcomes could best be described as worst case scenarios but have somehow become the most likely outcome we can expect. The KCC Board should be held accountable for this!
The Grenfell action Group have recently been contacted by the Information Commissioners Office regarding our appeal against the refusal of Kensington and Chelsea College to provide us with information we requested explaining the departure of former Principal, Mark Brickley, and his former sidekick Deputy Principal Fiona Ross. The correspondence between the Information Commissioners Office and the Grenfell Action Group must remain confidential for now as we do not want to preempt the appeals process which we hope will lead to disclosure of the information we are seeking. However, we can confirm that we have lodged a formal complaint with the Information Commissioner in an attempt to obtain a full explanation from KCC of the departures of Mark Brickley and Fiona Ross from the College in such haste and in such opaque circumstances.
Following the sudden departure of Mr Brickley, at the end of October 2017, the College claimed that he had resigned for ‘personal reasons’, although the circumstances of his departure have never been fully explained and were not recorded in the minutes of the relevant Board of Governors meeting. Following Brickley’s departure there have been persistent rumours, in College circles and in the local community, that the departure of the former Principal had less to do with ‘personal reasons’ and may have had much more to do with some form of serious misconduct in office.
It has become evident to the Grenfell Action Group that the interim Principal, Michelle Sutton is well aware of some of the allegations made against the former Principal and other members of the College’s senior management team that surfaced through responses to a recent staff survey at the College. These concerns were recorded in the mintues from the KCC Governors Meeting held on 5th December 2016 and paint an alarming picture of low staff morale and poor leadership at this much loved educational establishment.Members of the Grenfell Action Group can only guess at the contents of the alleged ‘unprofessional responses’ made by staff members against various members of the senior management team but it hasn’t escaped our notice that the Interim Principal, Michelle Sutton, seems to have done her best to intimidate complainants into silence by strongly implying that their most serious allegations were ‘defamatory or libellous comments’.
Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will know that the Grenfell Action Group do not normally publish content based only on rumour or hearsay and that all of our postings are backed up with authoritative corroborating evidence. For this reason we have not yet detailed the nature of the rumours that accompanied the sudden departure of Principal Mark Brickley and Deputy Principal Fiona Ross from KCC. However, we have not shyed away from our efforts to reveal the truth behind the circumstances surrounding Mark Brickley’s departure from the College and we are now in a position to publish, with some confidence, further information that we have received in relation to this matter.
At a recent “Let’s Clear Some Air” community event organised by Rap23 at the Acklam Village a member of the Grenfell Action Group spoke with our local MP, Victoria Borwick, and a local Tory Councillor, Robert Freeman, who were both attending the event. We took this opportunity to speak to our elected representatives about the situation at KCC and asked Cllr Freeman to explain why the freehold for the College building had been purchased by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council and why the College appeared to be in crisis and facing such an uncertain future.
Cllr Freeman chose to answer these questions by stating that the College building was too large for it’s current student intake and that most of the students that now attend the College come from other London Boroughs and are no longer local. This response was then challenged by our representative who pointed out that the College is still vital to the educational well being of the North Kensington community and that the dire situation that the College finds itself in might be partly attributed to the behaviour of the ex Principal Mark Brickley. It was at this point that our MP, Victoria Borwick turned to Cllr Freeman and asked what was meant by this latter statement. Cllr Freeman responded thus; “Mark Brickley was the unfortunate man who put up those compromising photos”.
The Grenfell Action Group would not wish to overinterpret the statement above made by Cllr Freeman to our local Member of Parliament, and witnessed by others present at the event, but we would suggest that these words certainly hint that there might be more to the departure of Mark Brickley than has so far been revealed by the College.
We have been informed by KCC that Brickley resigned his position for ‘personal reasons’ but we strongly suspect that these ‘personal reasons’ may be related to the actions so tantalisingly referred to by Cllr Freeman at the Rap23 event. If we are correct, and KCC are attempting to cover-up serious professional misconduct by either Brickley or Ross, or even both, then we can be confident that the Information Commissioner will order KCC to release the documents that we have requested, and which they have so far witheld.