We are aware that residents of the Grenfell area have previously been informed of the investigation by Professor Anna Stec of the toxic contaminatiion caused by the smoke soot and other effluents over a wide area by the catastrophic fire that destroyed Grenfell Tower, on 14th June 2017, with the loss of 72 innocent lives. With the fourth anniversary of that disaster fast approaching we have decided to revisit the Anna Stec story, partly because it remains unresolved to this day and we wanted to remind all involved of that sad fact and partly because we believe that some, perhaps many, have forgotten some of the details of the Stec affair or may not have been fully informed at the time. Within a month of the Grenfell Tower fire and at the behest of concerned local residents, Anna Stec, Professor of Fire Chemistry and Toxicology at the University of Central Lancashire conducted independent tests of soil samples in the Grenfell Tower area and North Kesington generally, to measure contamination levels. She found levels of cancer-causing chemicals 160 times higher in North Kensington than was normal.

On 8 February 2018, Professor Stec briefed Public Health England, saying further analysis was needed of soil and dust within the tower and other evacuated buildings before residents returned. The so-called “Grenfell Cough” and other health problems including vomiting, coughing up blood, skin complaints and breathing difficulties reported by survivors was indicative, she suspected, of elevated levels of atmospheric contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which are potentially carcinogenic.

Early results indicated high levels of PAH in the surrounding soil and the biggest threat to survivors would be from absorption of toxic material via the skin, not from smoke inhalation. Black soot from the fire was also highly likely to be contaminated with asbestos from the tower. She believed there would be potential large-scale contamination up to a mile around the tower, with potential long-term health implications.

In September 2018 Professor Stec was appointed as an expert witness to the Grenfell Inquiry.

According to the Inquiry website Professor Stec would undertake an investigation and provide a report of her findings: to determine the origins of fire derived toxins and related deposits present in the Tower, in terms of construction products, furniture and furnishings etc; and where combustible building products were present on the tower exterior, including ACM, insulation and window surrounds, to determine the extent (if any) to which their combustion products penetrated and left identifiable deposits inside the Tower and in individual flats, lobbies and stairs.

Professor Stec resigned from the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), 0n 24 July 2018, saying nothing was in place to assess the environmental and health risks.. There is no record of a report from her to the Inquiry, but it is widely believed that she was forced out because the SAG had a hidden agenda contrary to her original findings and with which she did not agree.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Professor Stec as some loose cannon as she has impressive credentials which include the following:

  • MSc (Eng)(Chemistry with Polymer Technology), Department of Chemistry and Polymer Technology, Warsaw University of Technology, Poland.
  • Ph.D.(Fire Chemistry and Toxicity), Fire Materials Laboratory, Centre for Materials Research and Innovation, University of Bolton, UK.
  • Fellow of the Institution of Fire Engineers (FIFireE)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
  • Chartered Scientist (CSci) of the Science Council
  • Member of International Association for Fire Safety Science

Professor Stec and her associates discovered that char samples from balconies 50 to 100 metres from the Tower were contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This led to further analysis, six months after the fire, of soil, fire debris and char samples, taken from six locations up to 1.2 km from the Tower. Based on the level of chemicals discovered, Professor Stec and her fellow researchers concluded that there was an increased risk of a number of health problems to those in the local area, from asthma to cancer.
The research published in Chemosphere, revealed that soil samples within 140m of the Tower contained six key PAH’s at levels of around 160 times higher than those found in reference soil samples taken from other urban areas.

Soil samples collected within 50m of the Tower also contained phosphorous flame retardants, materials commonly used in insulation foams and upholstered furniture that are potentially toxic to the nervous system. In this soil, as well as in fallen debris and char samples, they identified synthetic vitreous fibres matching those present in products used in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment.

Elevated concentrations of benzene, a proven carcinogen, were discovered up to 140m away from the Tower in quantities 25-40 times higher than those typically found in urban soils.
Dust and a yellow oily deposit from a window blind inside a flat 160m from the Tower, collected 17 months after the fire, were also found to contain isocyanates – potent respiratory sensitisers that can lead to asthma after a single exposure. These substances were discovered in quantities that could indicate that they resulted from the burning of specific materials which were used in the 2016 refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

Professor Stec said: “There is undoubtedly evidence of contamination in the area surrounding the Tower, which highlights the need for further in-depth, independent analysis to quantify any risks to residents.

“It is now crucial to put in place long-term health screening to assess any long-term adverse health effects of the fire on local residents, emergency responders and clean-up workers. This will also provide a framework for dealing with any similar disasters in the future.”

In 2012 she had led research, presented to an American Chemical Society symposium on “Fire and polymers”, which showed that halogen-based flame retardants used in many domestic and other consumer products can increase the production of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gases which are the main cause of deaths from fire. “We found that flame retardants have the undesirable effect of increasing the amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide released during combustion,” she said.

In 2013 she experimented with the effects of fire on a 1950 style British house discovering that toxic gases were as prevalent in closed rooms and ones with their doors open: this affected emergency egress times. Her work in 2018 showed that fire fighters were 3 times more likely to contract cancer, as the carcinogens entered through the skin. The methods used to wash their protective gear washed the carcinogens into the fibres making them carcinogenic.

At Westminster the Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), a cross-party group, blasted officials for their slow response to potential biohazards after the blaze.

Local residents shared fears of health problems soon after the fire and local MP, Emma Dent Coad, wrote on HuffPost UK that survivors of the blaze had been treated for cyanide poisoning. Dent Coad claimed that local officials ignored warnings from a toxicologist over fumes from the fire and that several schools are located within the danger zone.

Labour MP Mary Creagh, who chairs the EAC, said it took “more than a year” for soil testing around the west London tower to take place. Creagh said: “We need to know the extent of people’s exposure to chemical contamination which is why we are calling for a biomonitoring programme across the UK, with specific monitoring for residents around Grenfell Tower.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman claimed its priority is to ensure the safety and long-term health of the Grenfell community.

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “It is deeply troubling to know that, after the deaths of 72 innocent people, the toxic contamination of the area surrounding the tower could still be damaging the health of local people.

He added: “The SAG has been involved throughout our programme of additional environmental checks and has collectively agreed that our approach to date has been scientifically rigorous. The government’s lacklustre response to the Environmental Audit Committee is a reflection of their total failure to learn the lessons from Grenfell and their unwillingness to take meaningful action to deal with its consequences. The effect of toxic contaminants on firefighters is not well enough understood, which is why the FBU has commenced research with the University of Lancashire to better comprehend the risk. One thing is certain – fires are a storm of toxic chemicals which can have serious long-term health impacts. To take so little action on the exposure of the Grenfell community to this risk is shameful.”

However, after AECOM – the company commissioned by RBKC to carry out the official tests of samples – delivered its initial results, Grenfell community representatives were told there was no need for “immediate action” because levels were typical of those “generally found” in urban areas.

This is a direct contradiction of the earlier findings of Professor Stec who, in her resignation letter, said: “There are still a significant number of people suffering physically and mentally following the Grenfell Tower fire, and yet, there is still nothing in place to properly evaluate all the adverse health effects of the fire, and specifically exposure to fire effluents.”

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Prof Stec called for the creation of a team of experts to prevent what may otherwise be seen as “significant oversight” in the case of a future fire.

An issue that has been overlooked was flagged by Matt Wrack of the FBU and was known and described by Professor Stec. It concerns the means of exposure to the cocktail of highly toxic and often carcinogenic effluents released during a fire and, in this case, the inferno that destroyed Grenfell Tower. As Professor Stec emphasised these toxins can be absorbed through the skin. Testing air and soil samples, often months, or even years, after the most intense period of exposure are unlikely therefore be adequate in assessing the risks of adverse health complications arising from that exposure. The most dangerous period of exposure would certainly have been on the night of the fire and in the weeks (or months) following. Survivors and evacuees of the blaze, those in the immediate vicinity, firefighters who attended and were repeatedly exposed, and cleanup workers who came later might well be at risk of suffering long term serious health complications which are at present unquantifiable. Their health should be carefully monitored for any signs of pathology in the longer term.

The situation as it currently stands is that AECOM were expected to issue a more comprehensive report in April 2021 but that report, which is based mainly on the analysis of air and soil samples, has since been further delayed and is not expected to be released before July 2021. This is exactly the lack of urgency that so frustrated Professor Stec and led to her resignation from the Scientific Advisory Group in July 2018. The Grenfell Inquiry, RBKC and their consultants AECOM, need to do better if they are not to be dismissed as engaging in a cover-up and whitewashing exercise.

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It is probably common knowledge in the Lancaster West area that Westway 23 have at last won control of the Board of the Westway Trust. It may also be common knowledge that Toby Laurent Belson of Westway 23 is now chair of that Board. It may not be so widely known that Isis Amlak, also of W23, has been working for the Trust as a consultant for the last couple of years, reinventing the grants application process there in ways that would radically alter the decision making process. This radical new method is called Participatory Grant-Making. There is also a rumour that she may now be in line for the youth portfolio at the Trust. This would presumably include handling grant applications from local youth groups also.

So who exactly is isis Amlak?

She is Trinidadian born and immigrated to the UK aged about eleven. Her adult education consisted of several short courses at K&C College, an access course at Hackney Community College, a law diploma from University College London, then a Masters from Goldsmiths UCL in Black British Writing, and all this before she even got started on her actual career.

She worked as a paralegal for a couple of years, then apparently switched to community activism as an advocate, trainer, coach, facilitator, public speaker, lobbyist, writer and poet. She claims to be a trained supervisor, with first-rate skills demonstrated by her senior operational roles in counselling, health services for minoritised and racialised communities, mental health services, race equality and human rights training, police monitoring and substance misuse services. She goes on to claim that her relationship management skills are evidenced through her successful partnerships with statutory and other funding/investment organisations, donors, senior policy makers, councillors, police, employers and health professionals and that she is a Capacity Building, Cultural Brokerage and Community Development specialist. She claims to have over 25 years’ strategic and operational level leadership experience and to work on a freelance basis as a trainer, arts and culture production manager and radio presenter. In addition to the above she claims to have an accomplished track record as an influential communicator at local, national and international levels and to possess well-honed negotiation and conflict management skills, to be responsive to change, have excellent interpersonal skills and proficiency at setting up and running projects as a successful organiser.

According to Queen Isis she draws inspiration from her activism and engagement with ‘Pan Afrikan’ politics and campaigning against structural injustice over the last 30 years, describing herself as an unapologetic ‘Pan Afrikanist’ who has fought for racial and social justice for decades. She is engaged in the movement for Reparatory Justice for the enslavement of ‘Afrikans’ and the colonisation of the ‘Afrikan’ continent.

If true then all of this suggests that she is one hell of an overachiever – but do bear in mind when digesting this information that it all comes from CV’s that she herself compiled. Needless to say she is well practiced at self promotion and invariably lays it on pretty thick without the slightest trace of modesty in her presentation of her self image. Perhaps there are even signs of egotism in her insistence on spelling Afrika with a ‘K’. I could find little evidence of this spelling in normal usage and for the most part it seems to be confined to the hip-hop scene.

Recently, on 30th April, I paid a visit to her personal Facebook page and was shocked to see a reposted picture featuring a photo of Greta Thunberg (with text superimposed) above one of those notorious pictures showing the exploitation of child labour in the Congo, scraping cobalt ore from holes and pits in the ground for use in the manufacure of batteries for electronic devices like smartphones and electrically powerd vehicles. The Intent of posting this picture was clearly to troll Greta Thunberg and I have no doubt that, in doing so, Isis was motivated by racial prejudice and notions of so-called ‘white privilege’. I have decided not to reproduce the offending graphic on this page but I have reluctantly provided a downloadable copy for anyone curious to see the evidence of my accusation against Isis. I consider this trolling image to be offensive and distasteful in the extreme and would therefore ask anyone who downloads it from this blog not to reproduce it elsewhere.

I posted a comment under the offensive image on Isis Facebook page criticising what I consider to have been her racist trolling of Greta Thunberg. Shortly therafter the offending image appears to have been removed from her page. Strangely the account from which she had reposted it also disappeared in its entirety. Isis, however, had neglected to remove from her page my accompanying comment, as illustrated below:

As stated in my comment on the trolling repost by Isis I had backtracked to the FB account, in the name of Pauline Anne Emmanuel Devitt-Leung, from which she had reposted the picture in question. I found a number of comments posted there which I reproduce here:

Ironically, under pressure from Westway 23, of which Isis is a prominent member, the Westway Trust had commissioned the Tutu Foundation to investigate claims by Westway 23 and others of institutional racism at the Trust. The Tutu report was recently released to Westway 23, the Trust and RBKC. I don’t know if it has yet been published for all to see as I couldn’t find a copy of it online. However it is known that the report had indeed found clear evidence of institutional racism at the Trust – a coup the W23 are still gloating over, and with good reason.

Regardless of whether Isis Amlak had read the disgusting comments accompanying the earlier Devitt-Leung version of the Greta troll, I cannot in good conscience accept or approve of the black-on-white racism that is all too obvious in her repost of the offending image. At the very least she is guilty of appalling judgement and, at worst, of rank black-on-white racism. I can think of no good reason to believe it was the former rather than the latter in this case and I would add that in my view this perverse and disgusting behaviour demonstrates that Amlak is unfit for the position she currently holds at the Westway Trust. I would also feel obliged to question her fitness for any of the many other positions she has held over the years in whatever legal, charity or other public body.

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THis Is North Kensington – (repost)

RBKC often appears to really love surveys – we get them all the time, sometimes until we’re sick to the back teeth of them and get “survey fatigue”, and wonder why we’re bothering. Usually these are surveys in the form of consultations which tend to be structured so people’s answers have to fit into a certain category and that category being one that is more geared towards the council’s preferred option.

This independent survey landed on THINK’s desk recently and despite all the extra council PR, RBKC is very reluctant to publicise and share this survey from the CfGS (Centre for Governance and Scrutiny) with the public for some reason.
There is not long to go, the deadline is in just over a week, on Wednesday the 31st of March

Let’s have a good look at the likely reasons why RBKC seems to be reluctant for people to take part in this survey shall we?

After Grenfell, RBKC commissioned the CFGS (then known as the Centre for Policy and Scrutiny) and the Democratic Society to undertake research and make recommendations as to how RBKC could better improve its governance..

Here were the main recomnendations:

  • Adopting 12 principles of good governance, developed from the conversations we had with residents, councillors, officers and partners;
  • Hold a Borough wide conversation to decide the strategic direction and governance arrangements for the council;
  • Establish a citizens’ assembly;
  • Create a ‘listening committee’ for councillors to hear directly from residents;
  • Establish a commission to, involving residents and partners, to determine the future direction of council governance;
  • Take practical steps to engage with local government full practice;
  • Use the Annual Government Statement as the basis for an ongoing, wider conversation about how governance can be improved.

The full reports can be found here:

As for those residents’ surveys, only a small number of residents took part, but the negative findings are very interesting indeed. So if the findings of this survey are made public , it won’t look terribly good for our council if the responses are the same or worse, which looks to be a possible reason why they’re keeping quiet about it ….

See this brilliant insight from Urban Dandy for more:

Sadly the RBKC Leadership decided to fly in the face of this and abolished the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee in 2019. See our old blog posts about that from back then (and the appalling way in which they went about it – including a “phantom” residents conference of only 15 people and telling outright lies regarding how many RAs they had spoken with) here:

As we feared, all matters related to Grenfell have been scattered among various committees with fewer meetings taking place, or just completely scattered to the wind and forgotten about, so since then, many residents and Grenfell survivors, the bereaved and the North Kensington community have been very badly let down at best, or at worst, are treated as if they don’t exist

In fact, since the Grenfell Committee was abolished, there has been no proper Scrutiny of Grenfell Recovery in the North Kensington community at all. We know that some in charge of RBKC – and PR-mad Leader Elizabeth “Dizzy Lizzy” Campbell in particular – see some of us in North Kensington as a nuisance or an inconvenience,. Well, we have to tell Dizzy Lizzy and co that our community would prefer not to have lost 72 innocent people in an entirely preventable disaster on our doorsteps and not be affected for the rest of our lives.

So we’re giving our feedback to tbis survey, and that is that we are deeply unhappy and disillusioned with the current state of council governance – who can blame us?
We are also giving feedback that, to help improve governance at RBKC and improve relations with residents and a way to help our community to recover would be to have more Committee meetings to cover issues in full to ensure we are getting the services we need and deserve, and especially for the council to reinstate the Grenfell Scutiny Committee. We’ll also add in a collection of our blog posts together with our responses for good measure.

THINK are publishising and sharing this survey and we encourage all our local readers to take part too.

Dizzy Lizzy wants to go back to “business as usual” ASAP and will not like us peeing on her “PR parade” one bit, but the council has been defecating on North Kensington for decades. And just look where that got us…..

Reposted by kind permission of Tia NorthKensington

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Dany Cotton, Grenfell United And The Big Lie

When I published “The Last Post” in May 2019, I intended it to be the last blog I would post on this site. However, the controversy concerning Dany Cotton reached a conclusion in November that year and it became clear that her fate had not been fairly or satisfactorily settled. There was a lot more to be said in her defence than I had previously stated, but it would have been premature to do so at the time and this has haunted me ever since. Although I had tried to make my defence of Commissioner Cotton as thorough as I could (given the limitations of time and space necessary when writing a concise blog) I had completely failed to influence those in power and in whose hands her fate rested. The task of defending her reputation remained incomplete and it was vital now that this be done without further delay.

Grenfell United, in particular, had targeted Commissioner Cotton, in what I can only describe as a vindictive campaign of misogynistic demands for her resignation, and in some quarters, for her prosecution. This followed what I consider to have been unduly harsh, partisan and unjustifiable criticism by Sir Martin Moore-Bick whose concluding report at the end of Stage One of the Inquiry had unjustly singled her out for special and damning criticism, despite the fact that the Inquiry had been provided with an abundance of evidence that pointed elsewhere.

Dr Barbara Lane, perhaps the most respected and credible expert witness to the Inquiry wrote:

“I do not consider it reasonable that in the event of the installation of a combustible rainscreen system on a high rise residential building, the fire brigade should be expected to fully mitigate any resulting fire event. That is particularly so in circumstances where the fire brigade had never been informed that a combustible rainscreen system had been installed in the first place.”

“I have found no evidence yet that any member of the design team or the construction team ascertained the fire performance of the rainscreen system materials, nor understood how the assembly performed in fire. I have found no evidence that Building Control were either informed or understood how the assembly would perform in a fire. Further I have found no evidence that the TMO risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen system… I await further evidence on these matters, which I will explore in my Phase 2 report.”

I now feel duty bound to set the record straight for the benefit of the general public and especially for those who remain wilfully ignorant of the vital details of this sordid affair and to correct some of the misapprehensions and misrepresentations, deliberate or otherwise, on which the persecution of Dany Cotton was based.

On the night of the fire Assistant Commissioner Andy Roe, who was on call for major incidents, arrived on scene at 2.29 and took control as Incident Commander. It was he who ordered the suspension of the ‘stay put’ policy, but having arrived late, having been called out from home, his suspension of that policy at 2.47 was too late to improve the survival prospects of the many who had not yet been evacuated. According to expert witness testimony to the Inquiry, in order to be effective that decision would need to have been made no later than 1.40am, about an hour earlier.

When Commissioner Cotton arrived, also on call and a little later than Assistant Commissioner Roe, her role became that of Monitoring Officer. This was fully consistent with LFB protocols which require that the Monitoring Officer must always be of a superior rank to the Incident Commander. As Monitoring Officer her duty was, therefore, not to assume overall command but to provide effective support, guidance and reassurance to the Incident Commander and his command team. This is not a role that all Fire and Rescue Services use, but it’s a protocol that the LFB employs, and that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recommended as good practice.

As Monitoring Officer Commissioneer Cotton decided she could be most useful on the ‘fire ground’, ie in and around the base of Grenfell Tower, and this is where she spent most of her time. It should be noted that Grenfell Tower was, by that time, almost fully engulfed in fire and she stationed herself in this area at great personal risk. As exhausted lines of firefighters queued to enter the blistering hot grenfell stairwell, smoke-logged with toxic black smoke, to begin again a climb many had already made more often than was recommended, Dany Cotton was there to utter a few last words of encouragement, while fearing every time she might be sending them to their deaths. Time after time they made the ascent in search of any who might still be alive inside. And when they returned, many in tears of grief, frustration and exhaustion, Cotton was there to comfort them.

How could it have been fair or reasonable to hold her responsible for the many fire safety failings of government over the years, the failings inherent in the Building Regulation system, the inadequate firefighting and personal safety equipment the firefighters had to make do with, the savage funding cuts imposed on the Fire Service by Boris Johnson as Mayor of London and the criminal negligence and rank incompetence of all responsible for the botched refurbishment of Grenfell Tower? Was Commissioner Cotton expected to be some miracle worker?

None of the above was sufficient to dissuade Grenfell Inquiry Chair Martin Moore-Bick, in his Stage One summary report, from launching into a series of excessively personalised and individualised criticisms of emergency fire control staff, incident commanders and firefighters who had attended the incident, nor from saving his most barbed and damning criticisms for Commissioner Cotton herself.

It is noteworthy that Commissioner Cotton had served her thirty years (and more) as a firefighter, during which time she had risen through the ranks, and was due to resign shortly, so even if she had been at fault – and there is little credible evidence that she had – would it not have been more reasonable and more gracious to allow her to serve out her time and resign with honour as she deserved?

To this day she is held in high esteem by her colleagues in the London Fire Brigade and by those who served under her as commissioner. Matt Wrack, the leader of the Fire Brigades Union, claimed she was scapegoated following the fire and the decision to remove her caused shock and anger among the rank and file. On the day of her forced resignation former and current firefighters publicly expressed their support for her. Thousands of firefighters paid an informal tribute to her by lining the street outside the LFB headquarters to form an informal guard of honour as she emerged from the building to the sound of bagpipes and was applauded and cheered at every step.

Shortly after the fire a new action group was formed called Grenfell United. From its inception GU was strictly exclusive and highly secretive. Only former residents of Grenfell Tower who had survived the fire and the bereaved relatives of those who had perished were eligible for membership.  According to The Times from 11 December 2017:

“Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have accused fringe agitators and political groups of exploiting the disaster for their own ends. Advocacy groups such as Justice4Grenfell, which describes itself as a grassroots organisation, claim to represent the interests of survivors and the neighbourhood. However, residents have accused activists of treating the tower “like a piece of meat”.  Former residents of the block are so dismayed at the self-promoting agendas and militant tactics espoused by some of those claiming to support the victims that they are bypassing outsiders and are in direct contact with Downing Street. The local council has given Grenfell United the use of one floor at a £3 million friends and family centre for survivors and the bereaved. A public authority source familiar with Grenfell United said: “They want to keep it as a closed shop so people can’t infiltrate”.

The Times is known to be a right-wing rag and the article above is clearly intended as a hatchet job on Justice4Grenfell which is well known locally as a left-wing activist group, but the attack on J4G inadvertently revealed much about the chauvinism of Grenfell United, which The Times sought to glorify, along with the contempt in which GU holds its Lancaster West neighbours (eg ‘a closed shop so people can’t infiltrate’).

In August 2017, two months after the Grenfell Fire, the prime minister, Teresa May, agreed to meet in private with about 100 Grenfell survivors at the five-star Royal Garden Hotel (near Kensington Palace). The meeting was held in secret and the attendees were members of the exclusive and secretive Grenfell United, with their leadership prominent among them. The GU leadership had a second meeting with the prime minister in April 2018 and it is also worth noting that the venue for the first full GU meeting was committee room 14 of the House of Commons. They had also secured £40,000 of government funding and had direct access, not just to to the prime minister, but also to Sajid Javid (at that time the Communities Secretary), Alok Sharma, the Housing Minister, and his successors, Dominic Raab and Kit Malthouse.

Ed Daffarn, who had abandoned The Grenfell Action Group without discussion or explanation to become a founder member of Grenfell United, claims to have attended more than 30 meetings with ministers and civil servants during the first two years following the fire, so it is clear that GU had powerful government connections and the recognition, support and influence that accompanied those connections. In the opinion of this writer they had also adopted a right wing political philosophy, in keeping with their cosy relationship with a right-wing government, and had ceased to be, if ever they had been, a positive influence in the Grenfell Community.

Where Dany Cotton was concerned the coup-de-grace was delivered by Grenfell United, accompanied by members of an obscure group called the ‘Grenfell Next Of Kin’, who claimed to be the ‘voice of London’. Together they met with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who deferred to their fanatical anti-Cotton zeal. He demanded her resignation and in so doing sealed Cotton’s fate, leaving an indelible and wholly undeserved stain on her reputation.

The vindictiveness with which Commissioner Cotton was singled out for special treatment – particularly by Grenfell United – demonstrates, in my view, a total lack of empathy, particularly on the part of the GU leadership, a smug self righteousness and a ruthless refusal to credit the heroism and leadership she demonstrated on the night of the fire. Along with this came a cruel disregard of her personal feelings throughout this whole sordid episode in the history of the Grenfell fire.

If one considers the oral evidence Commissioner Cotton gave under questioning at the Inquiry it is clear that she failed, at times, to express herself as articulately as she might have wished. In my opinion she should be forgiven rather than condemned for any such failings. Instead the gaffes she made were seized upon by members of GU with what I can only describe as spite and an unwillingness or inability to acknowledge or accept that she was, at the time, still suffering, like many others, from PTSD as a direct consequence of the trauma she had experienced on the night of the fire.

Witness Statement – LFB – Dany Cotton MET00012492 .pdf

I have read elsewhere of the deep concern expressed by Grenfell United for the ongoing trauma, including and especially PTSD, experienced by the survivors and bereaved of Grenfell Tower. GU and others have made efforts to coordinate with the NHS and others in setting up regular counselling and other psychological interventions for any in the Grenfell community suffering such trauma who were open to such interventions, and yet there is clearly a marked absence on the part of GU and their followers of any remotely empathic response with regard to Commissioner Cotton, despite the fact that her own personal trauma is recorded for all to see in her written evidence to the Inquiry. Why would that be, one has to wonder?

Ultimately, the question that must be asked is this – what was it Dany Cotton had done that was so grievous as to warrant the contempt in which she was held by the most powerful and influential group in the Grenfell community? I can provide no answer to this question. And why was Andy Roe so completely absolved of all criticism or blame? After all they had shared the leadership of the LFB on that fateful night, he as Incident Commander and she as Monitoring Officer, and it was he, and not she, who had exercised direct command and who had ordered the suspension of the ‘stay put’ policy – unfortunately too late to have made any effective difference to the mortality rate that night.

What’s more, shortly after the Grenfell disaster Commissioner Cotton established ‘The Grenfell Tower Investigation and Review Team’, the remit of which was to understand the circumstances of the incident and what happened on the night, to identify lessons to be learned and, when all the evidence was available, provide an unfettered and comprehensive evaluation of the Brigade’s response to this unprecedented incident.

This review once completed the LFB, on Commissioner Cotton’s orders, began to work alongside the statutory Grenfell Tower Inquiry and Metropolitan Police. The LFB Review team had made a number of recommendations which were urgently acted on. They included improved training and a significant improvement to the quantity and quality of specialist equipment needed for high-rise fires, including extended height aerial appliances with turntable ladders up to 64 metres (of which there were none available anywhere in Greater London on the night of the fire). Moore-Bick was, of course, fully briefed on this ongoing programme of improvements. His claims, therefore, that the LFB suffered from an inability to learn the lessons of Grenfell appears, at best, to be misguided and, at worst, to be wholly disingenuous.

So how does one attempt to explain the marked disparity in attitude towards Cotton and Roe in some parts of the Grenfell Community despite the strong and well established tradition of left wing attitudes and activism in the Grenfell area? I used the word ‘MISOGYNY‘ once before in the early part of this blog. I use it again now with renewed emphasis and conviction. The only explanation I can offer for this misogyny, apart from the obvious one of inbred prejudice, is that misogyny is a right wing phenomenon, characterised by intense irrational animosity towards the female gender. It is a weapon which has been used routinely to subjugate women and girls and deny them the rights, equality and opportunities to which all should be entitled.

It has not been my intention to imply that all GU members are misogynists. Indeed I am mindful always of the depth of trauma and injustice to which they have been subjected and, for what it’s worth, I offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to those traumatised or bereaved in this most terrible of tragedies.

However, having carefully considered the content of this blog in relation to the circumstances surrounding the victimisation of Commissioner Cotton, and having paid particular attention to the role played by the GU leadership in this, the only conclusion I have been able to reach is that the gross abuse of Ms. Cotton was misogynistic in nature and that it stemmed from a powerful and charismatic chauvinist clique, surrounding and including the leadership of Grenfell United, which played a crucial role in persuading the Mayor of London to cruelly and unjustly demand Dany Cotton’s resignation. In my view this sordid episode was an unprincipled and unconscionable abuse of power by the GU leadership and their allies that is totally deserving of the moral condemnation of all fair minded people.

footnote – chauvinism is defined in my dictionary as an unthinking devotion to a particular cause, especially one of a right-wing, or authoritarian nature.


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Hypocrisy And Censorship In The Grenfell Community



Residents of Lancaster West, particularly those involved in Grenfell activism, have been subject, since the period following the Grenfell fire, to a strict code of silence under which criticism of known activists, or the revelation of any other emerging inconvenient truths, were strictly taboo and could not be voiced under pain of social ostracism or some other form of revenge.

The justification for this code appeared to make some sense in the weeks after the fire as the right wing press dug for dirt on any left wing activists seeking justice for the victims of the atrocity. However, the majoriy of right wing hacks eventually lost interest and moved on, but the omerta continued and continues to this day. Grenfell United continues to maintain a code of silence regarding just about everything they do except such grand public spectacles as, for instance, the ‘Silent Walks’. Westway23 also imposes a similar taboo regarding any of their members who are involved in Grenfell activism.

Not everyone, however, is a fan of such ruthless censorship, although few dare to confront it openly. One has to wonder from whence such groups derive their power and why they feel the need to use that power to censor their members so ruthlessly.

Because I work alone and suffer from poor health I rarely publish blogs these days and in May last year I had pretty much decided to retire this blog completely by publishing what I chose to call ‘The Last Post’. However it subsequently became clear that my work was not yet done when I discovered that powerful forces in the community were intent on scapegoating Dany Cotton, the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, using all means at their disposal to force her resignation. In reaction I published a defence of her in November of that year. It was becoming obvious to me that all was not well in the Grenfell community. There were ruthless forces at play and the mythical ‘Love Fest’ was more fiction than reality. Leadership by dictat was the norm and there were a number of scores that remained to be settled with the more ruthless forces within the community, so I resolved to confront these reactionary elements with as much energy as I could marshall.

Coincidentally the style and content of this blog had been changing over time. The Grenfell Inquiry and the renewed press interest in it had rendered the traditional GAG style and content largely redundant because the atrocity was now well covered in the mass media and the blogosphere generally. Consequently I had found myself writing in a more personal style, almost without realising it. ‘The Last Post’ probably serves as a good example of the maturation of this newer style marked by personal revelations and an unapologetically critical attitude toward those I felt had betrayed me personally or the principled forensic standards this blog had prided itself on and had previously been known for.

My personal naivete notwithstanding, I was nonetheless shocked and surprised when I published the link to ‘The Last Post’ on a number of Facebook groups known for their dedication to all things Grenfell and one of these groups saw fit to break with the others by deleting the GAG link. It was the admin at Westway23 who deleted the link with the following explanatory note:

The administrator of the Westway23 Facebook group was, at that time, Emzee Haywood, who happens also, I believe, to be the ‘significant other’ of Niles Hailstones, the Chair of Westway23. Niles also happens to be a close friend of Ed Daffarn, my former partner in the Grenfell Action Group and the person I had criticised in the blog that the Westway23 admin found so objectionable that it warranted deletion. I will make no further comment here on the possibility that personal vested interests may, or may not, have influenced the decision to censor me in this way. Instead I invite my readers to form their own opinions as to what may, or may not, have improperly influenced the decision.

When I saw that the link to my blog had been deleted and Emzee Haywood’s name had appeared on the same page identifying her as the admin. I did a quick search to see if I could find her personal FB page. It wasn’t hard to find and prominent near the top of the page was the following graphic:

I would suggest that there is a glaring contradiction between Haywood’s glorification of the ideals described in the Faulkner quote and the Westway23 policy of censoring unfavoured material, in my view an abuse of power by Westway23. George Orwell had a name for this. He called it ‘double-think’. In this context I would suggest a simpler name that describes the same internal contradiction between the ideal Emzee espoused and the censorship power wielded by Westway23. That name is ‘hypocrisy’.

In the explanatory note from Westway23 Emzee described the facility I had previously enjoyed of posting my content without awaiting moderation as a ‘privilege’. I was granted this so-called ‘privilege’ because I had complained that my content had typically languishd for weeks awaiting moderation before it was eventually published. Following my complaint I received no notification from Westway23 that this so-called ‘privilege’ of unmoderated posting had been bestowed upon me. I simply observed that when I submitted a new post it appeared immediately (as it should). Furthermore I would seriously question the whole moderation system employed by Westway23 with its endless delays by feckless moderators who can’t be bothered to do the jobs they have volunteered to do, or perhaps deliberately hold them back so they can be carefully scrutinized for any content that fails to pass the ‘smell test’.

I never posted again on Westway23. To my mind freedom of speech is a right all should enjoy and not a ‘privilege’ that must be earned or can be bestowed by fiat.

Please note that my intention here is not to defend trolls or trolling. That is another issue to be discussed at another place and time. The issue I am confronting here is the use of censorship as a means of social control and supression of information by the more powerful local activist groups and how ironic is the practice of quite properly demanding full disclosure from all bodies involved in the botched refurbishment of Grenfell Tower at the same time that the merest suggestion of misbehaviour or malpractice by those who are numbered among the aggrieved of Grenfell is ruthlessly hidden by censorship.

Censorship is initially imposed, as I have previously asserted, by the more powerful activist groups, but it then percolates through the whole community. Like a cancer that’s metastasised it morphs into a form of self-censorship that controls and stymies all debate while creating an impenetrable shield against the personal accountability of those who are in favour, or who occupy positions of power. I am not a believer in hierarchies of power. What’s more I thought we had already identified the system of hierarchical power already existing in national and local government as one of the the root causes of the catastrophe that befell the residents of Grenfell Tower.

When my post was deleted by Westway23 I was given no advance warning and nor did I have a right of appeal. There was no way for me to challenge the decision that had been made. So it was not just the workings of the power hierarchy that was at issue for me. This was also a case of authoritarian power against which I had no redress.

We should take great care in our various activist groups never to flirt with the methods or philosophies of those who would subject us to hierarchies of power. We must take special care never to be enticed or seduced by the sometimes convenient attractions of totalitarian power, of the power mongers who surround us and who operate with impunity in our society, cutting corners and covering backs in the relentless pursuit of power (and wealth) for its own, or whatever other, sake. Totalitarianism is where the impunity of power inevitably leads and the difference between the two is usually more a matter of linguistics than of any real distinction. Let us not take that path. If we do then we will be no better than the powerful and amoral forces ranged against us.




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The Prophet Of Grenfell – A Media Myth

“On a grey November Sunday with the rain drizzling constantly outside his window, a man sat at his computer on the 16th floor of his West London tower block and began to write a blog. “It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block… is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!” The man behind the blog is Edward Daffarn, a 55-year-old social worker who had lived on the estate for 16 years.”

This has got to be as good a place as any to begin this exposition. Above is an extract from an article published on the BBC news site by Gemma Newby on 24th November 2017. Much later, on 11th June 2019, Robert Booth of The Guardian chose to elaborate on what appears to have been the same interview, or a version of it, that Daffarn had shared with him. “I can’t explain it to you,” said Daffarn “I’m not a religious person, but that blog wrote itself”. Daffarn, said Booth, became known as the “Prophet of Grenfell ”.

As a result of this fiction, repeated all too often among some of the most respected media outlets in the UK, Ed Daffarn became a legend and I was relegated to the role of a mere footnote in his story. The Daffarn legend spread like wildfire. Sometimes he was known as “The Prophet of Grenfell”, sometimes as “the man who predicted Grenfell”. Soon it seemed half the jounalists in the country were seeking interviews with him. He was frequently credited with being the founder of the Grenfell Action Group and the driving force behind the GAG blog. He was also credited with authorship of much, if not all, of the material published in this blog, most particularly the blogs that appeared to predict the Grenfell fire.

Amelia Gentleman described him thus in The Guardian on 13 September 2017:

“Edward Daffarn, the key author of the Grenfell Action Group blog… has been a persistent and meticulous critic of the council and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation since 2010. He documented the failures of both bodies to respond to repeated concerns about fire safety in the tower, while charting the council’s drive to regenerate North Kensington for new, richer residents…. Last November, his blog warned that only a ‘serious loss of life of KCTMO residents’ would get people to pay attention to what was happening at Grenfell and predicted that in the event of a fire, the blog would become part of the damning evidence of the poor safety record of the KCTMO”.

Jon Snow interviewed Daffarn for broadcast on Channel 4 News on 21 May 2018. The introduction to the interview claimed that;

“Daffarn wrote a blog post predicting the Grenfell Tower fire seven months before it happened”.

I hasten to add that apart from this badly misinformed intro the interview itself was, in my opinion, not at all bad, although Daffarn completely avoided mentioning me by name but instead repeatedly used the plural ‘we’. Eventually Snow pressed him on this:
“When you say ‘we’ do you mean Francis and you?” Daffarn answered in the affirmative but the acknowledgement of me by name had to be dragged out of him. Nonetheless I am grateful to Jon Snow for that one moment of recognition.

The lies deceit and misinformation – perhaps even disinformation – continue still. Luke Barratt recently wrote in The Guardian (21 October 2020):

“It has been widely reported that the Grenfell Action Group, made up of residents of the tower, published a blogpost warning of fire safety issues and predicting “a serious fire”, “a catastrophic event”

Again Barratt, an apparently experienced and respected journalist is guilty, in this instance, of what could be called a basic schoolboy error. GAG is not and never has been made up of ‘residents of Grenfell Tower’. Daffarn was from Grenfell, but he was the only one, and he abandoned his GAG membership when he transferred his allegiance to Grenfell United. Furthermore, to identify GAG as being composed entirely of Grenfell residents risks confusing it with Grenfell United, of which Daffarn was a founder member. Let there be no mistake about this – there is no affinity and no relationship between Grenfell United and the Grenfell Action Group and there is no love lost between the two.

I shouldn’t, at this stage, have to argue that the extracts quoted above are full of half truths distortions and downright falsities, the cumulative effect of which has been to erase my name from the common consciousness and deny the vital role I played in the Grenfell Action Group over a number of years, but although that role is relatively well known in some quarters I fear that readers further afield may be ignorant of the true facts, having been badly misled by the constant stream of disinformation underlying the exaltation of Daffarn as folk hero at my expense.

Another fact, perhaps less well known, is that since the night of the Grenfell fire, in June 2017, Daffarn has had no involvement with The Grenfell Action Group, has contributed nothing to the blog and ceased to perform any role or function here. As soon as he became associated with Grenfell United he lost all interest in the Grenfell Action Group, except where his history here could be used to enhance his reputation elsewhere. He also lacked the common courtesy of informing me that in future I would be on my own as the sole author of  this blog.

Despite all this Harriet Sherwood, apparently without bothering to do any fact-checking, wrote in The Guardian on 26 October 2019:

“In the hours after the blaze, Daffarn’s blog, spurred by rage at the sheer injustice of how (we) were treated, recorded some three million hits, earning him the epithet The Prophet of Grenfell”.

Sherwood writes for the Guardian and the Observer and was previously Jerusalem correspondent, foreign editor and home editor. One might be entitled to expect a higher standard of journalism and a bit more integrity from a Guardian journalist with such an impressive curriculum vitae, but she failed to acknowledge that Daffarn had already departed the Grenfell Action Group and that all blogs published on this site since the night of the Grenfell fire have been my work and my work alone.

The Evidence

At this point, having alleged a repeated pattern over the last three and a half years of misinformation – perhaps even of disinformation – concerning the alleged role of Daffarn as folk hero, prophet of Grenfell and leading light of The Grenfell Action Group, it behoves me to produce some evidence to back up my allegations.

Joe Delaney – The Second Interview

Joe is highly regarded in the Grenfell community for his integrity and selfless work on behalf of many of his neigbours who, like him, were adversely affected by the fire and its aftermath. In the early days following the fire he worked especially hard at representing many who were struggling to access emergency living expenses and other help and support promised by RBKC but unreasonably witheld by council staff, often on a pretext or for contrived or invalid reasons. Later he played a prominent role on the Grenfell Scrutiny Committee.

Joe was interviewed twice in March 2018 for the World Socialist Website (WSWS) and in the second of these interviews he was asked about the Grenfell Action Group with which he had been closely associated at times and was therefore well familiar. This is what he said:

“Francis O’Connor and Ed Daffarn were the people behind the GAG blog, with Francis doing the bulk of the writing, while Ed would be the out-and-about investigator. When I was helping GAG avoid the threats of a libel suit, I helped Francis rewrite certain posts from a legal standpoint and we have pretty much kept in touch since.

One of the first things I did with the GAG was when an RBKC solicitor threatened to sue them for libel. I pointed out that the council itself can’t sue for libel, which had been established since a court case in 1993, that basically established the principle that public bodies should be big enough and strong enough to take any criticism thrown at them and therefore they have no standing to sue for libel.

Francis was one of the loudest voices predicting that something like the Grenfell Tower fire was going to happen, but he was not the only voice. This was what people were widely saying at the time, but they were accused by the council of whipping up hysteria. Although Ed and Francis certainly bore the brunt, it was RBKC and the KCTMO’s standard tactic—if you can’t argue against the message then you just try to shoot the messenger.”

Edward Daffarn – written evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry

I would hope that Joe has earned the right to be taken at his word but I am aware that some might question his objectivity. I have, therefore, provided the most compelling and indisputable evidence of all which is provided by Daffarn himself in his written statement to Phase One of the Grenfell Inquiry. A search of this statement will reveal that my name is mentioned multiple times. I have quoted below some key extracts and the full document is available for download here;  Daffarn statement to Grenfell Inquiry

“18. The Grenfell Action Group (‘GAG’) was set up in 2010 and Francis O’Connor and I began writing the GAG blog in late June 2012. Through the GAG blog Francis and I tried to expose issues within our community which were not picked up by local or national news media. I would usually draft something and send it to Francis and he would add, amend, edit the document and offer his opinion. He would sprinkle his gold dust on it. Only the two of us have had access rights to add, remove or amend anything to the blog, although I haven’t contributed to the blog since the fire.

84. The lack of information provided to me and other residents before the fire is a
significant issue for me. Before the fire Francis and I spent a considerable amount of
time trying to obtain information about the safety of Grenfell Tower – and information
more generally about the refurbishment works – from the TMO and RBKC. We did
this by, for example, requesting and attending meetings with the TMO and RBKC
councillors and through requests which were sometimes made under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, On some occasions we were successful in obtaining information but on numerous occasions we were denied access to documents.

24 First, Francis and I raised concerns that the regeneration of the area and the over development of the space around Grenfell Tower restricted access for the fire brigade. This is something we highlighted when we saw the plans for the new Kensington Aldridge Academy and new Leisure Centre (‘KALC’). It was also picked up by Planning Aid for London who prepared a report which GAG were funded to obtain. We published that report on our blog.

While it’s true that many blogs began with a rough draft sent from Ed to me for editing, spell-checking, amending, polishing and publishing, that process was invariably laborious and time consuming for me, taxed my creativity as a writer and often required a complete rewrite of the original draft. I also wrote blogs myself, which Daffarn conveniently omits to mention in his statement, but the origin of any particular blog, and whose input was most prominent in it, is virtually impossible to determine at this stage, largely because we were completely unconcerned about such matters at the time. We worked as a team and shared the responsibility and the credit for each piece of work we produced

What’s more, there is no question of ‘prediction’ involved in the much quoted passages that have become famous over time. The fact is that Ed persistently requested minutes of project meetings from the TMO at which vital technical issues, such as the safety profile of the now notorious cladding and insulation, would have been discussed. He was repeatedly rebuffed by the TMO and got no help from the Information Commissioner either. The result of this refusal to share vital information was that we knew nothing about the deadly cladding or insulation they were fixing to the exterior of Grenfell Tower.

Without that information we had no basis on which to evaluate fire safety issues with any accuracy, let alone predict a disaster of the magnitude of what occurred, and no inkling of how dangerous the material in question would prove to be. What appears, therefore, to have been predictions of a major disaster by GAG were simply exaggerations in the language we used in certain blogs out of sheer desperation to make our voices heard and force a response, given the very real dangers of which we were well aware, and the depth of complacency and negligence that we knew was endemic in the TMO bureaucracy and in their relationship with the local authority (RBKC) which they served.

What we really expected was a continuation of the existing history of smaller scale fire incidents in social housing complexes, often involving loss of life on a lesser scale, as in the Lakanal House fire in 2009 which claimed the lives of six people, three adults and three children. What we feared were more fires of a similar (or perhaps greater) magnitude with the possibility of increased mortality. We never in our wildest dreams imagined that the inferno that engulfed Grenfell was a remote possibility.

For the last three and a half years I have produced this blog alone during its most crucial period and many of the blogs I posted were carefully constructed forensic analyses of the botched refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, ie the root cause of the tragedy, and the incendiary nature of the cladding and insulation that together constituted the primary causes of the disaster that ensued. For this and other reasons it follows that I bitterly resent the use by Daffarn and others of the shoddy work and misinformation (perhaps even disinformation) that issued from a variety of journalists, who really should have known better and who seem to have dispensed completely with any attempt at research or fact-checking and chosen instead to propagate a badly distorted version, heavily influenced by Daffarn, of the history of the Grenfell Action Group and its attempts to shed light on these matters.

Indeed, I could justifiably argue that I played a more prominent role than Daffarn in the design, administration, editing fact-checking and publication of the blog throughout its existence. Authorship of indvidual blogs, as I said earlier, is now impossible to determine with hindsight because we worked together at all times, constantly exchanging ideas and constructive criticism. The now famous quotes, the so called ‘predictions’ with which Daffarn has for years been credited, did not ‘write themselves’, as he claimed in June 2019, but were laboriously bashed out on my keyboard and were edited, researched, fact-checked and published by me. It was invariably I who produced and published the finished versions of the vast majority of our blogs and went on to publish them on behalf of both of us working together as the Grenfell Action Group.

Having now suffered in relative silence for three and a half years the indignity and frustration of repeatedly witnessing the kind of adulation that has been heaped on Daffarn and the celebrity he has enjoyed at my expense, and having concluded that he certainly colluded willingly with this process, I now offer this meagre, belated and probably vain attempt at setting the record straight. How it will be received remains to be seen, but I suspect its reception may be similar to that of “The Last Post”  – welcomed by some, condemned as sour grapes by a few and deliberately ignored by the majority of the Daffarn fan club. How this, or other recent blogs I have written, are received no longer troubles or concerns me overmuch. The blog has changed. It is what it is. I invite the reader to form his/her own opinion of what I have written.

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