DEREGULATION AND THE GRENFELL TOWER FIRE

The deregulation of fire safety is essential in understanding how a death trap was created at Grenfell Tower, writes Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.

Why was the Grenfell Tower fire allowed to happen? This is the central question that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry must answer.

To get to the bottom of the issues, the public inquiry must address the whole fire safety regime and in particular the process of deregulation established over recent decades. Sadly, prime minister Theresa May and inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick decided that the terms of reference would not explicitly include deregulation, despite advice from the Fire Brigades Union, representatives of the bereaved, survivors and residents, and some other interested parties.

If they are serious about “leaving no stone unturned” then we need a wide-ranging public inquiry that takes in the systematic attacks on legislation, so-called ‘red tape’, privatisation, contracting out – in short, about deregulation

DEREGULATION

After the Second World War, there were increasing efforts to improve fire safety for homes and businesses in the UK. The 1947 Fire Services Act created a national framework for fire protection and the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC), which oversaw fire research, equipment, training, fire protection and prevention and all other aspects of fire safety policy. Successive improvements were made to legislation, culminating in the 1971 Fire Precautions Act and the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

Thatcher’s election in 1979 heralded a lurch towards deregulation, privatisation and attacks on the fire and rescue service. The Home Office’s Review of Fire Policy (1980) signalled the change of direction towards cuts, even if this meant more deaths, injuries and property damage. This was politely dressed up in Whitehall doublespeak:

“There may be over provision which may enable judicious reductions to be made which would not result in an unacceptable increase in property loss or casualties.”

Tory ministers discussed tearing up the Fire Precautions Act and attacked national standards of fire cover. They part-privatised building control in local authorities, the system where building plans are assessed for compliance with building regulations, including those dealing with fire safety. This change allowed for private, uncertified ‘approved inspectors’ and it started a race to the bottom of cheap, superficial rubber-stamped sign off of building works. Even the recently published Hackitt review acknowledges some failings with this system.

Blair’s Labour governments after 1997 also continued with this deregulation trend. In 2003 they scrapped national standards of fire cover and the CFBAC. This is particularly relevant, since the CFBAC had overseen decades of improvement in fire safety measures, equipment and in operational planning.

The Fire Safety Order 2005 scrapped fire certificates and watered down enforcement under the rubric of “better regulation”. This change was seized upon by those who wanted to make cuts. Specialist fire safety departments within fire and rescue services have seen some of the worst levels of cuts in the entire service. It’s all very well, after the event, to raise concerns about the inspection and enforcement role of the fire service, but the skills and trained personnel simply do not exist in sufficient numbers for the scale of the challenge. This process has let landlords and business executives do as they please. It created the context for Grenfell.

CLADDING WARNINGS

The Grenfell Tower fire was not the first major fire in the UK where cladding was at fault. In 1973 the Summerland Leisure Centre fire on the Isle of Man killed fifty people and injured 80. Investigators pointed to the role of external cladding in fire spread. The lessons of the Summerland fire were discussed by the CFBAC at the time.

On 11 June 1999, a fire at the Garnock Court, a 14-storey block of flats in North Ayrshire led to one death and five injured. Cladding was a significant factor in the fire spread. Regulation was tightened in Scotland, but not in England.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs conducted an investigation. The FBU submitted a memorandum to the committee and gave testimony. In light of Grenfell, the warning the FBU gave nineteen years ago was shockingly prescient:

“The primary risk therefore of a cladding system is that of providing a vehicle for assisting uncontrolled fire spread up the outer face of the building, with the strong possibility of the fire re-entering the building at higher levels via windows or other unprotected areas in the face of the building. This, in turn, poses a threat to the life safety of the residents above the fire floor.”

Some MPs (including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell) listened, but most Westminster politicians ignored the warnings

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT CULPABILITY

Governments since 2010 have escalated the process of deregulation. Cameron’s “red tape challenge” ran down the importance of regulation and public safety. Fire ministers failed to improve building regulations and guidance, while promoting voluntarism and self-regulation. Chief fire officers accepted ‘safe enough’, instead of proper compliance with the law. Together they cut one-in-five firefighter jobs, including control staff and fire safety inspectors. No credible inquiry can ignore these long-term pressures that preceded the Grenfell Tower fire.

Firefighters, alongside the bereaved, survivors and residents, want those at the top who made the big decisions held to account and, where appropriate, prosecuted. That means the business owners and landlords who failed to keep their premises safe. It is shocking that a year down the line nobody has been arrested, despite the obvious fact that a death trap was created at Grenfell.

We want government ministers held to account for overseeing a deregulatory regime that failed to keep people safe in their homes, surely a basic expectation of public authorities in a civilised society. Only this process of holding to account, alongside a fundamental change in the approach to housing and to fire safety will bring justice for Grenfell.

Reposted by kind permission of Matt Wrack and The Fire Brigades Union from an article by Matt Wrack posted on June 20, 2018;

https://www.fbu.org.uk/blog/deregulation-and-grenfell-tower-fire

Posted in Uncategorized

AUDITOR SLAMS FIRE SAFETY AT EAST KENT HOUSING

East Kent Housing fire safety has been slammed by its auditor the East Kent Audit Partnership. East Kent Housing is the largest Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) in the UK managing the entire social housing stock, for the four councils of Canterbury, Dover, Shepway & Thanet – a total of 17,000 homes.

The Director of Property Services at East Kent is Mark Anderson who has been in post for just two years. In 2012 he served as Interim Director of Assets and Regeneration at the Kensington and Chelsea TMO where he was responsible for planning and ‘consultation’ on the botched Grenfell Tower refurbishment. He was at the KCTMO for less than two years, after which he moved to Circle Housing as Interim Director of Property. Having remained there for just a year and a half he moved on again, ultimately arriving at EKH.

East Kent Housing has been called the UK’s first ‘Super ALMO’. Like all other ALMO’s it’s an outsourced housing management organisation, with limited public accountability and transparency. It’s responsible for the council housing services of Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council, Shepway District Council and Thanet District Council.

According to a report produced by the East Kent Audit Partnership, which provides internal audit services for Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils, EKH has failed to deliver an acceptable fire risk assessment management service to its 17,000 tenants (see pages 13 & 14 of the report).

East Kent Audit Partnership Report

The report based on audit inspections in the autumn of 2017 identifies several major management failures including;

  • Fire risk assessments have not been kept up to date in respect of follow ups based on the suggested dates shown in the original assessments that were carried out in 2014 by an external company. This has meant that outside contractors are now being used with some internal resources to carry out new Type 3 fire risk assessments on all locations with an expected completion date of October 2017 to renew every fire risk assessment for each location whether or not it is in date or out of date.
  • There has been no central pulling together of the works that have been carried out across locations to reflect the impact that they have had on the original fire risk assessments.
  • There is no central monitoring of the outstanding actions for each location at the time of the audit.
  • The new single system is not able to assist in record keeping of fire risk assessments which has meant that a separate software solution is being procured.

The auditors rightly point out that “Since the tragic event happened at Grenfell Tower in 2017, fire safety has become a high priority” and council tenants have a right to know that their homes are safe.

However, it would appear from the problems identified by the auditors that the management of fire risk assessments and associated record keeping by East Kent Homes has been operating at a level which is far below what residents are entitled to expect from a good and responsible landlord.

This shameful and downright dangerous failure of fire risk assessment management was of such concern to the auditors that they classified East Kent Homes’ Fire Risk management systems as providing only “limited assurance”. Limited assurance is defined by the auditors as;

“…significant errors or non-compliance, with many key controls not operating as intended, resulting in a risk to the achievement of the system objectives”.

Clearly the fire risk management systems at East Kent Homes don’t just need a little tweak here and there to put them right. They are, in fact, profoundly dysfunctional and unfit for purpose and could potentially put the health and safety of tenants at risk, just as the alleged failures of the outsourced KCTMO are widely believed to have contributed significantly to the heart-breaking tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

The question must be asked why the senior management team of East Kent Housing, who together are reportedly paid in the region of £350,000 a year, allowed the management of a function as critical as fire risk assessment, to collapse into such an appalling state of dysfunctionality

EKH made a loss of £1,357,000 million between April 2016 & March 2017. In 2015/16 losses amounted to £1,155,000 million according to the accounts registered at Companies House. These corporate losses, however, appear not to have made much of a dent in the remuneration enjoyed by the top-dogs on the EKH board:

Local activist group Shepway Vox has called on Shepway Tenant representative Nigel Lawes, who sits on the Board, and Cllr David Owen to demand an urgent investigation into this matter, especially bearing in mind that after the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, fire safety and fire risk assessment was supposed to be the top priority of all social landlords throughout the country – except perhaps at East Kent Housing which clearly has serious problems in managing this critical issue.

But it’s not just the apparent failings of East Kent Housing which have allowed this unacceptable and dangerous situation to develop. According to the auditors there is a lack of monitoring of East Kent Housing by the “four partner authorities” (Dover, Canterbury, Thanet and Shepway councils) who set up this organisation in the first place and to which they pay about £15 million a year in management fees. Senior managers at these “four partner authorities” should have been monitoring “the outstanding actions and expected costs” of the fire risk assessment process, but, according to the auditors, it would appear that they didn’t.

The crux of this appalling, unacceptable and frankly dangerous situation at East Kent Housing is that when public services such as social housing are outsourced and passed on to other organisations to run they become progressively less and less accountable and transparent in the way that they are managed and the democratic control and scrutiny which used to exist when services were directly provided by the Council becomes almost non-existent.

Lack of democratic control and scrutiny and a reduction in accountability and transparency allow for poor management to thrive and mistakes to go unchecked, which in turn can, and sometimes does, lead to tragedy. That’s why we believe the outsourcing and privatisation of public services should be halted immediately and that organisations such as East Kent Housing should be closed down and liquidated, just as the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation was closed down and liquidated.

PLEASE NOTE:

This blog was reposted, with a few minor edits, by permission of Shepway Vox. We are indebted to Shepway Vox for allowing us to repost their material and wish to express our gratitude to them for sharing it with us:

https://shepwayvox.org/2018/02/28/auditor-slams-fire-safety-at-east-kent-housing/

Readers might also  like to check out an article about East Kent Housing published in the Guardian in April 2011 entitled “Is East Kent Housing the Future of Almos?” This article strongly suggests that, as social tenants, we are all guinea pigs in a grand ALMO cost-cutting experiment. We might well ask whatever happened to ‘informed consent’?

https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2011/apr/04/east-kent-housing-future-of-almos

Posted in Uncategorized

O’HAGAN’S IVORY TOWER – PART TWO

As I struggled to pick my way through the nearly 60,000 words of Andrew O’Hagan’s essay ‘The Tower’ I was struck by the deference he invariably displayed towards the councillors, council officers and KCTMO staff he had interviewed and whose integrity he never questioned and seemed instead to accept uncritically. By contrast he displayed an attitude of barely concealed disdain, and at times of naked contempt, for the local activist groups he encountered and who had dared for years to pit their wits against the all powerful RBKC Council (and its proxy the KCTMO) with their well practiced spin doctors and in-house legal team. For me this reveals more about O’Hagan’s bigotry and snobbery than it does about the traumatised community whose trust he had inveigled and, in my opinion, shamelessly betrayed.

The first clear example I found in O’Hagan’s essay of his jaundiced view of Grenfell activists is his criticism of Grenfell United;

“Several of the residents we spoke to”, he writes, “were sympathetic to Grenfell United, the ‘bereaved, survivors and community’ group that has the ear of the prime minister, which they filled (both ears) with stories of how much they hate the councIl”.

Those few lines alone seem to me to ooze sarcasm, but he goes on to describe Grenfell United as ‘secretive, exclusive (and) the kind of group that wants to know you’re on its side before it will answer your questions’. Grenfell United are highly regarded in the local community and are, in our view, completely undeserving of such sarcasm. We would certainly not describe them as secretive and we believe they are exclusive only because they represent the most tramatised of the Grenfell community and consider it a priority to protect (as far as possible) their grieving and often emotionally fragile members from the intrusive probing of the media and, dare I say it, from the likes of O’Hagan himself who clearly inhabits his own self serving sharkpool. In the year since the tragedy many would agree that Grenfell United have grown to become perhaps the most dignified and effective of the Grenfell pressure groups.

His next target is, of course, the Grenfell Action Group, of which both myself and Edward Daffarn are founder members. We collaborated closely together on every blog we posted until the night of the fire when Ed lost his home and everything he owned and narrowly escaped with his life.

O’Hagan describes us as ‘committed local agitators’ who ‘hate the Tory council and believe every move it makes stinks of corruption’. Obviously we would prefer to be called ‘activists’ rather than ‘agitators’ and would strongly object to the obvious slur intended by O’Hagan’s choice of  words. I have no doubt that his intention here is to taint our reputation by implying that we are ‘bad actors’ and lack integrity and legitimacy. We take great offence at this implication, with which we are well familiar, having been similarly stigmatized by senior councillors on numerous occasions. However we are not the least surprised that O’Hagan chooses to side with the Council against us, as he invariably does throughout his essay, showing clear signs of the prejududice and bigotry we have come to expect from the privileged property owning class of what we call ‘The Rotten Borough’.

He also, incidentally, claims we ‘had never been very popular on the estate and had struggled to get anybody to pay attention to us’. Meanwhile, in the very same paragraph, he contradicts this statement by claiming to have spoken to ‘many tenants who respected the work of the action group and who contributed to (its) efforts.’  Such internal contradictions within his own narrative simply suggest to us that O’Hagan’s work is sloppy and far more poorly researched than he claims.

In any case he continues his partisan rant against us with the following ;

“Over five years, the action group complained about noise, double-glazing, air pollution, housing policy, gentrification, the fate of a local college, local trees, a cinema and a library, some Labour councillors, all Tory councillors, asbestos, Holland Park Opera, and dozens of other things they didn’t like.”

“In any event, whatever the arguments, the members of the Grenfell Action Group, who would come to be seen as the wise men and women of the disaster, had a long history of objecting to the council and its representatives. The objections took the form, first, of argument and blog postings and emails, later of denunciations in the media. What the group had to say would be worrying in any context, but now, retrospectively, it seems devastating, like deaths foretold. And the thing about warnings is that, even if they’re not totally on the nose, they create a defining context.”

He continues “…something strange began to happen. A feeling turned into a slogan, and suddenly the ‘narrative’ was in place: the council was on a mission to neglect. At one level, the narrative was connected with something both the public and the media wanted: a story of our austere times, a totemic unfairness myth.”

A little later he claims to have asked the council’s severest critics for evidence to back their claims. He refers to what he calls one of the Grenfell Action Group ‘stalwarts’ who allegedly wrote to him but, according to O’Hagan, this unnamed individual found it difficult to supply evidence to support his allegations;

“His communications were colourful and provocative, damning and suggestive, but each of them depended on one’s mind already being made up before one considered what he supplied as ‘evidence’.”

These suggestions of a lack of credible evidence, or of any evidence at all, produced by local residents (and particularly by local activists) are clearly designed to undermine and invalidate his local interviewees. Similar claims are repeated at numerous points throughout the essay and form a crucial part of his defence of, and deference to, the local authorities (both RBKC and KCTMO) whose culture of negligence is widely believed in the community (and beyond) to be a fundamental cause of the Grenfell disaster and, contrary to O’Hagan’s claims, there is abundant evidence to support this common view.

Nonetheless O’Hagan’s rant continues;

‘Evidence’ for true believers gathers in the space between assertions. It grows there, whispering ‘everybody knows,’ as if moral arithmetic were just a matter of stringing random bits of ugliness together and calling it a case.”

“I met with countless activists, (he claims) and recorded what they said, checking it as I did with every witness. They had loud voices and good causes but what they didn’t have was facts. I have quoted from their blogs and referred to their accusations, but I had trouble substantiating them. At times they seemed to be throwing accusations into the air like confetti at a whore’s wedding, but when I tried to follow them up, I couldn’t prove them right.”

His description of Lancaster West residents ‘…throwing accusations into the air like confetti at a whore’s wedding’ is especially odious and deserving of the severest of criticism. It is so coarse an so blatantly bigoted that it is beneath contempt. I consider this comment to be the most disgusting and reprehensible of slurs on the people of the Grenfell community some of whom, I would accept, may have struggled, when pressed, to recall the detail of evidence they had previously seen. But this doesn’t mean that such evidence doesn’t exist or that they hadn’t seen it, and nor does it give the brat O’Hagan licence to insult and denigrate them in such contemptuous and offensive terms.

Contrary to O’Hagan’s bigoted, prejudiced and poorly researched doggerel, which I have quoted at length, the Grenfell Action Group has always sourced and researched carefully and meticulously all our correspondence with RBKC and KCTMO and every blog post we have published (certainly every blog since the summer of 2013 when we were falsely accused of defamation by RBKC). I can say this with complete confidence because it was I who did much of the forensic work, searching out and unpicking official documents which are often complex and lengthy and written in opaque and sometimes ambiguous jargon.

When we requested documents, the existence of which was known to us, but which had not been published on the Council website, our requests were generaly refused. This necessitated embarking on a lengthy process of appealing to the Information Commissioners Office seeking provision of the requested material under the Freedom of Information Act. We did this on perhaps a dozen occasions and virtually all our appeals were upheld, indicating to us that senior RBKC staff, including RBKC legal staff, had no qualms about misusing the very few exemptions allowed under the Act by witholding information, for their own ulterior motives, which they had no right to withold.

O’Hagan continues;

“For many, the fire gave the opportunity to say boldly – with new, terrible evidence – what they’d always been trying to say about the Tories. But after nearly a year’s work and any number of moles in every committee and in every department (many of them Labour-supporting), and after scrutinising volumes of minutes and looking at hundreds of documents, I could find nothing to support the view that these councillors were corrupt or were trying to harm residents. Yes, they often behaved like Tories, and, yes, they very often pursued housing policies popular with people affiliated to the Tories and New Labour. For this there is a mass of interesting evidence”

In this latter paragraph he completely misses the point. He concedes that;

“…they often behaved like Tories, and…very often pursued housing policies popular with people affiliated to the Tories and New Labour. For this there is a mass of interesting evidence”

Astonishingly, it would seem that someone neglected to inform O’Hagan, or perhaps he is just too pig-ignorant and bigoted to realise, that Tory policies are the problem that has bedevilled the lower paid for years – involving deep cuts to essential services delivered with a callous indifference to their effects on the less wealthy inhabitants of the country. These include direct cuts, as well as insidious underfunding, of education, housing, youth and nursery services, care in the community and other vital social services – including deep cuts to fire service funding. Furthermore tory indifference and lack of empathy with the daily struggles of those on limited incomes is the very reason they are loathed and feared in equal measure by the residents of social housing estates, especially the lower paid who are likely to find themselves dependant on food banks for their very survival.

I think at this point it behoves me to provide some evidence to discount O’Hagan’s claims that he searched high and low, but couldn’t find, evidence to support the allegations of negligence, complacency, institutional indifference, malfeasance and incompetence levelled at the Council and the KCTMO from all sides within the Lancaster West community, and particularly in the blogs containing such allegations. The Grenfell Action Group Blog, which I represent, is indisputably the foremost among these blogs and the one that has been quoted most often in the world media following the atrocity at Grenfell Tower. In the interests of brevity the evidence I will present will not be exhaustive but I have chosen what I consider to be two good examples of well sourced and well researched material that we have presented. The first is a letter which I drafted and sent by email to the Chair of the RBKC Public Realm Scrutiny Committee in May 2011 arguing against a Key Decision (scheduled at the time for approval) to progress plans to site the proposed new Kensington Academy at Lancaster Green, in very close proximity to Grenfell Tower.  A copy of this letter can be downloaded via the following link;

KALC SPD Appeal May 2011

To continue, at one point in his essay O’Hagan refers to a threat of legal action by the Council against the Grenfell Action Group to which he adds the comment ‘some thought their blog posts were libellous’. Had he carefully researched the Grenfell Action Group blog, as he claimed to have done, he would have discovered that this whole episode was fully documented in a series of blogs posted in July and August 2013 that I usually refer to as the ‘Bambi’ blogs, because they began with a blog I posted called ‘Who Killed Bambi?’    I received the first solicitor’s letter shortly after I had posted that first ‘Bambi’ blog. However, the controversy that led to these attempts to intimidate and silence us can be traced back to a blog on 5th July entitled ‘Something Rotten – The EMB Crisis’;

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/something-rotten-the-emb-crisis/

Who Killed Bambi (original).pdf

Two solictors letters were addressed to me personally at my home address. They were signed by Vimal Sarna, a senior solicitor at RBKC. The first letter is reproduced in the ‘Flying Mallet’ blog and implies, rather than threatens, that legal action for defamation might follow unless I removed the offending blog(s) immediately. My response is published in the GAG blog entitled ‘An Open Letter to RBKC Legal Services’.

A second and more detailed letter which I had demanded from Ms Sarna followed. This can be downloaded via a hyperlink in the blog ‘Who Killed Bambi – Censored’.  At this point I decided to remove the ‘offending‘ blog temporarily while I rewrote it with hyperlinks added to a number of documents on which my allegations against senior council officers were based. These included a series of what I consider to be incriminating internal RBKC email threads and invoices.

I provided conclusive evidence that I had defamed no-one in the last blog of the series entitled ‘Who Killed Bambi – Revised and Expanded ‘ which contained multiple hyperlinks to the documents (all from the RBKC archives) on which my original allegations were based. Many of these documents had been supplied to me by RBKC in response to Freedom of Information requests and together they constituted proof that there was nothing defamatory in the blogs in question. I would strongly recommend that the LRB and Mr O’Hagan study this series of blogs and note that the RBKC legal team issued no further response and never again accused either me or the Grenfell Action Group of defamation or threatened us with legal action on any grounds.

The ‘Bambi’ blogs can be accessed via the following hyperlinks;

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/a-flying-mallet/
https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/an-open-letter-to-rbkc-legal-services/
https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/who-killed-bambi-censored/
https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/who-killed-bambi-revised-and-expanded/
https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/nice-work-if-you-can-get-it/

I have also included a hyperlink to a letter I received in 2010 from Moyra McGarvey, Head of Internal Audit and Risk Management at RBKC. This letter was the final response to a formal complaint I had earlier made against the senior council and TMO officers I later accused again in the ‘Bambi’ blogs. This letter vindicated me by confirming that the officers involved had behaved without integrity and had deliberately disrespected the EMB board and EMB constitution. However, the McGarvey letter only acknowledged what she called ‘a number of administrative failings’ and claimed that there had been no ciminality and no criminal intent by these officers, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

I considered key elements of McGarvey’s conclusions to be a disingenuous and unacceptable travesty of what had actually happened and I never forgot the experience. It indicated to me that the Council complaints system was a sham lacking a true moral compass at all levels and that lodging formal complaints against councillors or council officers was a futile exercise unlikely ever to reveal the full truth and apportion blame and sanctions for professional misconduct where appropriate. For this reason I decided to revisit the whole sordid episode by blogging it in 2013 at a time when I had recently acquired evidence of fraudulent behaviour and misconduct in office by the then Chair of the EMB. The complaint against him was vindicated by a RBKC investigation, the findings of which were (briefly) recorded in EMB Minutes dated 16th October 2012. The EMB perversely decided not to sanction the Chair whose guilt had been proven by the listing of his step-daughter’s company at the Baseline Studios address on the Companies House website – the only dissenting voice being that of Ed Daffarn who had sat on the EMB briefly at the time. The earlier accusations I had made against senior council and TMO officers in 2010 were fully vindicated in the final ‘Bambi’ blog. The EMB minutes and the decision letter I received from Ms McGarvey can be downloaded via the following links;

EMB Minutes 16th October 2012

Mc Garvey Report December 2010.pdf

Another one of O’Hagan’s oft’ repeated mantras concerns claims by local residents that the council had been deliberately running the estate down – pursuing an unofficial policy of neglect – for a number of years – to justify the largescale regeneration they had long been planning. He dismisses this as another falsehood but his claim is easily disproven.

One bright spark sent a Freedom of Information request to RBKC on 16 June 2017 seeking the total rental and service charge income gleaned from Grenfell Tower during the previous six years versus expenditure on repairs and maintenance for the same period, including responsive repairs, major works, cyclical maintenance, and technical services. On 25 July he got the information he had asked for.It showed that the Council had taken a total of £4,687,669.21 in rents and service charges over the period in question and spent a mere £551,081.16 on repairs and maintenance etc. By my reckoning that equates to a grand total of £250 a week spent on repairs etc for a period of six years. How does that grab you Andrew? Would you agree that it’s strongly suggestive of neglect? Of course it’s not likely that a ‘policy of neglect’ was ever documented. Far nore likely this was all done on the downlow.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/income_and_repairs_expenditure_f

Meanwhile O’Hagan continues to indulge his his personal prejudices in a lengthy section in which he attempts to exonerate the council for its inadequate response following the fire. This is based entirely on interviews with councillors and council workers and much of  it (at least 20 pages) is devoted to hugely flattering profile interviews with former Council Leader Nick Paget-Brown and former Cabinet Member for Housing Property and Regeneration, the despised Rock Feilding-Mellen. O’Hagan clearly has a soft spot for Feilding-Mellen and appears to believe that the opprobrium heaped on him is entirely unjustified, but in taking this position he appears to have forgotten (or ignored) one of the fundamental principles of journalism – that of holding power to account.

He also seems blissfully unaware that the stink surrounding Feilding-Mellen predates the Grenfell disaster by a number of years and arose from a combination of his meteoric rise to power at RBKC, the ruthlesssly autocratic style in which he exercised power and his obsession with the ‘regeneration’ of a huge swathe of the Notting Barns area, beginning with the Silchester Estate and with Lancaster West almost certainly next in line. However, in attempting to justify himself and his prejudices O’Hagan makes the mistake of quoting conservative councillor Catherine Faulks who describes Feiding-Mellen’s ambitions thus;

‘There was definitely a change that he was focusing on, on working young people being able to live in RBKC, because they simply can’t afford to live here, or anywhere near here. The young doctors, young professionals, [with] nowhere for them to live … I know that was one of his aspirations, to be able to provide housing for this group of young professional people.’

O’Hagan, it would seem, has completely failed to understand how threatening all this disruption, dislocation and destruction of communities must be to those living in social rented housing on large council estates earmarked for so-called ‘regeneration’, perhaps because he is himself a member of the privileged property owning class and is incapable of the empathy needed to appreciate the powerlessness and vulnerability of the ‘underclass ‘ (as he once described us) who stand to lose so much under the tory policy of demolishing social housing estates in order to rebuild in a manner that accommodates a higher population density, with most of the new properties earmarked for private sale, and only a council promise, usually broken by the private developers brought on board, to reprovide an arbitrary quota of social rented housing.

CONCLUSION:

In April this year, several weeks before O’Hagan’s essay was published, evidence emerged in the form of a leaked BRE draft report commissioned by the Metropolitan Police, which indicated that the Grenfell Tower fire had been caused in large part by a badly botched refurbishment sponsored by RBKC and their agents the KCTMO. O’Hagan took no notice and continued to indulge his personal prejudices – although it has to be said that he had so often disrespected and misrepresented the validity of the evidence and opinions he had been offered by local residents (misrepresentations that were scattered liberally throughout the 60,000 word essay) that it would have been impossible for him to ‘tweak’ and would probably have required a complete rewrite

Shortly after the publication of his essay in the LRB the evidential hearings began at the Public Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster. Almost immediately damning opening statements were published from fire safety experts commissioned to investigate the causes of the fire. They included descriptions of serious fire safety breaches that included more than 100 non-compliant fire doors, a fire fighting lift that didn’t work, a ‘stay put’ policy that totally failed and thick black smoke that prevented firefighters from using lobbies as a bridgehead or search base and would have prevented residents from escaping to safety. In what became a litany of serious flaws, the inquiry heard how dry risers intended to channel pressurised water for fire fighting to the upper floors of the building (where most people had died) failed to work properly and a system for extracting smoke from lobby areas on each floor did not work either and did not meet building regulations.

Fire safety expert Dr Barbara Lane concluded there was ‘a culture of non-compliance’ at the tower. She was equally damning about the cladding that was fitted as part of the refurbishment, which she said was “non-compliant with the functional requirement of the building regulations”.

“I have found no evidence yet” she said, “that any member of the design team or the construction ascertained the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding 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 [tenant management organisation] risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system, nor have I found evidence that the LFB risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jun/04/expert-lists-litany-of-serious-safety-breaches-at-grenfell-tower

https://amp.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jun/14/grenfell-emergency-chiefs-speak-out-about-chaotic-response?__twitter_impression=true

Despite the abundance of evidence now available that contradicts the entire tenor of O’Hagan’s essay it is still featured prominently on the LRB website, a ‘dodgy dossier’ in which he uses all manner of cheap tricks and cheap shots to undermine and delegitimise the understandably cynical comments of the many local residents he interviewed. In this work of fiction that masquerades as fact O’Hagan includes the following opinion;

“The firefighting operation at Grenfell was a huge and dramatic failure, though nobody wanted to say so. The national government’s role was cynical and opportunistic from the start, though everyone missed this in the rush to name local culprits. And journalism, hour by hour and day by day, showed by its feasting on half-baked items that it had lost the power to treat reality fairly. You saw it everywhere. Channel 4 News, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, Sky News, the New York Times: from the middle of that night, they began to turn the fire into the story they wanted it to be. Reality wasn’t good enough, the tragedy wasn’t bad enough, it had to be augmented, it had to be blown up, facts couldn’t be gleaned quickly enough, and stories went without investigation, research, tact or even checking. In a world of perpetual commentary in which everyone and anyone is allowed their own facts, accusation stands as evidence.”

A little further on he continues;

“I suspect that in North Kensington there is a deeply founded suspicion, among a small vocal group – a group that had lived with a Tory council for ever and were sick of it – that these posh individuals, the councillors at the top with all the decision-making power, with their patrician manners, their double-barrelled names, their affinity with private development and their expensive educations, were sitting ducks.”

Following the emergence of the expert witness statements quoted above O’Hagan’s deeply flawed essay, should have been retracted by the LRB and a full and sincere apology printed prominently in its place for the benefit of all those impacted by the Grenfell Tower disaster who had been so offended by the O’Hagan essay. So far this hasn’t happened.

IT SHOULD HAPPEN NOW!

Having seen at least one other complaint from one of O’Hagan’s interviewees and read scathing critiques of the O’Hagan essay in other publications I would further suggest that, if the LRB values its literary reputation, it should seriously consider severing all future ties with him. As for the man himself, he may have won several awards for his writing, but the majority were for works of fiction. He should stick with fiction in future and should resist any inclination he might have to try his hand again at writing what he would falsely describe as non-fiction documentary or social commentary.

THE WRITING OF FAIR, BALANCED AND UNPREJUDICED SOCIAL COMMENTARY IS CLEARLY BEYOND HIS NATURE AND ABILITY!

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JUSTICE4GRENFELL – SOLIDARITY MARCH

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GRENFELL ANNIVERSARY – RIDE FOR GRENFELL

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