This will almost certainly be the last post I, or anyone else, will publish on this blog. Contrary to usual practice it will be written in the first person singular rather than the collective ‘we’ that has previously been normal practice. This is because, although I continued to write in the collective ‘we’ after the night of the Grenfell fire, I was working alone and it was I alone who produced all subsequent posts. I now believe that it is way past time that I took ownership of the work that I alone have produced on this blog during the last couple of years.
I have been struggling with and avoiding this moment, and this task, for some months, certainly since last October when it became clear to me that I was all used up and burnt out. I no longer had the contacts I needed to remain relevant and properly informed about events in the Grenfell community and had become too ill and too exhausted, both physically and emotionally, to continue. I no longer have the heart to continue this work but it is, nonetheless, a painful and heartwrenching moment for me which I had hoped to avoid even when it had become clear to me that I could no longer continue.
In 1983 a gas explosion at my home left me for several weeks in an intensive care burns unit with 50% burns. I was transfused with about one and a half litres of plasma, which saved my life, but in 2002 I was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis c infection, which I believe I contracted from those lifesaving transfusions. For several years following my hospitalisation I experienced PTSD in the form of an intense phobia to the harsh light and heat of the sun. Hot summers were hell for me. In 2012 I was further diagnosed with cirrhosis. I had refused treatment for my hepatitis because the only treatment available at the time was lengthy and difficult (a full year). It was based on a combination of very toxic drugs with nasty side effects and a very poor success rate. Around the time of my diagnosis I also began to experience M.E. type symptoms which gradully worsened over time.
I decided to leave Verity Close in 2013. My constant exhaustion, exercise and stress intolerance, aching muscles and unrefreshing and disordered sleep pattern had taken a heavy toll on me and I now found the constant dust, noise, diesel fumes and other disturbances from the academy and leisure centre construction intolerable, so I abandoned my tenancy and moved to Ireland. However, from 2013 onward I continued to work on the GAG blog in partnership with Ed Daffarn.
About two years ago my hepatitis was successfully treated in Dublin with a new drug regimen and the virus was eradicated, but unfortunately I experienced no improvement in my quality of life which has continued to deteriorate.
I had lived within a stone’s throw of Grenfell Tower for many years and knew every nook and cranny of it like the back of my hand. On the night of the fire I watched on my television screen as it was consumed in an inferno. It was a horrendous and deeply shocking experience and it was immediately obvious to me, from the intensity of the fire and the speed with which the tower was engulfed, that the death toll would be very high.
At about 5am I published a very short blog (GRENFELL TOWER FIRE) which included a list of links to previous blogs we had posted in our repeated but vain attempts to challenge and alert RBKC to the complacency, negligence and incompetence of both the Council and the KCTMO concerning the delivery of essential services to Lancaster West and other council housing estates, emphasising particularly the neglect of fire safety on those estates.
Before the fire the Grenfell Action Group blog had attracted a weekly readership of about 200. On the day of the fire, however, it went viral receiving nearly three million views during the first 24 hours. The Grenfell fire was, of course, big news worldwide. I realised from the unprecedented level of interest that it was vital to continue blogging regularly and to concentrate on publishing any evidence that emerged, or that could be uncovered, concerning the causes of the fire and the circumstances surrounding it.
Unfortunately I had lost my main ally, co-founder and co-author Ed Daffarn, who had lived in Grenfell Tower. Ed was physically uninjured in the fire but had lost his home and narrowly escaped death on that terrible night. He told me that he would be unable to contribute to the blog for a significant period, and I fully accepted that, but I also fully expected him to return when he felt able. Meanwhile the viewing numbers for the blog remained high throughout the summer and only gradually declined as the media circus gradually began to move on. In October 2017 the readership was still 10,000 for the month and held steady throughout 2018 at around 4000 views per month.
Ed never returned. After several months I began efforts to initiate a discussion with him about when he might be ready to return, but he rebuffed me each time I raised the subject claiming that he was still too traumatised to even discuss his return. Eventually, in November 2017, I had become so frustrated that I decided to insist on having that discussion, but when I pressed him on it he lost his temper and hung up the phone on me. That same night I discovered that he was still active in the Save Wornington College campaign and was a moderator of their facebook group. Later I discovered more from press coverage and from the entry below on a public information website called Nesta:
“Grenfell United is made up exclusively of bereaved family members and survivors of the fire. The group represents 80 per cent of the tower survivors and approximately 80 per cent of bereaved families. The organisation was formed a mere two weeks after the fire during a meeting at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. Ex-Grenfell resident, and Vice Chair of Grenfell United Ed Daffarn, said the initial aim was to offer an authentic voice to the survivors and bereaved and to give each other the emotional support needed in the immediate aftermath of such trauma.”
I also discovered that the exclusive and secretive Grenfell United have enjoyed privileged access to Prime Minister Theresa May and other members of her Cabinet and that an early meeting with Mrs May had run for two hours. (Guardian Jan 2018).
It finally dawned on me that Ed had been lying repeatedly to me for several months, by claiming that he was still too fragile to contribute, or even discuss contributing, to the GAG blog. The truth appears to be that he had ulterior motives and had made a deliberate choice to abandon the GAG blog – and me with it – because it suited his ambitions to do so. He was, of course, a founder member and pivotal figure in Grenfell United, as he had previously been in The Grenfell Action Group, but he lacked the common decency to inform me that he had chosen, immediately after the fire, to abandon GAG in favour of GU. It is noteworthy that Grenfell United have never, to the best of my knowledge, recognised or acknowledged the continuing existence of the GAG blog after the fire or the considerable body of work I produced over the last couple of years as the sole remaining author and editor of the blog. I believe that Ed could easily have used his influence as a prominent member of Grenfell United to encourage such recognition but he appears to have chosen not to do so. I can only speculate as to the reasons for his behaviour.
He continues to enjoy significant celebrity as the ‘face’ of the pre-Grenfell GAG blog and as the man who allegedly ‘predicted the Grenfell fire’. He has shamelessly and deliberately exploited that misbegotten fame and celebrity to enhance his personal reputation and that of Grenfell United, invariably at the expense of The Grenfell Action Group. This enabled him to secure a place representing Grenfell United on the Shelter Housing Commission.
There is more of a stink to all this but the rest has already been covered, more or less, in a previous GAG post (22nd October – the one about BACKSTABBERS). A re-reading of that blog, in conjunction with what I have revealed here about the breakdown of my relationship with Ed should make it clear what a ‘piece of work’ the capricious Mr Daffarn is – a quality he clearly shares with the more powerful of his new confederates at Grenfell United and with the ruthless and unprincipled Shamik Dutta of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.
It should be clear from the preceding narrative that my decision to end this blog was complicated, involving much more than just the physical illness from which I am suffering. The psychological factors to which I have also alluded weigh very heavily on me and I find I no longer have the heart to continuue this work regardless of the state of my health.
So what does the future hold for the long suffering residents of Lancaster West, many of whom have been impacted, in varying degrees, by the Grenfell disaster? Stage One of the Inquiry ran for about sixteen tedious months following which it has been in recess since last December. In my view the hearings were far too often devoted to lengthy hostile interrogations of the many firefighters who had attended the fire and later to similarly hostile interrogation of the senior LFB officers who were in command on the night. I do not consider this to have been fair to the individuals concerned, who had acted with great courage on the night in appalling conditions and against overwhelming odds. Nor do I consider it to have been an appropriate use of the Inquiry’s time and process.
According to the latest information, posted on the Inquiry website on 17th April, Phase Two hearings are not scheduled to begin until January 2020. The Inquiry team has meanwhile published a long provisional list of issues to be examined in Stage Two but has not included a timetable or schedule of hearings to accompany this. The list can be downloaded from the following link: Phase 2 List of Issues 4 JUNE [FINAL] How much longer the Inquiry will continue and how long we will have to wait for a final report is anybody’s guess. As for me, I have been cynical about this process almost from its inception and have no great expectation of a positive or satisfactory outcome from this long drawn out process which seems designed to frustrate and exhaust rather than to inform those seeking justice.
Instead I have pinned my hopes on the Metropolitan Police, who began a massive criminal investigation in the summer of 2017. Unfortunately they appear to be waiting for the Inquiry to finish before proceeding, so I would surmise that they are unlikely to take any decisive action before, I would guess, sometime in 2022 (?). However, there is one possible silver lining to this seemingly interminable cloud of gloom. According to the Guardian (18 July 2018) detectives investigating the fire have interviewd several individuals under caution and are actively considering gross negligence manslaughter charges as well as corporate manslaughter and breaches of the Health and Safety Act. The main, and possibly only, positive in this is that charges of gross negligence manslaughter would be brought against individuals who, on conviction, could be punished by terms of imprisonment. In my opinion only this outcome could provide the justice that so many are seeking.
Finally, I am grateful to the many who have kept faith with this blog over the last couple of years and who continue to visit regularly in hopes, I assume, of finding new content. That new content has, all too often, failed to appear. I owe you all my apologies for that. I owe apologies also to those with whom I have recently collaborated, particularly Ruth London and her colleagues at Fuel Poverty Action. It was always my intention to continue to support the FPA Safe Cladding and Insulation (SCIN) initiative and I regret that I was unable to meet that challenge.