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 I 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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