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Our last blog was a repost of a statement issued by Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, in anticipation of a programme Channel 4 Dispatches were preparing to broadcast on Monday 18th February. Our repost attracted a lot of attention among our readers and garnered more than a thousand views during the following week.

We watched the programme (several times) in which Dispatches claimed to have uncovered new evidence suggesting that systemic failures in the London Fire Brigade had led to many people dying who could have survived. We saw no new evidence supporting this claim and we regard it as merely the latest in a long list of attempts to scapegoat the LFB with regard to the horrific events of June 2017 in which 72 of our friends, neighbours and loved ones died in an inferno from which, for far too many, there was no escape.

The programme was a pastiche of short clips composed of verbal evidence given on camera to the Grenfell Inquiry by LFB officers, who invariably spent long hours in the witness box facing a barrage of difficult, if not hostile, interrogation at the hands of counsel to the Inquiry. These clips were intercut with excerpts from emotive interviews with witnesses or survivors of the events of that night, generally expressing their anger, frustration and bewilderment at the failure of the LFB to order an early mass evacuation of the tower.

The Dispatches programme ran for a mere half hour – not counting the mandatory commercial break in the middle – apparently in an ill-conceived attempt to answer in some meaningful way one of the most vexed and complex questions addressed in stage one of the Public Inquiry – whether the London Fire Brigade suffered a ‘systemic failure’ on the night of the Grenfell fire. In our view there is no question that there was a systemic failure, but we do not agree that the LFB or its officers should be held culpable for this.

In our view the Grenfell refurbishment that preceded the fire and created the conditions that led to it, is the true locus of a massive systemic failure that can be identified clearly at all levels of the project, from the planning to the financing to the design and to many, if not all, of the building contractors and numerous sub-contracters who succeeded, through a combination of incompetence and criminal negligence in turning a highrise block that had stood the test of time, having been safe to live in for many years, into a firetrap that was consumed in the worst inferno in living memory within months of its refurbishment.

We are not prepared to accept at this point the Dispatches claim that the London Fire Brigade suffered a systenic failure on the night of the Grenfell Fire. The failure of the LFB  to cope with the situation that confronted them on that fateful night was preceded and precipitated by the complete failure of the building’s fire protection systems. In effect it was the failure of the building that caused the extremely high mortality and the Dispatches criticisms of the LFB are an unjustified attempt to scapegoat them for the loss of life and for the additional lives that the Dispatches team claims could have been saved had the LFB not failed in their duty on that night

The Grenfell fire was unprecedented in its ferocity and the speed with which it engulfed the entire tower and we know that the LFB were ill-equipped and insufficiently trained, due to major budget cuts, year on year, by central government that had significantly degraded their ability to cope under normal conditions, let alone the unprecedentedly extreme conditions they faced on that night. This was further complicated by the fact that the fire crews had not been trained in the logistics or hazards involved in the evacuation of a densely occupied multi-storey residential block that was rapidly becoming consumed in by far the worst highrise fire they had ever encountered.

In any case any claim of systemic failure by the LFB  hangs entirely on the failure, between approximately 1am and 2.30am, of senior LFB officers to order the abandonment of the ‘stay put’ policy in favour of a strategy of search and rescue and self evacuation wherever possible. This matter has been the subject of intense scrutiny by the Public Inquiry. No conclusions have yet emerged from that source so we must await publication of the Inquiry’s findings. Meanwhile we can only speculate about the alleged failures of the LFB as we don’t yet have the evidence necessary to make properly informed judgements.

In fact the decision to abandon the ‘stay put’ policy, opting instead for mass evacuation, was by no means as simple or straightforward for those responsible as the LFB’s critics woud have us believe. It carried with it a host of additional risks and dangers that could not be predicted or quantified and might themselves have led to disastrous consequences. Nor must we forget that this whole crisis had unfolded within a very short timescale, between 1am approximately, when the first fire crews arrived on scene, and 2.30am approximately when the decision to abandon the ‘stay put’ policy was finally taken.

We may reasonably assume that it would have been considered premature to make such a drastic decision during that first hour, but according to the evidence submitted to the Inquiry by expert witness Dr Barbara Lane, the ‘stay put’ strategy had effectively failed by 1.26am. The ‘defend in place’ firefighting strategy upon which it relied had also failed and the LFB had no effective means of attacking the fierce external fire which was the only firefighting strategy that was then left to them.

We also know that, by this time, much of the stairwell and many of the lobbies were smoke logged. Who could have predicted the rapidity or ferocity with which this sequence of events would occur? Nor is it any wonder that the senior officers charged with making the crucial life and death decisions, who did not have the benefit of the forensic evidence now available to Dr Lane and other experts, did not or could not, react with the speed and hindsight that the Dispatches team would clearly now expect and demand of them.

The extended interview with Marcio Gomes, broadcast near the end of the programme is, in our view, a crucially important part of the whole Dispatches programme. It clearly reveals the terrible dilemma Marcio and his family were confronted with, particularly when attempting to self evacuate, which they had tried on several occasions, only to be driven back by the thick black toxic smoke that confronted them every time they tried.

Strangely, the interview with Marcio is immediately preceded by a voiceover that is, in our view, the most reckless, misleading and preposterously flawed statement that the Dispatches team used as part of the foundation for their vendetta against the LFB:

” The Inquiry has heard that the whole tower could have been evacuated in seven minutes”.

Having arrived at this point of the narrative I have struggled to construct, I realise that there is no need for further argument from me. I already have in my possession a lengthy extract from the statement submitted by Dr Lane at the conclusion of phase one of the Inquiry. It describes in excruciating detail and in a far more articulate form than I could ever attempt, the conditions that existed in Grenfell Tower on that fateful night and that confronted all those inside the tower during that crucial hour when the building was lost. I will finish this blog by quoting the words of Dr Lane directly from her statement.

(CAUTION: Those still struggling to cope with the events of that night may find parts of what follows extremely painful reading.)

2.19.1 The conditions in the lobbies created intense fear amongst the residents which is likely to have affected the ability of many of them to leave their flat and descend the stair. As the fire progressed, and conditions worsened in the lobbies, but also directly on the external wall of their own flat, and adjacent flats, it was even more difficult to overcome this fear, even when they were eventually instructed to do so.

2.19.2 The evidence from the residents has emphasised this stark dilemma for them all too clearly.

2.19.3 The residents were left in conditions that appeared life threatening to them. So much so that even with a flame front entering their home or neighbour’s home, entering the staircase was believed to be a fatal option. In some cases, this belief appears to have seriously impacted their decision making process with respect to self-evacuation. It is my opinion that they required very specific advice tailored to overcome their fear of the lobby conditions, and to be informed, for example, that there was a concerted effort to meet and rescue people in the stairs.

2.19.4 Their experiences created a belief that entering the staircase was a fatal option, specifically:

2.19.5 For some residents they had already experienced conditions in the stairs and considered them to be life threatening and so turned back

2.19.6 For other residents, they had entered the stairs or approached the stairs, and heard instructions not to go down the stairs at all, and again had turned back.

2.19.7 Many residents had been told it was safer not to self-evacuate for up to an hour, and the change seemed to overwhelm those that ultimately stayed in place.

2.19.8 There were substantial signals of danger to residents, and to firefighters. This included large quantities of thick smoke impacting sight and breathing immediately outside flat entrance doors, intense heat outside flat entrance doors, heat and smoke within the stair itself; rapidly advancing fire and smoke entering flats from the external wall, and ultimately horrific and rapidly increasing numbers of fires for the residents to attempt to escape away from within their own flats.

2.19.9 It is my opinion that the conditions created difficult, and at times life threatening conditions, for the LFB. The conditions greatly restricted their ability to implement their standard processes and procedures, regarding firefighting, once the fire had spread beyond Flat 16.

2.19.10 The LFB appear to have stopped attempting to fight the multiple and ever increasing flat fires and focused on attempting rescue activities.

2.19.11 The conditions caused the requirement for a scale of rescue that overwhelmed the LFB’s standard rescue processes. The details of this are being addressed by other experts to the Inquiry.

2.19.12 Because of the external wall fire, a complex building fire occurred, and so the single escape stairs and its lobbies became the single most important life safety feature. As I explain further in later sections, I have considerable concern as to the standards of fire safety provision in the lobbies and the stair, whilst acknowledging the extreme and primary hazard the external wall presented.

2.19.13 The failure of this life safety feature meant that after 01:40, and particularly after 02:00, worsening conditions limited the ability for rescue to occur, and created more and more barriers, or perceived barriers, for residents to overcome in order to safely self-evacuate. Ultimately, 71 persons were not able to do so.

2.19.14 The timing of this decision is relevant to my work because the active and passive fire protection measures are required to provide a safe working environment for the fire and rescue services. However, their failure cannot be considered in isolation, because the LFB continued to invest in rescue after the building safety condition failed.

2.19.15 I consider the Stay Put strategy required from the Building condition, to have effectively failed by 01 :26; the Defend in Place fire fighting upon which it relies had also failed – there was no ability to extinguish the external fire early as became required.

2.19.16 Therefore, there was a need for the LFB to recognise this building failure by 01:26, when the fire had spread up to Level 23 from Level 4, and to recognise the impact this building failure was having, and would continue to have, on standard fire fighting and rescue processes and procedures.

2.19.17 There was a particular need to recognise this failure by the time the major incident was declared at 02:06, in order to improve the means available to residents to self-evacuate, as this had now become the most likely method to mitigate the risk to their lives.

2.19.18 There is a need to recognise now, if interventions could have been made before 02:06, and then before 02:35, in order to prevent such a tragedy happening in the future.

2.19.19 An important topic also for investigation is residents who could not evacuate without assistance (residents who could not walk down stairs). I will incorporate the final numbers of persons requiring assistance when that evidence is finalised. There was no active facility available to them for self evacuation (this is dealt with in detail in Section 15, 16 and 18 of my report”


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FBU Responds to upcoming Channel 4 Grenfell Dispatches programme

On Monday 18 February, Channel 4 Dispatches will air a programme titled;

“Grenfell: Did the Fire Brigade Fail?”

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has not yet seen the programme, but understands that it will be highly critical of the London Fire Brigade’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

Ahead of the programme’s broadcast, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“Firefighters risked their lives that night to save others, and were placed in an utterly impossible situation because of the failure of the building. Before any firefighter arrived, before any 999 calls were made, the building was a potential death trap. The building was wrapped in flammable cladding which caused the fire to spread at an unprecedented, and rapid rate.

“We have longstanding criticisms of fire and rescue policy in the UK, and have in the past made many criticisms of individual fire and rescue services, including the London Fire Brigade. The FBU has made urgent recommendations for a review of the ‘stay put’ policy, but we are clear that this is a national matter which government should initiate. The government has been too slow to respond, both in terms of unsafe building materials and reviewing national fire and rescue policy.”

https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2019/02/15/fbu-responds-upcoming-channel-4-dispatches grenfell?fbclid=IwAR0_0V3pk9IIszw8YaAgKaSe1jiNaoOllxFmoDPlcUDzC7TRhhsodsyKwcM

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Fuel Poverty Action – An Open Letter to the Secretary of State

Sixteen months after the Grenfell fire, on Wednesday 17 October, 50 people stood together in the the rain, outside of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to deliver an Open Letter that demanded safe and warm tower block homes. The demonstration was organised by Fuel Poverty Action. Many of those who came, spoke out.

Speakers included residents living with Grenfell-style cladding, people from the Grenfell community, and supporters. The speeches covered a wide range of issues, including the plight of children at Grenfell, the needs of disabled people in high rise blocks, and the threat of climate change and associated extreme cold weather to residents whose insulation has been removed. The common thread of safe and warm homes tied it all together, and many, including the Fire Brigades Union, Unite Housing Workers and other major trade union bodies, pledged their support to the campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now (SCIN). This support lays bare the outrage felt because thousands are still living in tinderbox homes or homes that are freezing, mould-ridden and expensive to heat when winter comes.

When the speeches were through, the letter was unrolled. Now standing at nearly 150 signatories, which includes 28 MPs from four major political parties, 5 national trade unions, 20 other union bodies and branches including the National Union of Students (NUS), 5 councillors, 44 housing and Grenfell-related groups, 16 poverty and discrimination organisations, 15 environmental and anti-fracking groups and many others, the letter carried real weight. Three people living with Grenfell-style cladding and a member of FPA walked into the MHCLG to hand-deliver the letter. The group spoke with a civil servant from the department, who took down details of specific affected towers, listened to the grievances of the residents and promised that the letter would arrive on Secretary of State James Brokenshire’s desk that day. FPA are awaiting the promised swift response.

Following delivery of the letter the demonstrators marched to the House of Commons and held a two hour long meeting, including Emma Dent Coad, the Grenfell MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Alison Stoecker, secretary to John McDonnell MP. Residents and MPs declared their commitment to the campaign and discussed how to – together – force action to ensure that residents are protected both from fire and from cold.

The last event of the Day of Action – 17th October – was a crowded tenants and residents meeting called by Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations. Held to highlight the lack of accountability in councils and the way tenants organisations are increasingly disempowered, beaten down, and deprived of resources when they try to campaign for better housing conditions, the event echoed some of the demands of the Open Letter. As the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell fire acknowledged, it is residents who hold the key to housing safety.

Whilst FPA and SCIN campaign supporters demonstrated in London, Right to Energy Coalition held a solidarity action outside of the British embassy in Brussels. Marking this as a transnational Day of Action and just one of many steps to achieve safe and warm tower block homes for all.

The Letter (with signatories) is reproduced below:

The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
17th October 2018

Dear Secretary of State,

We were very glad to hear of the government’s intention to fully fund replacement of flammable cladding on social housing tower blocks. The announcement (16 May) brought hope to many homes. However, the commitments made so far are not nearly enough.

The government’s history on this issue is disgraceful.

Eleven months after the Grenfell fire, when this announcement was made, only 7 out of over 300 tower blocks had been re-clad. On a third of the 158 social housing blocks deemed to be in danger, work had not even started. People who were initially told they could move out of dangerous buildings have been denied the opportunity to do so. On private blocks, leaseholders have been told to fund the works themselves – which they cannot afford – or continue to live in a fire-trap. Leaseholders in these blocks often have trouble meeting even their normal heating bills, and many go cold each winter. Nothing had been done, or offered, for people in danger in flammable office blocks, hotels, or other workplaces, or in schools or hospitals.

Then, after months of refusing urgent requests from local authorities, the government promised to fully fund re-cladding costs for social housing, estimated at £400 million, to be taken from housing budgets. Yet BBC research in December 2017 found that the cost of planned post-Grenfell fire safety measures for councils and housing associations alone had already reached at least £600m, a figure said to be likely to be a considerable underestimate. Safety from fire requires both non-combustible exteriors and safe windows, doors, compartmentalisation, and sprinklers. Shelter cites one social landlord that originally estimated £2 million to replace cladding but found it cost £18 million in the end. Meanwhile MHCLG handed back £817 million to the Treasury in unspent cash, money also originally earmarked for housing.

The government must now fulfill its promise of June 2017: “We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.” Costs must be met in full, and without delay.

Moreover, the health and safety of residents must not be sacrificed during the process that the government now promises to fund.

Cold, like fire, kills. Even in a normal year, thousands die each year when they cannot heat their homes. Residents in many blocks already going through re-cladding know that when cladding is off in the winter, uninsulated flats are places of constant cold, condensation, damp and mould, and astronomical bills. Works can go on for months, with families constantly ill. Some are scheduled for nearly two years.

It is difficult for residents to legally enforce their human rights to decent housing. Nevertheless, landlords have a duty of care to the residents of their properties. The government must ensure that this duty is fulfilled, and for social housing must provide the necessary funds.

On 16 May the Prime Minister accepted that paying for re-cladding works “must not undermine” housing providers’ “ability to do important maintenance and repair work”. Similarly, paying for residents to keep safe and warm until the works are completed must not undermine local budgets — either housing budgets, or already devastated budgets for health and social care.

In the light of the appalling history of residents not being listened to, of promises being broken, and work necessary for health and/or safety being delayed, done badly, or not done at all, we believe it is essential to establish some principles for how the new funding will be implemented in practice.

For social housing, the government must “fully fund” replacement of all flammable cladding and insulation, and other necessary fire safety measures, regardless of the £400 million estimated total. No housing provider must be turned away. Both cladding and insulation components must be non-combustible.

For private housing, central government must cover the initial costs, and then seek to recover costs from landlords, developers and contractors. Student residences must also be covered.

All residents should be guaranteed that they will not pay more for using extra energy over the winter. Payments for extra costs should be paid direct to residents, and should be made in time to cover the bills or prepayment meter costs when needed.
Where cladding/insulation has been removed landlords are still responsible for protecting residents from cold, damp and mould, and other hazards.

Residents forced to live temporarily in blocks which still have flammable cladding should be protected, without cost to themselves, by fire wardens, alarms, and sprinklers. Where it is unsafe for people to remain in their homes, alternative local housing should be offered.
Until cladding and insulation are completely restored, residents should be offered a package of special measures. These measures should include, as required: approved damp and mould treatment; dehumidifiers; safe space heaters; draught-proofing; immediate repairs to faulty or inadequate boilers, heating controls, windows, and vents; enhanced out-of-hours services; hot meals for those who need them; warm and comfortable places to go in the daytime; and facilities to exercise (e.g. free gym/pool use). Again, where homes cannot be made fit for habitation, alternative local housing should be offered.

Consultation must ensure that residents are fully informed about options and cladding is replaced in accordance with their wishes. Residents must be kept informed about progress and timetables. Residents Associations must be supported and must have the opportunity to interrogate any delays or shortfalls and receive answers.

All new developments, and refurbishments, must be effectively monitored and inspected by authorities that are independent, and legally accountable. New and refurbished homes should be safe and well-insulated in practice, not just in theory.

Immediate safe, good, permanent housing must be offered in the area of their choice for Grenfell survivors; no deportations of affected individuals; criminal charges against those responsible for the fire.

To prevent such disasters in the future there must be a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to, and responsibility and accountability must rest with clearly identifiable senior individuals. These principles (recommended in the Hackitt Review), must apply to insulation from cold as well as fire safety.
The standards and practices that led to the Grenfell fire must not go on to cost more lives.

Yours sincerely,

Syed Ahmed, Director, Energy for London
Judith Amanthis, Housing Association Residents Action (HARA)
Cathy Augustine, Women’s Officer, Wantage & Didcot Constituency Labour Party
Molly Ayton, Genesis Residents Association
Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)
Ben Beach, Cities Inquiry Group
Daniel Benjamin, Tenant, Salix Homes
Hannah Berry, Co-ordinator, Greater Manchester Housing Action
Sian Berry AM, London Assembly Member, Camden Councillor and co-leader of the Green Party
Miriam Binder, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) Brighton
Paul Blomfield MP, Sheffield Central
Brenda Boardman, Emeritus Fellow with Lower Carbon Futures Programme, University of Oxford
Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union (NEU)
Tom Brake MP, Carshalton and Wallington
Peter Brown, NV Buildings Salford Quays Management Limited
John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON
Linda Burnip, Bob Ellard, Paula Peters, Steering Group members, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
Ruth Cadbury MP, Brentford & Isleworth
Amy Cameron, Director, 10:10 Climate Action
Jumbo Chan, Councillor, Brent
Alison Clarke, Councillor, Liverpool Knotty Ash
Chris Claridge, Chair, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO)
Frances Clarke, Founder, Tower Blocks UK
Sarah Cleo, Architect, Concrete Action
Ellen Clifford, Inclusion London
Vernon Coaker MP, Gedling
David Collins, Former Chairman of Grenfell Tower Residents’ Compact
Rosie Cooper MP, West Lancashire
Vickie Cooper, Lecturer, The Open University
Kieran Crowe, Secretary, Barnet Trades Union Council
Jon Cruddas MP, Dagenham and Rainham
Alex Cunningham MP, Stockton North
Jim Cunningham MP, Coventry South
Ed Davey MP, Kingston & Surbiton
Durga Davis, South East London Sisters Uncut
Martyn Day MP, Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Michael Deas, London Renters Union
Aysen Dennis, Chair , Wendover Community Tenants and Residents Association; and Fight4theAylesbury
Emma Dent Coad MP, Kensington
Fleur Disney, Community Energy London
Divest London, Campaign, Divest London
Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, Oxford, Personal Capacity
David Drew MP, Stroud
Jack Dromey MP, Birmingham & Erdington
Dr Rowland Dye, Scientist
Dame Louise Ellman MP, Liverpool Riverside
Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt MSc, Coordinator, John Mordaunt Trust. Usersvoice.org
Almuth Ernsting, Co-Director, Biofuelwatch
Craig Farlow, UNITE the Union NEYH (North East, Yorkshire and Humberside)
David Forman, Secretary, Harlow Trades Union Council
Ishmael Francis-Murray, Former Grenfell resident and Film Maker, “Failed by the State”
Mick Gilgunn, Treasurer, Construction Safety Campaign
Roger Godsiff MP, Birmingham Hall Green
John Grayson, Co-chair, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)
Danielle Gregory, Co-founder, Ledbury Action Group
Sally Grey, Treasurer, Bevin Court Tenants and Residents Association
Scarlet Hall, Coal Action Network
Steven Hall, President, Greater Manchester Association of Trades Councils
Darren Hartley, Chief Executive, TAROE Trust
Revd David Haslam MBE, Methodist Minister
Carol Hayton, Treasurer, Defend Council Housing
Sam Hayward and Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action
Wera Hobhouse MP, Bath
Dr Stuart Hodkinson, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Leeds
Ian Hodson, National President, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU)
Zita Holbourne, National Chair, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK
Rachel Hopkins, Councillor, Luton
George Howarth MP, Knowsley
Emma Hughes, Switched On London
Lorraine Inglis, Frack Off London
Claire James, Campaign Against Climate Change
Barry Johnson, Branch Secretary, UNITE NE/406/29
Eva Crossan Jory and Zamzam Ibrahim, Vice Presidents of Welfare, and Society and Citizenship, National Union of Students (NUS)
Paul Kershaw, Chair, London Housing Workers Branch, UNITE the Union
Suzy Killip, Chair, Pembroke Park Residents Association
David King, Co-chair, Peabody Family Voice
Ted Knight, Executive member Croydon TUC; Regional Committee member UNITE Norman Lamb MP, North Norfolk
Adam Lambert, Regional Officer, UNITE the Union
Graeme Langton, Chair, Malus Court Tenants and Residents Association, Salford
Frances Leader, Anti Fracking International
Ellen Lebethe, Chair, Lambeth Pensioners Action Group
Jane Lee, Branch Officer, Greater Manchester Mental Health Branch, UNISON
Sampson Low, Head of Policy, UNISON
Rachel Loudain, Victoria Wharf Residents
Caroline Lucas MP, Brighton Pavilion
Hannan Majid, Co-Director, Rainbow Collective & Films For Food
Carl Makin, Secretary, Tenants Union UK
Fanny Malinen, Debt Resistance UK
Alec McFadden, Press officer, Salford TUC
Ian McIntyre, Branch Secretary, UNITEthe Union 0742M Branch (Runcorn)
Rob Miguel, National Health and Safety Advisor, UNITE the Union
Mr F Mohamed, Tenant, Chalcots Estate, London
Grahame Morris MP, Easington
Phil Murphy, Former Fire Safety Officer, Greater Manchester, Manchester Sustainable Communities
Tytus Murphy, Reclaim the Power London
Finnian Murtagh, Fossil Free London
Colin Nickless, Housing activist
Rev Paul Nicolson, Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty
Steven North, Branch Secretary, Salford City UNISON
Tony O’Brien, Chair , Bermondsey UNITE Construction Branch
Francis O’Connor, blog author/editor, Grenfell Action Group
Saskia O’Hara, Focus E15 Campaign
Uzoamaka Okafor, Chair, Myatts Field North Residents Association and PFI Monitoring Board (MFN-RAMB)
Elizabeth Okpo, Spruce Court Action Group (Salford)
Danielle Paffard, UK Campaigner, 350.org
Robert Palgrave, Treasurer, Hereford Green Party
Steve Parry, Chair, Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition
Mick Patrick, Chair, Harlow Defend Council Housing
Jacky Peacock, CEO, Advice4Renters
Nadine Pfrang, Apartment Owner, Green Quarter, Manchester
Sue Plain, Vice-Chair UNISON National Service Group Executive (personal capacity)
Faisal Rashid MP, Warrington South
Fran Reddington, Leaseholder, Green Quarter, Manchester
Jonathan Reynolds MP, Stalybridge and Hyde
Beverley Reynolds-Logue, Representative, Green Quarter Residents, Manchester
Dereck Roberts, UNITE Retired Members Swansea Area Branch Equalities Officer; Former Local Councillor
Tina Rothery, UK Nanas
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Brighton Kemptown
Rutiparna Saha, Leaseholder, building with type A3 ACM cladding in Bromley
Bridgit Sam-Bailey, Chair, Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum
Jacob Secker, Secretary, Broadwater Farm Residents’ Association
Anne Schuman, Secretary, Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum
Arthur Shaw, Treasurer, Bromley Trades Council
Jan Shortt, General Secretary, National Pensioners Convention
Tulip Siddiq MP, Hampstead and Kilburn
Anthony Simpson, Vice Chair, UNITE SIMA Wales Branch
Gee Sinha, Director, ReSpace Projects
Natasha Sivanandan, Equalities advisor, London
Diane Skidmore, Secretary, Tulse Hill New Community Group
Andy Slaughter MP, Hammersmith
Marilyn Smith, Executive Director, EnAct Energy Action Project
Paul Sng, Director, Velvet Joy Productions
Georgie Stephanou, Spoken word artist (Grenfell Britain), Potent Whisper
Jo Swinson MP, East Dunbartonshire
Franklin Thomas, Northumberland Park Decides
Steve Tombs, Professor of Criminology, The Open University
Steve Turner, Secretary, Chorley and District Trades Council
Anuj Vats, Citiscape resident
Matt Western MP, Warwick & Leamington
David Wilson, President, Lancashire Association of Trades Councils
Chris Williamson MP, Derby North
Gerard Woodhouse, Councillor, Liverpool
Tom Woolley, Architect
Matt Wrack, General Secretary, The Fire Brigades Union (FBU)

The authors of this letter invited signatures from organisations, MPs, and others with relevant positions of influence or expertise. These signatures are above. Also appended are the names of private individuals, who although this letter was not a petition, felt strongly on the issue and have added their names:

Charlotte Aitken, Global Administrator, ITF International Transport Workers’ Federation
Deniz Akdogan, Senior Section Assistant, ITF International Transport Workers’ Federation
Fraser Anderson, Unite Member
Andrea, Unite Member
Simon Baker, Campaigner
James Bartholomeusz
Peter Bell
Steve Bennett, Shop steward, Unite the Union
David Bettles, Facilities Manager, ITF
Peter Billington, Secretary, Lancashire Association of Trades Councils
Alyssa Bougie, Development Assistant, EnAct Energy Action Project
Danielle Butler, Researcher
Kat Calderon, Writer/Photographer
Louise Calton, Unite Member
Patrick J Casey, Labour Activist
Ester Cervero, Unite Member
Ana Coric, Social Media Coordinator, The ENERGY ACTION Project
E.D. Crum
Damian Donnelly
Elizabeth, Fuel Poverty Action member
Emmaluna, Independent Community Support Volunteer
Julia Emmerson
Jodi Evans
Mariëlle Feenstra, PhD researcher gender and energy poverty
Victor Figueroa
Claudia Firth
Fozia, Community activist
Emilie Francois
John H Grigg
Ameen Hadi, Treasurer, Salford City Unison
Ali Howes, Our Public Transport programme
William Jarrett, Unite activist, Unite NE/408/26
Astrid Gabel Jeary, Claims Handler, ITF
Patricia jockins, Unite Member
L Johns, Unite Member
Audrey King
Steve Kingsnorth, Mechanical Engineer – Steel Industry
Carole Lakomski
Bahir Laattoe, member of NEU and Minutes Secretary of Barnet TUC
Peter Lazenby, Unite Community member
Helen Le Fleming, Event Manager, Unite The Union
Steve Leggett
Chris Mason-Ryan, Trade Union Member and Delegate on the National Pensioners Convention
Denise Morgan, HR Manager, ITF
Michael Odriscoll
Christopher O’Connor, Shop Steward, UKDCA
Grace Omer-McWalter, Political Engagement Officer, Fire Brigades Union
Roger Paul, Unite Community Member
Stewart Pearson, Retired, County Council
Dave Postles, Unite Community member
Brian Rayner
Scott Reeve
Pam Remon
Susie Rundle, Admin, ITF
SANDRA, Citizen
Sean Sayer, ITF
Anne Schuman, Secretary, Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum
Anthony Simpson, CBM Tech
Sandra Smith
Kieran Stoneley, Union Activist, Unite the Union
Anita Sturdy, Concerned member of public
Gavin Sumpter, Systems Analyst
Andrew Sutherland, Tenant
Steve Tombs, Professor of Criminology
Evelin Tomson
Pilgrim Tucker, Community Organiser and Campaigner
Nichole Tugwell, Human being, mother, daughter, sister, teacher
Jimmy Tyson
Carmen Vazquez
Mr Derek Ware, Unite member
Andrew Wastling, Homeless Support Worker, Drug & Alcohol Abstinence Project
Dean Weston
Lynn Whittaker
Jane Williamson
Lillian Winter
Lisa Wormsley, Photographer, Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle
Neil Wynne, Electrical Manager
Steve Yandell, An individual citizen

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The Cladding Controversy – Back Stabbing And Dirty Tricks

The RIBA statement in the appendix to this blog is indirectly related to a convoluted train of events which has had profound repercussions for me and involved a deliberate process of victimisation which I bitterly resent.  Today’s blog will, therefore, seek to elucidate the main details and implications of what transpired. Some of the less important detail in the email exchanges to which I will refer has been left out in the interests of simplicity. If Bhatt Murphy Solicitors or Grenfell United have any problem with these omissions I would be more than happy to publish the email exchanges in full.

On the afternoon of Friday 5 October I received a telephone call from the solicitor, Shamik Dutta of Bhatt Murphy, who until recently had represented me in relation to the Grenfell Tower Fire and the Grenfell Inquiry. To my complete surpise he castigated me over a blog I had posted the previous day and demanded that I delete it or rewrite it in a manner that he found acceptable and considered consistent with a policy he had agreed with his other Grenfell clients, mostly, I have since discovered, members of Grenfell United. The blog in question was:


When I published this blog I had no knowledge of the policy which Shamik Dutta has since alleged that I breached, having been excluded from all discussions that took place with his other Grenfell clients (ie Grenfell United), all of whom enjoy Core Participant status in the Grenfell Inquiry. I have repeatedly been denied CP status at the Inquiry despite three applications, (an initial application followed by two subsequent appeals lodged by my legal team).

During the above mentioned ill-tempered telephone exchange Shamik Dutta made it clear to me that unless I deleted the blog in question, or radically altered the content, he would withdraw the legal representation that Bhatt Murphy had hitherto provided to me (although not always to my satisfaction). In effect he was threatening me with the most severe consequences within his power unless I agreed to his demands. Having thought this over I ultimately refused to capitulate. At the end of this exchange he said that he would consider the matter further over the weekend and would inform me of his final decision on the following Monday. I believed that this final decision would almost certainly depend on whatever actions I took or compromises I agreed to in the meantime.

Shortly after the end of this telephone exchange I received a lengthy email from Mr Dutta explaining the nature and rationale of the policy that Bhatt Murphy had agreed with their ‘other’ clients. This concerned the minimum future standard of combustibility they would be seeking from government for external cladding systems on high-rise buildings in the UK. He also revealed that this policy had been agreed in tandem with what he called the G4 group of legal firms. I presumed this G4 to be composed of other legal firms acting on behalf of the majority of the bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell fire, but not the wider Lancaster West community. He claimed both my blog and the Dear Kitty blog, on which it was closely based, had fundamentally breached the policy in question and accused me of a serious and deliberate breach of trust on this issue.

He made it clear that Bhatt Murphy, in tandem with other G4 members, had agreed with (or convinced) the majority of their clients to lobby against all materials that failed to meet the A2 standard of ‘limited combustibility’ and he accused me of explicitly supporting the stricter A1 standard that the FBU, and I later discovered, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) favoured and to which Bhatt Murphy strenuously objected. He described my blog as “depressingly inaccurate” and said it was “the collective view of the G4 legal team that the A1/A2 debate is a distraction” (and apparently an unwelcome complication of the pursuit by the G4 of their preferred A2 objective).

It seems to me that describing an opposing policy objective held by both the FBU and RIBA in such unduly dismissive terms does justice to neither body and disrespects both in the process. Furthermore, I believe that the Grenfell and other affected communities are entitled to be fully informed of both sides of this argument and allowed to debate the merits of both positions openly, to enable them to make an informed decision as to which standard is preferable. Restricting all discussion and decision making power to those with Core Participant status (ie only to former residents of Grenfell Tower) denies the right to participate in this process to all other Lancaster West residents and is fundamentally exclusive and anti-democratic.

Shamik Dutta also asserted (and I understood this statement as indicative of the threat he was making against me);

“…the mere fact of the Grenfell Action Group promoting a view which is contrary to our advice is detrimental to my other Grenfell clients’ interests”

However, the allegations he had made against me were fundamentally flawed in a number of respects. Firstly, the allegation that I had promoted the A1 standard in opposition to the A2 standard (agreed without my knowledge by the G4) is completely false. I invite my readers to re-read the blog (Flammable Cladding – No Total Ban) to which he had so aggressively objected (and the Dear Kitty blog from which it is derived). They will find that neither blog contains any reference to either the A1 or the A2 standard.

Moreover, prior to receiving his email, that had quickly followed the fraught telephone exchange on Friday 5 October, I had never encountered the terms A1 or A2, and had no knowledge of what they signified. Nor had I any knowledge that Bhatt Murphy and its ‘other clients’ (many or most of whom it was now revealed are Grenfell United members) had agreed to promote the A2 standard while the FBU had opted to promote the stricter A1 standard. This difference of opinion had led, apparently, to a significant conflict between Bhatt Murphy and the FBU on what appears to have been no more than a minor policy difference. Shamik Dutta had failed to inform me beforehand of the existence of this disagreement, and of the fact that the FBU were not alone in their preference for the A1 Standard, as the RIBA statement in the appendix below illustrates.

Ironically the same email that Dutta had sent me on that fateful Friday also contained the following passage;

“A1 and A2 materials are very similar, the figures for relative thermal energy outputs of A1 and A2 are 2MJ/m2 and 3MJ/m2 respectively (this is a negligible difference) and the experts in the Inquiry do not address a significant difference in behaviour between the two.”

More than ironic, I find it deeply troubling, that Dutta (and presumably his favoured clients at Grenfell United) would describe the difference between the A1 and A2 standards as ’negligible’ while at the same time expressing significant hostility towards the FBU and their support of the A1 standard. Furthermore the imposition of a strict boycott on anyone within Bhatt Murphy’s sphere of influence – in this case myself – who dared to quote the FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, regardless of whether or not that quote included any reference to the FBU’s preference for the A1 policy or indicated agreement with, or adherence to that policy strikes me as unacceptably arbitrary and unreasonable.

For the avoidance of any confusion or misunderstanding I reiterate again that I had expressed no such agreement with or adherence to either the A1 or A2 standard or the FBU preference for the A1 standard.

I have still not adopted a position favouring either the A1 or A2 standard and do not yet feel well enough informed to make such a choice.  I wrote to Shamik Dutta late on Sunday night 7th October defending myself defiantly against the outrageously false allegations he had made against me, drawing his attention to the inconsistencies in the lengthy email he had sent me on Friday 5th October and defending my right to publish whatever material I saw fit in the Grenfell Action Group blog, regardless of his opinion of it. I had no expectation that he would respond positively to this communication so I didn’t mince my words, but I did specifically ask him how it could be reasonable for him to penalise me for allegedly failing to agree with a collective policy, shared by the G4 and their clients, all knowledge of which had been withheld from me and discussion of which I had been entirely excluded from. This question went unanswered then, as it remains unanswered now.

Sure enough, and exactly as expected, he emailed me on Monday ignoring my protestations of innocence and confirming what he had threatened right from the start.  I reproduce below the key conclusions which he expressed in that email;

 “At this stage your legal team considers it inadvisable to support the FBU position, there is evidently a risk of conflict where you appear to publicly disagree with the position I am instructed to advance on behalf of other clients. The matters set out above mean that I cannot now represent you in relation to a renewed application for core participant status or in the preparation of a statement for the inquiry and your best interests will be properly served by seeking alternative representation from a solicitor who does not find him or herself in a position of conflict.”

I don’t know why or how Shamik Dutta chose to be so willfully deaf to my protestations of innocence, but what I do know, with complete certainty, is that this ‘deafness’ must have been willful, contrived and disingenuous and was therefore inconsistent with the ethical standards expected and required of someone in his profession, just as they are of any other human being with moral integrity and a moral compass. This leads me to conclude that something more macchiavelian was afoot here, a power play of which I had hitherto been entirely ignorant, but which I am now, as the victim, at last beginning to comprehend.

Ultimately I suspect that ‘what done for me’ may have been posting, in several Facebook groups, beneath the link to the blog I had posted on the previous Thursday, what I considered to be a relatively mild but well deserved rebuke to Grenfell United for hobnobbing too closely with the Tory Government, naively believing the lies they had been peddled by the Cabinet Member for Housing, James Brokenshire, and pre-announcing those lies publicly. Brokenshire’s policy announcement to the Conservative Party Conference on 1st October contradicted promises he had earlier made to representatives of Grenfell United. Those promises had been disingenuous and Grenfell United should have known better than to naively swallow his lies hook, line and sinker.

The comment I had posted on Facebook was as follows;

“The softly-softly approach of Grenfell United (cosying up to Brokenshire) didn’t help. Believing in their own self-importance they pre-announced a total ban and prematurely congratulated themselves on their great achievement. Fools rush in…..”

When I posted it I was completely unaware, as I’ve indicated above, that many, if not most Bhatt Murphy Grenfell clients are members of Grenfell United. I didn’t know this because I had never been told, just as I had never been told about the A1-A2 conflict with the FBU and had been entirely excluded from the decision making process during which Bhatt Murphy and its CP clients had agreed to promote the A2 minimum standard.

In that final email in which Shamik Dutta withdrew legal representation from me he made a point of referencing my criticism of Grenfell United as though it was a serious breach of trust and implied some future intention on my part to publicly contradict evidence given by Grenfell United members to the Grenfell Inquiry;

“In the event you are granted core participant status in the Inquiry or choose to submit a witness statement for the Inquiry and wish to repeat these or similar criticisms of Grenfell United and its members you are free to do so but it would place me in a position of conflict because I am unable to advance that position on your behalf at the same time as properly representing my other clients’ interests.

The proposal that I might “repeat these and similar criticisms of Grenfell United“ in evidence to the Inquiry is utterly ridiculous and Shamik Dutta knows it. I had no intention, and had expressed no intention, of criticising Grenfell United or their members in any evidence I might give to the Inquiry, but that, it seems was entirely irrelevant. What mattered was that representatives of Grenfell United had clearly complained privately to Bhatt Murphy about my comment and Shamik Dutta had acted on their instructions. I had posted the comment on five closed Facebook groups of which I have membership and it had attracted no response. It seems, therefore, that Grenfell United members clearly resented my criticism, but preferred the cowardly back stabbing approach of complaining to Shamik Dutta rather than engaging in open debate with me.

From my perspective, all the signs suggest that Bhatt Murphy and Grenfell United conspired together to contrive my expulsion from the Bhatt Murphy fold and that this whole sordid affair was designed to justify this expulsion of a lone independent voice, without powerful friends, who no longer fit whatever secretive ideology they had cooked up without my knowledge or agreement. There may be more to my expulsion, and there probably is, than the A1-A2 issue, but I believe it is vital that they debate this issue with RIBA and the FBU and any other bodies who disagree with their A2 policy. I don’t believe their machiavellian scheming and backstabbing, or their bully-boy tactics, will serve them well in that debate – but then I have seen no sign so far that they have any intention of engaging in any such debate.

I am now without any legal representation and it seems highly unlikely, given that I have been repeatedly refused Core Participant status, that I will be giving evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry, regardless of the value of the evidence I have to offer and which I have previously published on the GAG blog, including strong evidence of a culture at RBKC and KCTMO of complacency, incompetence and negligence, especially with regard to fire safety issues at Grenfell Tower, dating back at least as far as 2004. It is a great pity that the Inquiry may now be deprived of that evidence.

If I can so easily be cast into outer darkness on trumped up charges, the first of which has no basis in fact and the second of which comprises a relatively mild but well deserved criticism I dared to express of Grenfell United, then this flies in the face of natural justice and of the ethical standards required of Shamik Dutta and the legal firm he represents.

A pox on both their houses!

Francis O’Connor – Author/Editor Grenfell Action Group



RIBA calls for comprehensive ban on combustible materials

14 August 2018

The RIBA has submitted evidence to the Government’s consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings.

After a lengthy investigation, the Institute has concluded that a ban on combustible materials is the only way to ensure that our buildings are safe and fit for the future.

The response was made to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation that was launched in the wake of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The architect’s body argues for A1 ‘non-combustible’ certification, contrary to those who continue to suggest that products of ‘limited combustibility’ should be permitted. The Institute also strongly recommends that the ban is extended to include any high-rise buildings, such as offices and educational buildings, to ensure that the public is properly protected in the event of a fire.

Adrian Dobson, Executive Director Professional Services says,

“The RIBA strongly recommends that the Government supports a comprehensive ban on combustible materials for all high rise buildings. Continuing to allow materials of ‘limited combustibility’ (A2 classification) is unacceptable in the wake of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the evidence from the UK and around the world that these materials do not provide adequate protection for the public.

There is a lot of confusion in the industry over what materials are, and should be, permitted on both new buildings and in the retro-fitting of existing buildings. Banning these materials is the first step towards restoring the trust in our regulatory system and the building industry.”

The RIBA Expert Group on Fire Safety set out four key recommendations for baseline prescriptive requirements:

  • Non-combustible cladding – significant products in external wall construction for existing or new buildings over 18m in height must be certified ‘non-combustible’ (European classification A1) products only.
  • More than one means of escape – in all new multiple occupancy residential buildings, a requirement for at least two staircases, offering alternative means of escape, where the top floor is more than 11m above ground level or the top floor is more than three storeys above the ground level storey (as required for commercial buildings).
  • Sprinklers – retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems and centrally addressable fire alarm systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level as ‘consequential improvements’ where a building is subject to ‘material alterations’.
  • Mandatory requirement for sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems and addressable central fire alarms in all new and converted residential buildings, as already required in Wales.

The key RIBA recommendations to the MHCLG consultation include:

  • A ban on combustible materials in external wall construction on buildings over 18m in height must be imposed.
  • The ban should restrict window spandrels, balconies, brise soleil, and similar building elements to European classification A1 products only
  • The ban should restrict plasterboard to European Classification A2-s1, d0 products and above only.

In addition, within external wall construction, the ban should restrict sheathing boards, insulation and outermost cladding products to European classification A1 products only. The ban should not include the buildings primary structure. The primary structure should have adequate fire protection (see Building Regulations Requirement B3). The RIBA recommends European Classification A1 rather than A2 in the external wall construction, to protect against production of smoke and flaming particles/droplets. If the government decides to proceed with the ban using the lower classification (A2), the RIBA recommends that this be strictly limited to A2-s1, d0. This would ensure very limited smoke production and no flaming particles/droplets from the products included in the ban.


Combustible materials: RIBA’s position explained;


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  • Sale of College’s Wornington Road site in 2016 ‘plainly wrong’ and not in the interests of its local community
  • Sale process characterised by management failings and poor governance
  • Negotiations with Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea underway to determine how the Wornington Road site should serve its local community into the long term
  • College sets out ‘complete break with the past’ and ‘relentless focus’ on serving the needs of its communities, students and staff in Kensington and Chelsea

Kensington and Chelsea College today publishes an independent review by the investigative consultancy Kroll into the July 2016 sale of the College’s Wornington Road site to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

The report catalogues a failure of management and governance in several areas including:

  •  lack of consultation with the local community in the period before the sale;
  • failure to consider and evaluate alternatives to a sale to RBKC (for example, potential proposals from private developers);
  • shortcomings in determining the final sale price of the Wornington Road site; and
  • ‘excluding’ of College student and staff governors before the final decision to sell the College to RBKC.

Kensington and Chelsea College Interim Chair Ian Valvona said:

The sale of the College’s Wornington Road site to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was plainly the wrong thing to do – even when you consider the College’s very difficult financial situation in 2016.

Today the College apologises for that sale and I want to recognise the role of the local community and the Save Wornington College Campaign for helping to ensure that the full details of this sale finally saw the light of day.

The College’s core mission is to focus relentlessly on outstanding teaching and learning for our students and meet the needs of our local communities.

Selling the Wornington Road site to RBKC in 2016 was not in the interests of that mission or the College’s local community but the College is now determined to look forward and work with the community, staff and Borough to build a bright future together.”

 Kensington and Chelsea College Chief Executive and Principal Andy Cole said:

 “The report highlights shameful behaviours of past management in excluding staff, students and the local community from its discussions and decision making over the sale. There has been a complete break with the past across the last year at Executive Leadership as well as Board level and we are in negotiations with RBKC to determine how the Wornington Road site will serve the needs of its communities into the long term.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank staff for their continued professionalism in focusing on raising standards in the college – standards that now firmly position the college as one of the highest performing in the capital.

Notes to Editors:

  1. Kensington and Chelsea College (“K&CC”), a further and higher-education college located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in West London, is split into two centres: the Kensington Centre, located at Wornington Road, London, and the Chelsea Centre, located at Hortensia Road, London.
  2. On 19 July 2016 K&CC sold the Wornington Road building and land freehold to RBKC on a sale and three-year leaseback agreement. Under this sale and leaseback agreement, RBKC agreed that K&CC could lease the Wornington Road site from the Council for three years following the sale at an annual rent of GBP 1,100,000. The headline value of the transaction was GBP 28,650,000, from which GBP 3,300,000 was deducted to take account of the three-year lease agreement. The net cash sale value to K&CC was therefore GBP 25,350,000.
  3. Ian Valvona has been interim Chair of K&CC since 9 July 2018. Andy Cole has been Chief Executive and Principal since 24 February 2018. Biographies of all of K&CC’s governors can be found here – 9 new since October 2017 and 1 re-elected October 2018.
  4. K&CC engaged Kroll in May 2018 to undertake an independent review in order to provide a clear and accurate account of the sale and leaseback of the Wornington Road building. Kroll, a division of Duff & Phelps, is a leading global provider of risk solutions. For more than 45 years, Kroll has helped clients make independent risk management decisions about people, assets, operations and security through a wide range of investigations, cyber security, due diligence and compliance, physical and operational security, and data and information management services. For more information, visit www.kroll.com.
  5. Media Enquiries can be directed to the Kensington and Chelsea marketing team at news@kcc.ac.uk or 020 7573 1321.

KCC 2018-10-17_Press Notice Final

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