Grenfell inquiry: Information on vulnerable residents 'was 15 years out of date'

Chief executive failed to pass information to fire crews hampered by lack of details about layout and occupants of tower, hearing told 

Chris Baynes
Thursday 15 November 2018 21:15 GMT
Vulnerable residents information was 15 years out of date at the time of Grenfell Tower fire

The former boss of the firm that ran Grenfell Tower waited more than two hours before forwarding a list of residents to firefighters, part of which was “15 years out of date”, the inquiry into the blaze has heard.

And key parts of an emergency plan drawn up by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) had not been updated since February 2012, the hearing was told.

Seventy-two people died when the 24-storey building was consumed by flames on 14 June last year.

The TMO’s chief executive failed to pass key information to fire crews who were hampered by a lack of details about the tower’s layout and occupants, the inquiry in central London heard.

The incident commander of London Fire Brigade (LFB) told council staff the lack of a building plan, which should have been stored in in a fire-proof box in the tower’s lobby, was “a major deficiency”.

The inquiry also heard that emergency services responding to the blaze were not given a list of the tower’s residents for seven hours after the fire broke out, despite TMO bosses circulating the information among themselves.

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) liaison officer Nick Leyton, who arrived at the tower in the early hours of the morning, said fire chiefs had repeatedly asked for a plan of the building’s layout and details of residents.

LFB deputy assistant commissioner Andy Roe, who commanded the brigade’s response to the fire, complained to another council employee that plans had not been provided at around 7.30am – six and half hours after the fire was reported.

Footage filmed on a police officer’s body camera captured him saying to liaison officer Mike Rumble: “I’m telling you now, the fact you have not been able to get me a set of plans is a major deficiency and will be highlighted.”

Mr Leyton told the inquiry he had repeatedly asked Robert Black, chief executive of the TMO, for the documents but he had been unable to provide them.

Mr Black said he could not remember being asked for the list by the time Mr Leyton left the scene at about 7am.

However, it emerged the chief executive received a list of occupants in an email from a colleague at 5.25am but did not forward it to the LFB until nearly 8am.

“I didn’t realise they wanted it,” he told the inquiry. “I thought they had it. I just thought they would have done because they’d been on site for a long time.”

The inquiry was shown excerpts of an emergency plan circulated between senior figures at the TMO on the night of the blaze. The plan, which not been updated for 15 years, did not reflect the building’s refurbishment and did not contain the correct number of vulnerable tenants who live in the building.

The inquiry’s lead counsel Robert Millett asked Mr Black: “As at the night of the fire, this document was 15 years out of date, is that right?”

Mr Black replied: “It would appear so … I’m very disappointed to see the date here.”

He stressed the TMO’s housing management department had a list of vulnerable residents that was kept up to date.

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But Mr Millett said: “On the night itself, did you actually have in your hands, or the other TMO staff’s hands, a reliable number for vulnerable residents in that building?”

Mr Black conceded he had not. The chief executive, who resigned in December last year, said the TMO had played no significant role in the response to the fire because the council had greater resources.

“Having dealt with some similar emergencies, there’s just no way our plan could deal with that event,” he said. “Although we are a reasonable-sized organisation with 10,000 homes, we just don’t have the resources or the authority.”

He added: “The police, the fire brigade and the local authority had taken over.”

RBKC stripped the TMO of its responsibilities for the borough’s entire council housing stock following the Grenfell fire.

The inquiry heard Mr Black sent an email to colleagues in the hours after the blaze in which he informed them there would be “questions about the cladding and spec” and “questions about how it spread”, adding: “We need all the information about the refurbishment as this will be a primary focus.”

He said this was sent in response to “general” questions from councillors on the scene and that he was not aware of any deficiencies in fire safety in the building.

He added: “What I thought is that we have a brand new refurbished building that’s on fire and people will be asking, ‘How could that happen?’”

Mr Black said he arrived at the burning tower between 2.45am and 3.30am and remained there for about six hours.

Asked what he had done in that time, he said he was “standing there, responding to phone calls and speaking to my team generally”.

He added: “At the time, we could motivate and mobilise the staff to fit into RBKC’s plan and support it as it goes forward. We had nothing else to offer at that stage. My responsibility was to help as much as possible. I was not part of the emergency plan. RBKC was running things.”

The council’s on-call liaison officers, Mr Leyton and Mr Rumble, each became emotional after recalling the night of the blaze.

Mr Leyton told the inquiry six or seven floors of the building were engulfed in flames by the time reached the scene.

In a statement to the police in the aftermath of the fire, he said: “I was completely transfixed, I had no idea the enormity of what I was witnessing. I had never seen anything like this even in my 22 years in the army and 22 years working for the council. The scene was overwhelming I was not prepared for the mass devastation on this scale.”

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