Kensington and Chelsea councillor mouths 'Don't let them in' as Grenfell survivors are locked out of meeting

'We have a lot of fear and concern within the building, we obviously have a concern for the people coming in … so orchestration was quite difficult'

Rachel Roberts
Thursday 20 July 2017 16:18 BST
Kensington councillor mouths 'don't let them in' at meeting

A Tory Kensington and Chelsea councillor was caught on camera mouthing the words “don’t let them in” as some Grenfell survivors found themselves shut out of a stormy meeting.

Cllr Matthew Taylor repeatedly urged officials not to let in the group who were attempting to get through the fire escape for last night’s full meeting of the council – the first since the disaster which claimed at least 80 lives.

Conservative Elizabeth Campbell was officially appointed leader of the authority following the resignation of former chief Nicholas Paget-Brown.

Some residents tried to get in through a fire door with hundreds filling up the packed public gallery and an overspill room which held around 150 members of the community.

Some inside the meeting panicked when they realised the fire door was locked, with one shouting, "I don't want to be trapped again!"

A number of people were let into the meeting mid-way through after furious banging was heard in the chamber.

The council’s new deputy leader Kim Taylor Smith said the Metropolitan Police were responsible for security of the meeting.

He told Sky News: “We have a small council chamber … we were being directed by the police who advised us there were 800 people turning up for the meeting.

“We have a lot of fear and concern within the building, we obviously have a concern for the people coming in … so orchestration was quite difficult.

“I don’t think it is the right thing to make that comment. I don’t think it was the right thing to bar people coming in.

“But I stress the security arrangements had been handled in conjunction with the police. This wasn’t the council telling people not to come in.”

Simmering tensions threatened to boil over at points in the meeting attended by more than 70 survivors, who were allowed to address the council with multiple concerns.

The newly appointed leader and her cabinet faced almost constant heckling and calls to stand down, with the Labour opposition councillors asking for independent commissioners to be called in to take over running the local authority.

Eve Wedderburn, who presented a petition with more than 1,500 signatures calling on the council to resign, said the new leader “is discredited before she even begins” and said she had a record of “dismantling children’s services” in her previous role.

“This village no longer recognises the legitimacy of your estate”, Ms Wedderburn said, turning on its head a comment that councillor Rock Feilding Mellen allegedly made in the aftermath of the fire that: “The village cannot dictate to the estate.”

Emotional survivors told the council: “You’ve let the dead down – now you want to come for the living. They don’t want you. The dead didn’t want you.”

Councillors were accused of looking bored, rolling their eyes or looking at their mobiles while residents who had lost family and their homes poured their hearts out during the meeting – which went on for more than three and a half hours.

Edward Daffarn, a co-author of the Grenfell Action Group blog which repeatedly warned of the clear and present dangers in Grenfell Tower, said they had repeatedly told the Council they were being treated “with contempt”.

“The way you treated us was despicable… we were all nearly burned to death in 2013,” he said, referring to a previous fire which was contained.

Leader of the Labour group Robert Atkinson accused the council of having practised “social cleansing” through its housing policies.

“Such is the anger and distrust right across this borough … nothing the ruling Conservative group says tonight would convince people,” he said.

In response, Cllr Campbell said she planned to oversee fundamental changes in the culture of the council as well as to its policies around housing.

She told victims in the public gallery: "The next step is to find you the survivors a permanent new home. We are talking to each and every one of you who has lost a home.

“I'm sorry that this has taken so long and that so many of you are still in hotels and that is not where you want to be.”

"We need to change and change fundamentally if we are ever to regain the trust of you, our community. As a council we've long been proud of our connections with the local community.

“The tragedy of Grenfell has demonstrated to me that this is false pride.”

Barry Quirk, the former chief executive of Lewisham Council, was appointed acting chief executive of the local authority.

He said: “It is plain that in the immediate days after the fire the council’s response was not adequate.

“This is deeply regrettable and the council needs to provide an apology to those whom it has corporately let down.

“These failings have served to corrode the public’s trust in the council as a competent public authority.”

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