Lawyers involved in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry into the 2017 fire which killed 72 people have described it “as a landmark act of discrimination against disabled and vulnerable people”.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council knew about the conditions of Disabled people living in Grenfell Tower but refused to provide them with evacuation plans, and housed some on the upper floors with a ‘stay put’ fire policy, the Inquiry into the Tower fire has heard.
UPDATE - Today, the day after this article was published Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt has written to John Healy acknowledging his enquiry of April 21st and stating that it has been forwarded to the respective department who will look into the issue and make every effort to resolve it. He said the Council aimed to respond withing 10 working days.
Readers may recall several articles Wembley Matters has published about the plight of disabled pensioner John Healy who lives in a Brent Council block on the South Kilburn Estate.
John wrote a personal blog on March 12th about the issues he was facing and Brent Council made the following statement in response:
"Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP) are essential for anyone who may need assistance in the unlikely event of being advised to leave a building because of fire. We're concerned that something seems to have gone wrong here and have contacted Mr Healy to put it right."
John Healy contacted the Council and the Council could not find the PEEP request he had made and asked him to resubmit. He resubmitted and has heard nothing further. John says that officers have stopped replying to his emails.
In their evidence LINK to the Grenfell Inquiry Bindmans pointed out the failure of the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) to assess residents' needs:
Dr Lane finds no evidence that TMO assessed the needs of any vulnerable person in GT in the event of a fire3. This failure resulted in TMO not being appraised of the fire precautions required by RRO in order to protect residents, including vulnerable residents, and failing to advise LFB of the need to assist the vulnerable. The lack of appropriate precautions is reflected in the deaths: a quarter of the 67 child residents present on the night died and 41% of the 37 vulnerable adult residents died.These groups suffered higher death rates than any other category on the night. Yet TMO's spreadsheet emailed during the fire showed only 10 out of 225 residents listed with disabilities5
Mr Healy is rightly concerned that Brent Council has also failed to adequately assess the needs of its vulnerable residents, putting them at considerable risk. I would go further and say that they are repeating what Kensington and Chelsea did in ignoring the pleas of their tenants when they draw attention to deficiencies in safety precautions in their blocks. Brent Council brought council housing back in house instead of having the arms length organisation ,Brent Housing Partnership - Brent Housing has direct control and thus direct responsibility for the welbeing and safety of its tenants.
It even appears the Mr Healy is seen as a nuisance who can be ignored. Today he wrote to his housing officer:
Good afternoon, you may be aware that the Grenfell Inquiry heard today from an officer of Kensington & Chelsea council, as he responded about why he failed to issue PEEPs to several disabled residents in the block, including many who tragically died on the night.
I myself have been asking for a PEEP since last September and I still have not been sent one.
I also need to see the evacuation policy for everyone at William Dunbar House.
And finally can you send me a copy of the latest Fire Risk Assesssment for William Dunbar House please?
Cllr Janice Long has submitted a generic question to the Council about PEEPs. according to Mr Healy, which gave him some hopes, but the Council has 14 days to reply, prolonging the uncertainty and anxiety.
John told Wembley Matters he had contacted a senior officer who deals with Council policy:
I asked him what did he mean when he said in a debate on Fire Safety in Brent's tower blocks:-
"In terms of people with special needs, we will try and relocate the residents if necessary".
The cabinet said they would review their position on retrofitting sprinklers in the 8 South Kilburn tower blocks (including William Dunbar House), once the result of the South Kilburn resident's ballot is known but they seem to have forgotten to have the review.
I have to remain in my block for several years without any sprinklers, even after the London Fire Brigade said they could only say a high rise is safe, if they have sprinklers installed in them.
I also checked my most recent Fire Risk Assessment for my block---William Dunbar House over evacuation which says:-"Physically disabled people should be relatively safe in their own abode should a fire occur elsewhere in the building".
Our rating is 'moderate' which says "in a serious fire there are llikely to be some deaths but not too many".
So if some will die in a serious fire, I have a feeling it is most likely to be me, or another disabled person living in my block.
Just to add, the Brent Housing officers who were dealing with me through email have stopped replying to me. They have not responded to my Stage 1 complaint either, even though it has gone past their 20 days waiting time before they are supposed to respond.
So this pensioner with very limited mobility and extreme deafness is left without a Personal Emergency Plan, that is required by law, on the 5th floor of a block without sprinklers or an alarm system that he can hear and with his request for relocation refused. On top of that his Stage 1 complaint made in order to get some sort of hearing has not been responded to within the required 5 days and a further 20 to find a solution. The complaint was made 38 days ago.
Is it any surprise that he feels desperate, ignored and sick with worry?