Grenfell Tower survivors lacked advice on what to do in a fire and were made to feel a “nuisance” when raising complaints with landlords, an inquiry has heard.
Former residents of the block that was struck by a deadly fire in June 2017 said they never took part in fire drills and claimed to be unaware of the building’s “stay put” fire safety policy.
Extracts from a number of ex-residents’ written witness statements were read to a public inquiry into the blaze on Thursday.
Residents recall lack of fire safety
Mohammed Rasoul, who lived in flat 25 with his family, claimed they were not spoken to about fire safety by anyone from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), which owned the block, nor the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), an arm’s-length body which managed it.
“I’m not aware of any fire drills having taken place in the tower,” he said.
Mr Rasoul said a TMO tenant’s handbook had “very brief information about preventing fires” but “no information about what we should do if a fire broke out in our flat or in the tower”.
He added that despite receiving copies of the TMO’s Link magazine, he assumed this was “more like a notice board and would not contain any important information”.
“No-one ever warned us that it might, so I never read it,” he said.
Mr Rasoul said an A5 size fire safety notice only posted on the ground floor of Grenfell Tower was “easy to miss”.
Former flat 184 resident Mustafa Abdu said: “I have lived at the tower for 27 years and I never remember receiving any advice about fire safety.
“I did not feel at the time that we were properly briefed or trained about fire safety either.
“The only advice I remember is the plastic ‘stay put’ signs set up in the lift and lobby area”.
The inquiry has previously heard residents were informed by the TMO that in the event of the fire residents should stay in their flat unless it was inside their home, outside it, or outside in the hallway.
Rebecca Ross, whose father Steve Power died in the 2017 blaze that claimed 72 lives in total, said she was “not aware” at the time that there was a stay-put policy in place.
She acknowledged there may have been signs in lift lobbies on the issue but it was not something she had taken notice of nor had she ever taken part in a fire drill.
Ms Ross remembered seeing the Link magazine but “wouldn’t have known there was any information in there about fire safety”.
Maria Jafari, who lived in flat 86, said: “Nobody ever spoke to us about what to do in the event of a fire.” She added she had “never heard of ‘stay put’”.
Her 82-year old father, Ali Yawar Jafari, died in the 2017 fire after becoming trapped in a smoke-filled lift.
Another former resident, Nicholas Burton, recalled receiving written information on the stay put policy, which he thought “would have been in certain TMO newsletters”, as well as seeing a “new fire safety sign at the lifts”.
Jenny Dainton, who lived on the tower’s fourth floor with her two daughters, recalled her “frustrating” experience of trying to raise issues through the TMO’s repair line after the building’s concierge was removed in 2014.
She said the TMO would sometimes “not pick up” and would “rarely” get back to her after reporting an issue.
Ms Dainton said the “standard response” of one TMO officer was “we will get back to you”, but “most of the time you would be ignored”.
Former Grenfell resident Lucy Ho, whose mother and father survived the fire, said it could take two to three weeks before workmen were sent to look at a repair issue, but “quite often the workman would say they couldn’t fix the problem because they didn’t have the parts to do so”.
Flat 43 resident Elizabeth Sobieszczak said she had “very little faith in the TMO being able to sort out problems that we brought to their attention”.
She added: “They made us feel a nuisance and we often had to take matters into our own hands, or call on friends for assistance.”
Gitiara Pahlavani, who lived at flat 22, said she “felt helpless” and “like no-one would listen to me” when she had an issue.
Flat 56 resident Shantilal Patel, who experienced problems with new windows fitted during the tower’s refurbishment in 2015, described it as “more evidence of shoddy work or poor products being used”.
Ex-resident William Thompson recalled joining residents’ meetings during the period of refurbishment while other residents did not attend.
He said in his statement: “My impression living in the tower was that there were some residents who became so used to being bullied by the TMO and RBKC that they just didn’t want to rock the boat as they were afraid of the consequences.
“I am not saying people were physically threatened but people were afraid, especially the old and vulnerable, of which there were quite a few.
“That is how it is in social housing, especially when there is lots of homelessness out there, many people do not want to speak up against a landlord because however bad things might be they feel at least they have a home.”
Labour councillor Judith Blakeman, whose ward included Grenfell Tower, recalled seeing “terrible” conditions in the building’s basement that left her “quite shocked”.
She said she received “bland reassurances” when raising issues with RBKC and the TMO.
Ms Blakeman, who was formerly appointed to serve on the TMO board and also sat on the HPSC, said the council and TMO “produced a united front when challenged by anyone”.