A Grenfell fire survivor said he had “sleepless nights” worrying about the ventilation system after a blaze in the tower in 2010 that left three people injured including his wife, the inquiry into the 2017 fire has heard.
Shahid Ahmed claimed the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) “never gave sincere attention” to “serious and grave concerns” that were raised in preceding years following the fire seven years before.
Grenfell Tower landlords acted as their own “judge, jury and executioner” and adopted a “dismissive” attitude to residents’ complaints over fire safety issues, he said.
Mr Ahmed founded the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders’ Association (GTLA) to help campaign for safer conditions in the building following a fire in the block in April 2010, the inquiry heard.
Mr Ahmed, who lived in the tower for 25 years, took legal action for compensation due to his wife's injuries.
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) admitted liability because the building’s fire detection system was defective.
In a statement provided to the public inquiry into the fire that killed 72 people, Mr Ahmed said he was told to direct all complaints to the TMO, which had been appointed by the RBKC to run its entire council housing stock, through its official procedure.
“I thought that the complaints procedure was a way for the TMO to be judge, jury and executioner,” Mr Ahmed said in his evidence, read out to the inquiry on Thursday," Mr Ahmed he said.
“It essentially let them judge themselves. Their strategy was to refer me to the complaints procedure and exhaust GTLA.
“I felt that their replies never gave sincere attention to GTLA’s serious and grave concerns in Grenfell Tower.”
Mr Ahmed added that the fire “was the first major warning to me that residents’ lives might be in danger”.
In the wake of the 2010 fire, Mr Ahmed said he was "scared for all of the residents" and suffered “sleepless nights” worrying about the ventilation system.
He said: “My wife’s injury made this a particularly distressing incident for me and my family, and it had a huge impact on how I saw health and safety at Grenfell Tower,.
“It was so difficult to make RBKC and the TMO take any responsibility, and even after they admitted liability, I was sure that they were not taking the risk of another fire seriously.”
He added: "Even after we won our personal case against RBKC, I continued to demand an explanation and better fire safety standards for years afterwards.”
In 2015, the GTLA enquired whether Grenfell Tower’s smoke extraction and ventilation system, which linked to the fire alarm, would be improved as part of its regeneration.
A response from Peter Maddison, the TMO’s director of assets and regeneration, said the system was “beyond economic repair”, the inquiry heard.
Mr Ahmed said: “I understood this to mean that the system needed immediate replacement.
“My experience was that it was very rare for Peter Maddison to admit that anything was wrong or was the TMO’s fault, so if he admitted this, it must be serious.”
“I cannot understand how anyone with a sense of responsibility and with a duty of care could possibly leave it unattended or in disrepair for a period of five years,” he added.
Mr Ahmed said concerns were also raised about fire safety risk assessments, lifts breaking down, claiming that there was a general lack of information and communication from the TMO.
He said the TMO refused his requests to appoint an independent health and safety expert to investigate the safety risks in the building amid his concerns over an exposed gas pipe following the tower’s refurbishment.
“I can hardly believe that the TMO were so dismissive of residents’ worries about fire safety in the weeks and months before the fire on June 14 2017,” he said.
When handling complaints about his own flat, he said the TMO “would reply late or not at all, pass me around various members of staff and often found no effective solution”.
He added: “The real problem with Grenfell Tower was not the age or state of the building, it was the attitude of RBKC and the TMO.”
He labelled meetings and newsletters about its refurbishment as “a PR exercise” and claimed he was “deliberately excluded from the consultation process”.