Consultation meetings on Grenfell Tower refurbishment ‘became screaming match’, inquiry hears

Grenfell Tower residents were involved in “lots of consultation” about refurbishment plans for the block but on occasion meetings descended into “a screaming match”, an inquiry has heard.

The probe into the fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people has previously heard that some residents felt excluded or not properly consulted about the proposals, including the cladding – an element blamed for the fire’s rapid spread.

But an employee of the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which was appointed by the borough to run its entire council housing stock of almost 10,000 properties, said there had been “lots of opportunity” for residents to be involved through questionnaires, meetings and drop-in sessions.

Siobhan Rumble was area housing manager for the Lancaster West Estate, of which Grenfell Tower was a part, from November 2011 to February 2016.

She described herself in a witness statement to the inquiry as having attended consultation meetings on the revamp as “a familiar face for the residents and to be the liaison between the residents and those directly involved in the refurbishment”.

But she said that, while she believed most residents were happy about the plans, a small number of people were not.

She told the hearing on Monday: “I think, initially, the majority of residents were quite happy that there was going to be a lot of money spent on the tower. It was well-needed.

“But unfortunately there was just literally a handful of residents that had an issue from before my time who, no matter what you done, they were just … you couldn’t have an evening meeting.

“There’d be shouting and screaming in the meetings. We’d have to stop the meetings. They would discourage people from coming to consultation meetings and it was just really difficult because I think most people were happy that they were getting new windows and new heating systems.”

She said she and her colleagues were “on the run constantly” with email correspondence from a few residents.

Edward Daffarn, who lived on the 16th floor, had long campaigned about safety issues at the tower, and famously predicted the fire in a blog post seven months before it happened.

Ms Rumble described Mr Daffarn as someone who was “very challenging sometimes, and even if he got an answer to an email, an email would come back with a different question and you could never actually get to answer his question”.

She added: “There was lots of consultation, and I have heard (by) following the inquiry, ‘Oh, we wasn’t consulted and we wasn’t asked’. I was there and I can say people were consulted.”

She recalled “some residents not wanting to come to the meetings because it was just a screaming match – I mean, nobody wanted to be there”.

Mr Daffarn told the inquiry last week that, while meetings “may have been challenging” and “slightly unpleasant” for the KCTMO, he did not feel they were “disruptive”.

Minutes of a KCTMO programme board meeting on November 21 2013, which were referred to at Monday’s hearing, showed that it was agreed “to hold no more public meetings because of the stand being made by the Grenfell Tower leaseholder group”.

Ms Rumble said she had guessed this happened after Mr Daffarn attended a meeting and had been asked to leave because of his behaviour.

She said: “One of Mr Daffarn’s favourite sayings was ‘This is a slum, we’re living in a slum, you’re doing nothing’. And we were there, actually, holding a consultation meeting, telling them (residents) how much money we were spending on the tower, wanting their involvement.”

She said his behaviour “wasn’t constructive” and made other people feel uncomfortable.

She added: “They wasn’t well turned out, the meetings, anyway, and I think it’s because people knew that it would just turn into a circus.”

Afterwards, people were asked how they would like to be consulted, she said, adding: “I think people preferred us to go to their house.”

Ms Rumble said that, while it would not ordinarily be the case that the TMO would have a good relationship with every single resident, they did so with most of those living in the tower.

She said: “The majority of people on the estate were lovely, and that’s why we still done our job. We were happy working at Lancaster West because the majority of people were good, nice people.”

The inquiry has previously heard from Grenfell Tower Leaseholders’ Association (GTLA) founder Shahid Ahmed, who labelled meetings and newsletters about the tower’s refurbishment “a PR exercise” and claimed he was “deliberately excluded from the consultation process”.

An email from July 25 2012, from a GTLA vice chairman to Ms Rumble, claimed that it was “always very difficult” for the group to get a “straightforward, simple answer from the KCTMO”.

In her response, Ms Rumble had written that she did not think “these emails are very helpful” and suggested meeting as a group in person instead to discuss issues.

She told the hearing that KCTMO did deal with complaints, adding: “We wouldn’t deliberately ignore correspondence, not want to respond to correspondence, that I know.”

Asked what the issues were with emails, she said that if she responded to an individual, she would be told to respond to the GTLA, and vice versa.

She added: “It was a case of you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”

Finishing her evidence, Ms Rumble said: “From the inquiry I just hope, even without the summing up at the end of all of this inquiry, we’re all going to learn something from it and just hope that nothing like this ever happens again.”