Council’s response to Grenfell fire ‘chaotic and exacerbated an already dire situation’, inquiry hears

The council response in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire was “chaotic and disorganised” and worsened an already dire situation for survivors and bereaved, an inquiry into the blaze has heard.

A lack of respect and dignity characterised the response of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), a lawyer for some of those impacted by the deadly fire said.

The situation in the days after the June 2017 blaze would have been “very different indeed” had the disaster not happened in social housing, Imran Khan QC said.

Module four of the second phase of the inquiry is considering the immediate aftermath of the tower block fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people.

On Monday, Mr Khan told the inquiry: “The survivors of a tragedy in one of the richest boroughs in the country should not have had to endure the hardship and indignity that we have described very briefly. They should not have had to fight for support in the way that they were forced to do so.

“RBKC’s and others’ response in the initial aftermath of the fire was chaotic, and disorganised to say the least.

“RBKC’s response exacerbated what was already a dire situation and was severely damaging to the lives of our clients, even until today. Not only that, the response did not respect our clients, it did not treat our clients with the dignity that they deserved.

“And it does feel like it’s a broken record, but we have repeatedly said: Had the tragedy not occurred in social housing, the response, we say, would have undoubtedly been very, very different indeed.”

Statements made to the inquiry by the bereaved and survivors show “what it was like to be abandoned by the state in a moment of need of the most basic necessities of life”, Danny Friedman QC said.

Mr Friedman, who is representing another group of the bereaved and survivors, said there were examples of “people treating them (survivors and bereaved) with bureaucratic distance, or requiring them to relive their trauma, or trying to take from them, or ignoring them, or telling them facts they knew to be untrue or contradicted”.

He added: “Perhaps their most common experience was that no one engaged with them at all.”

Professor Leslie Thomas QC, representing other bereaved and survivors, described the “stunning insensitivity” of a disabled couple being offered accommodation on the 10th floor of a hotel, saying it also demonstrated a “complete lack of understanding by those tasked with providing care and support for these devastated people”.

Another tower resident, whose father died in the fire, recalled, Prof Thomas said, being locked out of temporary accommodation in hotel rooms “many times, because the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea had forgotten to renew the bookings”.

Module four is considering the first seven days after the fire, including the provision of emergency relief.

In a written statement to the inquiry, lawyers for RBKC said the council admitted “that the arrangements it had in place as at 14 June 2017 were not capable of providing the level of service needed by the public after the Grenfell Tower fire”.

They said the arrangements at the time “were not as clear or as well understood as they should have been and did not set out how different parts of the council would coordinate their communications”.

James Maxwell-Scott QC, for the council, told the inquiry that RBKC was sorry for being “unable to cope” in the days after the fire.

He said the council had “found itself in the middle of the biggest national news story of the day”, and that the organisation accepted that “its leadership was unable to cope in the days after the fire”.

He added: “The council apologises for the fact that it was unable to do so.”

Of its response, he said: “The council acknowledges that there were shortcomings in its emergency relief response in the period after the 20th of June, as well as in the seven days before then.”

The hearing was adjourned until 10am on Tuesday.

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