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Grenfell Tower fire is ‘a landmark act of discrimination against disabled and vulnerable people’

22 April 2021

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.

Hisam Choucair, whose mother Sirria was Disabled and lived on the 22nd floor, lost six family members in the fire. He told the Inquiry he was “shocked that there does not appear to have been any consideration of my mother’s needs”.

Shakila Neda, who is Disabled and lived on the 23rd floor told the Inquiry both the Council and the tenant management organisation (TMO) had not “discussed fire safety with me after they became aware of my disability. They also did not discuss an escape route in the event of a fire.” Her husband died in the fire.

Mahboubeh Jamalvatan, a Disabled mother of two children told the Inquiry she had to bump down the stairs on her bottom to escape the fire.

52 of the 120 flats in the tower housed Disabled residents. 15 of the 37 residents classed as ‘vulnerable’ – Disabled people – were killed. A TMO document listed only ten Disabled residents on the night of the fire.

The failure to facilitate the evacuation of Disabled people has been called one of two “principal failures as responsible persons” by the Council and TMO by Michael Mansfield QC. The other was the absence of working fire doors on some of the flats.

Maher Khoudair, a Disabled resident who lived on the ninth floor of the tower, told the Inquiry he “did not understand why there was no escape route suitable for disabled people as I could not run or walk through the stairs as easily as other people… The council or the TMO did not give me any fire safety information… The council did not prepare any personal emergency evacuation plan for me as a disabled person on crutches to explain to me what I should do in case of emergency. In case of fire, I did not know what to do.”

Other residents told the Inquiry that the TMO never discussed the option of Disabled residents moving to lower floors in the Tower or making reasonable adjustments to accommodate their impairments in their flats.

Ed Daffarn who along with other residents was branded a “troublemaker” by the TMO for highlighting safety concerns for years before the fire told the Inquiry: “The stay put policy was never a satisfactory policy for Grenfell Tower. It was a very convenient policy for the TMO because it meant they didn’t have to do anything.”

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “41% of people who died were Disabled. 85% of the 72 people who died in the fire were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. These figures raise serious questions about institutional racism and ableism.”