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Grenfell CEO ‘suffered’ staff for out of date details on Disabled people

24 June 2021

The Chief Executive of the management organisation for Grenfell Tower has blamed his staff for allowing the block’s fire safety plan to become 15 years out of date so that it failed to account for the vast majority of Disabled residents, reports The Guardian.

Robert Black, Head at the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (TMO) at the time of the fire, told the public Inquiry into the disaster that records showed only 12 Disabled residents in the tower. The tower had over three times as many Disabled residents. 15 of the total of 37 residents died in the fire.

The Inquiry has heard from lawyers for the bereaved who said that the fire was a “landmark act of discrimination against disabled and vulnerable people”.

“Information should have been updated by staff,” Black told the Inquiry. “The whole thing that I suffered throughout my career working with people is the ability to forget to fill in the paperwork.”

Richard Millett QC, Counsel to the Inquiry, said to Black: “In reality, as the Chief Executive you were ultimately responsible for a failure to keep these documents up to date lower down in your organisation”.

“Pass,” he replied. “It should have been updated. I’m not shying away from that, so that’s my situation.”

Black added that he had decided not to act on warnings that the landlord should draw up specific emergency evacuation plans for Disabled people, claiming it was impractical. He said the key policy was to stay put in the event of a fire.

Just two of around 10,000 TMO tenants in the borough had a personal emergency evacuation plan.

Black was in charge of the TMO from 2009, which operated Grenfell Tower for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. He was in post when 72 people died in the fire in the tower.

The Inquiry was told that in the years before the fire, the TMO let the idea of producing personal emergency evacuation plans for vulnerable people “drop”, even though it had been warned by safety consultants and the London Fire Brigade that its fire risk management fell short.

A consultancy hired by the TMO told it seven years before the fire that it should develop “formal procedures to deal effectively with fire safety issues associated with disabled or vulnerable tenants and leaseholders … this should include a range of options from relocation in severe cases … and the provision of personal emergency evacuation plans in those less serious cases.”

Black didn’t accept that specific fire evacuation plans needed to be made for Disabled people, despite knowing that failing to do so would breach fire safety regulations. He queried how it would be possible for 10,000 tenants.

Black told the Inquiry that he gave the TMO’s lead on financial services and IT, Barbara Matthews, responsibility for fire safety. Matthews had no experience in health and safety.

Black told the Inquiry: “I wouldn’t have had the income to have someone sitting on the executive specifically doing health and safety… Local authority funding across the country had been cut.”