Grenfell Tower survivor says ‘brushing it under the carpet and moving on is not an option’ on eve of fourth anniversary

By Julia Gregory, local democracy reporter

The whisteblower who warned about the Grenfell tragedy years before it happened has already warned there could be a Grenfell 2 – but he has repeated his dire forecast if the authorities do not act quickly.

Grenfell Tower survivor Edward Daffarn has branded a lack of action as ‘painful’ and wants social housing residents to be treated better.

The safety campaigner and Grenfell survivor said on the approach of the fourth anniversary of the tragedy:  “Seventy-two people died in the most horrific manner and brushing it under the carpet and moving on is not an option.

“The legacy needs to be change. It’s stating what should have been there in the first place.

“We’re never going to bring people back, we’re never going to return the community, but something meaningful could have come out of this and at the moment I’m struggling to identify what that something is and that makes Monday more painful.”

He said it’s crucial for changes in the way residents in social housing are treated and for swifter action to remove unsafe materials, including Grenfell-style cladding from homes.

Edward Daffarn, giving evidence at Grenfell Inquiry

Mr Daffarn lived on the 16th floor of Grenfell Tower for 20 years and had spent years before campaigning for improvements to the building, pointing out problems such as front doors which did not shut securely – and sadly contributed to the disaster – only to be dismissed as a “rebel resident” and “hyperbolic”, or exaggerating problems.

He believes that the failing door on his floor was responsible for the death of two people.

He was alerted to the blaze by his neighbour Joe’s fire alarm, but when he opened his flat door he was met with “a gush of thick swirling, acrid smoke.”

In his witness statement to the Inquiry Mr Daffarn said he thought he was “two breaths away from death.”

“I ran for my life,” he told the Inquiry. As he stood near to the flaming block he said: “I was just wailing from inside my soul. It was so horrible.”

Daffarn was the co-founder of the Grenfell Action Group blog which detailed the failings of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which looked after more than 9,000 homes for landlords Kensington and Chelsea Council.

The blog warned about a “catastrophic event” which proved sadly prophetic.

In 2013 there were frightening power surges in the Tower and this was “a major catalyst” to the TMO’s “absolute disregard for residents”.

He was amongst the group of residents who raised concerns about the refurbishment at the 1970s tower block which saw it clad in cheap aluminium combustible cladding which proved catastrophic.

“I came from a very basic place, which is there was an injustice was being committed against our community,” he said.

The Grenfell Action Blog he wrote with Francis O’Connor has since been archived by the British Library and has formed part of the Inquiry’s evidence.

Since the fire he has continued the fight with bereaved and survivors group Grenfell United and served on homelessness charity Shelter’s commission for social housing.

Days before the fourth anniversary of the devastating fire he explained that the slow progress in improving conditions for others exacerbates the pain.

“There was an opportunity four years on for stuff to have changed and because so little has been achieved by the Government in charge it makes these anniversaries more painful,” he said.

Community groups help make the Grenfell Memorial Mosaic in a project with Acava Arts, pic Zute Lightfoot for Acava Arts, Credit: Acava & Lightfoot

Grenfell United has spearheaded a national campaign to remove dangerous cladding from homes up and down the country.

In 2018 Mr Daffarn warned the parliamentary housing, communities and local government select committee that whilst unsafe building materials were on homes “Grenfell Two is in the post.”

On the eve of the fourth anniversary of Grenfell he fears it could still happen.

“We are waiting for Grenfell Two with a fire in a high-density building with cladding, not necessarily aluminium combustible cladding, with mass fatalities. I pray to God that it will never happen,” he warned.

There have been some lucky escapes, most recently at New Providence Wharf in East London, where cladding caught fire but fortunately everyone was evacuated safely.

But he said there’s been “glacial progress” in removing cladding and other unsafe building materials.

His flat “had beautiful views of the sunset to the West over Heathrow” and he remembers the community there with fondness.

On the anniversary he will pay a private tribute to his friends and neighbours from the Tower he called home and “just remembering what happened”.

It’s been hard for communities kept apart because of the pandemic. For those affected by Grenfell it’s also meant they haven’t been able to get together and support each other in person or hug each other at tough times.

The monthly Silent Walks on the 14th of each month – the date of the fire- are also on hold until it is safe to do so.

Campaigners have continued meeting the government though to hold them to account.

“It’s harder to hold them to account over Zoom than when you look them in the eye,” said Mr Daffarn.

“It’s about that long-lasting legacy for people that live in social housing to be treated in a different way and the lack of progress around that is very demoralising but we will never give up.”

He added: “The harder it becomes to achieve things the more determined I am to fight to ensure it happens.”

There’s also frustration that bereaved families have had to challenge the government to implement recommendations from the first phase of the Inquiry.

The family of Sakina Afrasehabi who had mobility issues and lived on the 18th floor threatened legal action over the Government’s plans to water down recommendations for Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans for residents with disabilities. She was never offered a PEEP and died alongside her sister Fatimah.

The Grenfell Inquiry has resumed and it’s been painful and shocking listening as details of fire safety failings and concerning tests which passed unsafe products.

Mr Daffarn said the most shocking thing has been hearing about manufacturers’ attitudes and evidence about misleading test results for the Arconic cladding and Celotex insulation which were used on the Tower.

Mr Daffarn was one of the residents who gave evidence to the Inquiry.

“It was very stressful,” he said.

He watched evidence from council and TMO witnesses with his solicitor who challenged some comments made about him in evidence.

“It was a very stressful and upsetting experience. If at the end it goes some way to make change for the future it will have been worth it in some way.

“I never really thought of myself as a ‘rebel resident’. I was a customer defending customers.”

He said he was concerned how the Inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick would really get an understanding of how residents were treated and their concerns dealt with.

“Unless you lived it, it’s really difficult. I fear for Sir Martin and the Inquiry, the reality is so far away from anything that you could imagine.”

“The most important thing for me is the culture of the TMO and the lack of scrutiny” [from Kensington and Chelsea council].

“For me a crucial finding of this module (of the Inquiry) has been their complete and utter lack of understanding of their roles and their responsibilities.”

He said the council should have been “scrutinising and interrogating” the TMO “and not accepting it as fact”.

He feels “there is a distinct lack of empathy and humanity” from the TMO.

“You couldn’t get anything done by this organisation, they couldn’t respond in a timely, professional, respectful manner. The only thing they were interested in was blaming residents, victim blaming and evicting residents when they became £5 overdrawn with their rent and evicting residents in the most brutal manner, that’s what they were about.”

One Grenfell resident even had to go to Shepherd’s Bush for a toilet for three months because her’s was out of action.

Sadly Mr Daffarn said despite the horrors revealed by the Inquiry Grenfell United hears more appalling housing stories on a weekly basis.

“We don’t have an effective regulator. Everyone in social housing should be aware of the Ombudsman.”

He added: “What we need is a government that cares and is motivated to bring meaningful change.”

Despite government promises four years ago of a White Paper on social housing Mr Daffarn is still waiting.

“What would have been a legacy for Grenfell is just parked up and going nowhere.”

He added: “It’s less about finances, it’s more about a change of culture.”

 


 

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