BY JULIA GREGORY
Local Democracy Correspondent
A man accused of falsely claiming that he was sleeping rough at Grenfell Tower on the night of the fire has described how he injured himself jumping out of a window as the blaze took hold.
Alvin Thompson – on trial for alleged fraud – said that he saw two men use a pole to smash a window in the burning building and jumped out afterwards – injuring himself and knocking himself unconscious in the process before recovering to help other survivors of the blaze.
Thompson, who denies fraud, said he slept rough in the tower regularly in the two-and-a-half years leading up to the inferno on June 14, 2017.
He recalled waking up that night and told the jury at Isleworth Crown court: “I did not understand what had happened when I woke up. I was confused, I was disorientated.”
He said he heard “a lot of shouting, a lot of banging”.
Thompson described how “I looked up at the stairwell and then I saw a wall of flame on the stairwell up to the blocks of flats.”
He said he was in shock and froze.
“I felt that the enormity of what I was seeing was so serious that I realised that my life could be in danger,” he said. “I remember being transfixed watching the fire, mesmerised by the fire, the flames and the smoke.”
He then heard the sound of glass breaking and saw “two men – they were smashing the glass with an object.”
Thompson, who contacted the authorities a month later for help, telling them he was sleeping rough in the tower on the night of the blaze, explained he watched one of the men jump safely from the window and followed after him.
“I slipped and I landed very badly,” he said. “I hit my head and my knee and I knocked myself out.”
He said his top was covered in blood from a nose bleed.
Ben Holt, prosecuting, asked why he had never given this account of his escape to the police.
Cross examining 51-year-old Mr Thompson, he said: “ I have to suggest you made this up.”
Mr Thompson, of Westbourne Park Road, replied: “Not at all.”
He was asked to show the height he jumped from the window compared with the dimensions at the court room and the back row of jurors was invited to have a look. Mr Holt said it was estimated at 6m to 7m.
After he approached Kensington and Chelsea council for help in July 2017 at the Curve outreach centre, he was put up in a succession of four central London hotels before the council found him a flat.
Overall it spent £95,706 on helping him, including £60,000 on hotel bills.
After his arrest, he watched 3hrs 20mins of CCTV footage of residents escaping the fire through the lobby, although the court heard he did not appear on the film he viewed with his solicitor at a police station.
Mr Holt asked why he did not tell police he escaped through a window or suggest that he would not appear on the footage.
The prosecutor said: “The point is that you had not decided on August 23 [when he viewed footage] that you had jumped out of the window. It has come later, hasn’t it?”
Thompson, denying he had made up the story, replied: “No, it has not.”
The defendant also described how he saw a woman in her nightdress standing at a window in the tower gesturing for help, which still haunts him.
He said: “I wake up in a cold sweat, my bedsheets are saturated,” Thompson told the jury.
“I became ill, it traumatised me, I had to seek help because I had never experienced anything like this.”
Thompson was homeless at the the time and told a jury he used to sleep in the stairwell at Grenfell.
He said he did not have a key and used to wait until residents came to get into the 24-storey building. He said he sometimes asked residents if he could use an extension lead through their letter box to make tea.
He told the jury at Isleworth Crown Court he got to know the building after playing football at the nearby Westway sports centre and would spend four to five hours sleeping there a few times a week.
“It was a place I could feel comfortable,” he said.
However he added: “I did not have a routine. I did not know where I would be tomorrow.”
A month after the fire he asked Kensington and Chelsea council for help and was put up in luxury hotels in London before he moved into a flat the council decorated for him.
He denies two charges of fraudulently obtaining services and money from the council after the fire.
Thompson said despite his experiences in the tower he did not ask for emergency accommodation for survivors at the Westway immediately afterwards as “I did not really feel to take that bedding, take that space from someone who needs it more than me. I’m used to sleeping on the street.”
Afterwards he said he helped give out supplies and met the magician Dynamo, who was helping children in the area.
He said the night of the fire “changed me forever” and affected his mental health.
But despite the council’s help in putting him up in luxury hotels he said he preferred to spend some nights back in Kensal Rise Cemetery, where he had slept rough regularly.
I felt that the hotel with all its nice things that make anybody like it, mobile phone, bed, TV, en suite, it ticks all the boxes, but for me it was like living in an institution, I did not feel comfortable.”
He added: “I felt I was being watched. I know I was being watched, two-way mirrors, I was being judged from the beginning.”
The hearing continues.
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Cheques should be made payable to “MSI Media Limited” and sent by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online. Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.
Get the latest local news delivered every week!