Council paid Grenfell Tower ‘trickster’ £96,000, court hears

A man who claimed he was sleeping rough at Grenfell Tower and burned his hand helping people escape the blaze, defrauded the council out of £96,000 a court heard, writes Julia Gregory.

The prosecution alleges the council spent the cash for the man on hotel accommodation, emergency help and a flat.

In the aftermath of the fatal fire, Alvin Thompson told Kensington and Chelsea council he was sleeping in the stairwell in the building and was there on the night of the fire, Isleworth Crown Court heard.

He told officials he had rough slept at the Tower in North Kensington for two-and-a-half years before the fire, and arrived very late at night, said prosecutor Benjamin Holt.

He was considered a priority for housing because he said he was affected directly by the fire and he was put in four hotels between July 2017 and April 2018 before a new home was found for him.

He stayed in the Park Plaza Hotel in Westminster, Park Grand Palace, Park Plaza County Hall and the Radisson Blu – racking up a £60,000 bill, plus £746 in expenses.

Thompson told a doctor he burnt his hand helping people escape the blaze, said Mr Holt.

The 51-year-old, of Westbourne Park Road, denies two charges of fraud. Because of the scale of the disaster there was a policy to give emergency help “first and ask questions later,” Mr Holt told the jury at Isleworth Crown Court.

“Had Mr Thompson been sleeping in Grenfell Tower as a rough sleeper and been there on the night of the fire he would have been eligible for help under the council’s housing policy.” He explained that a woman who was sleeping rough there did get help.

Thompson asked for help at The Curve assistance centre a month after the fire and was sent in a taxi to the Park Plaza Hotel in Westminster, the court heard.

He explained he had helped people and joined in giving out donations after the June 2017 fire and slept rough at Kensal Green Cemetery after the disaster, said Mr Holt.

He was offered several flats which he turned down before accepting a flat in Westbourne Park Road in February 2018, the court heard.

The council spent £2,400 on white goods for his new home and also deep cleaned and carpeted it and fixed a new security camera, said Mr Holt.

It paid £17,000 rent and also provided Thompson a pre-paid bank card and Oyster card, and gave him £50 emergency cash to help with food and urgent expenses. Overall it gave him £11,000 of financial support.

Thompson told police he was sleeping on the fifth floor of the Tower – one floor below the seat of the fire – and escaped by using the stairs.

He replied “no comment” when police told him he was not seen on CCTV footage of people leaving the burning building. He was given the chance to watch the CCTV footage but could not spot himself, said Mr Holt.

He said Thompson claimed he never went into anyone’s flat, adding “that is significant as he would have had to go through the atrium of the Tower,” to leave on the night of the fire.

“The CCTV footage is of high quality,” he said. “The prosecution say that it is simply not possible that anyone could have come into the building or left the building without being caught on one of those five cameras in the atrium.”

A police officer who reviewed the CCTV footage to build up a timeline of residents’ movements could not spot Thompson, even when he looked back through footage dating back to April 2017, several months before the fire, Mr Holt said.

Mobile phone evidence showed Thompson was “in the vicinity” of Grenfell Tower on several days between April and June, but not during the night, said Mr Holt, and he was not staying at the Tower.

Detective Sergeant Paul Harris, who ran the missing persons’ desk immediately after the fire and built up a database of people’s movements from CCTV and footage filmed by witnesses, said Thompson did not show up in his investigations. He said: “No-one had ever heard of or knew of anyone called Alvin Thompson.”

The hearing is expected to last more than a week and continues.

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