Tenant FoI requests relating to refurbishment work on Grenfell Tower were rejected by Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) to protect the commercial interests of contractor Rydon, the Grenfell inquiry heard.
And evidence to the inquiry outlined the relationship between tower residents and contract teams as ‘toxic’ during work “designed to benefit those looking at the block, not those living in it”.
Almost three years before the disaster, tenant Ed Daffarn used FoI to ask for monthly minutes from KCTMO relating to refurbishment project, including input from Rydon and the architecture firm Studio E.
The inquiry heard the request was refused because release might “prejudice the commercial interests of the contractor”.
Daffarn told the inquiry those minutes may have revealed that two months earlier zinc cladding had been swapped for combustible plastic-filled cladding – which leaked emails have shown saved the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea almost £300,000.
“If we had seen that they had replaced non-combustible materials with combustible materials we could have publicised it and campaigned against it,” Daffarn said.
“I didn’t have the information I needed to know just how unsafe our homes really were.
“The thought that if I had been given this information I could have done something about it continues to cause me anguish,” he said.
Daffarn, the inquiry heard, complained separately to the landlord that residents were not asked about the type of cladding and that they had not seen samples of new windows – as evidenced by newly released emails.
KCTMO claimed residents had been consulted.
But Daffarn told the inquiry: “As far as I can see, we were only ever informed about the zinc product. The fact that the product was changed, and the reasons for the change, were withheld from us.”
The cheaper combustible cladding was instrumental in spreading the fire, experts have told the inquiry, and it has now been banned by the government on residential buildings more than 18 metres tall.
Several of the bereaved and survivors giving evidence have complained about the way the refurbishment was handled.
Samuel Daniels, whose disabled father, Joseph Daniels, died in the fire, described the relationship between residents and Rydon as “toxic”, telling the inquiry it was clear the project was “designed to benefit those looking at the block, not those of us who were living in it”.
Daniels described how fire alarms that worked before the refurbishment did not go off and that for at least 30 minutes he smelled smoke but did not try to evacuate because he heard no alarm.
“We were living in a building site all the time,” he said. “There were builders everywhere and constant noise and dust through the windows.”
“The relationship with Rydon was toxic – residents resented them being there and the disruption to their lives.
“The builders were rude to residents and we were rude back.”
In evidence, Daniels also criticised new front doors that were fitted to flats as part of the renovation..
“They were much thinner than the previous doors and I have no idea why we were forced to take them.”
“We used to have thick, heavy fire doors that would close themselves if they were left open – the (new doors) were flimsy and the locking mechanism on my door kept breaking.”
Daniels told the inquiry how the front door of his flat broke a few months before the fire and he called KCTMO to be told a booking to replace the door would be made – but this had not happened by the time of the fire.
“This meant that even though they were supposed to be self-closing, mine was not self-closing at the time of the fire,” Daniels said.
Two Notting Hill Housing Trust tenants also told the inquiry that their front doors were not self-closing.
The inquiry continues.