London mayor Sadiq Khan: Grenfell Tower residents were treated as troublemakers before deadly 2017 fire

Sadiq Khan tells inquiry that wealthy council should be investigated for institutional racism

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said residents of Grenfell Tower were treated as troublemakers for raising safety concerns. AFP
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said residents of Grenfell Tower were treated as troublemakers for raising safety concerns. AFP

Residents who complained about widespread safety problems at London’s Grenfell Tower were treated as a troublesome sub-class before a deadly fire swept through the block killing 72 people, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said.

Mr Khan told a public inquiry that the treatment of families who lived in the high-rise block should be investigated for institutional racism after their complaints were routinely ignored by the building’s managers.

Flammable cladding on the outside of Grenfell in west London allowed a small kitchen fire caused by a faulty refrigerator to spread into a blaze that rapidly engulfed the 24-storey building. In addition to the 72 dead, 70 people were injured.

The tower block in one of the capital’s wealthiest areas symbolised social divisions in the country, with fewer than half of those who died UK citizens.

The majority of those who died were from ethnic-minority communities. Some of the victims were from Lebanon, Iran, Syria and Egypt.

“The mayor of London wishes to make clear that he regards the dismissive treatment of the tenants of Grenfell Tower when they were making justifiable and, as it turned out, prophetic complaints, to be a disgrace,” said a statement read out by Mr Khan's barrister at the online hearing.

The public inquiry into the tragedy has heard that safety concerns were ignored at every turn by a council that regarded the block as an “eyesore” which required “cosmetic surgery to make it more palatable to its elegant and wealthy neighbours”.

Responsibility for its safety lay with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council – which is controlled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party – and an arms-length body that managed the building and oversaw a refurbishment.

The work carried out by the Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) involved fixing highly flammable cladding to the tower, turning it into a death trap, the inquiry heard.

Mr Khan, elected in 2016 on an opposition Labour Party ticket, said that it was clear that residents were “treated appallingly in multiple different ways” over a sustained period of time.

The conduct by the authorities “demonstrates a total failure in ensuring that Grenfell Tower was a safe place to live”, his barrister Anne Studd said.

The attitude towards residents left people feeling disrespected and ignored, said the mayor. “Those that persevered with trying to get their complaints recognised, resolved or even taken seriously were branded as troublemakers,” he said.

The inquiry must look at issues “including the possibility of institutional discrimination – racial or otherwise”, he said.

Despite the large number of people living in Grenfell Tower with English as their second language, important information was not available in other languages. Residents felt that language was a barrier to making complaints.

The council has apologised for its failures and said it should have done more to stop it from happening.

Lawyers for KCTMO acknowledged that relationships with some residents were “strained and difficult”, but did not accept it ever adopted a dismissive attitude.

The management company blamed the “deceptions” of cladding companies that persuaded them and hundreds of other organisations to use dangerous materials on projects.

Updated: March 30, 2021 03:57 PM

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