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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Ex-Grenfell boss waited two hours before sending residents list to firefighters

Written by Henry Vaughan

The former boss of the firm that ran Grenfell Tower waited more than two hours before forwarding a list of residents to firefighters, an inquiry has heard.

A total of 72 people lost their lives as a result of the blaze in the 24-storey block of flats, in west London, on June 14 last year.

But Robert Black (pictured), the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) until he resigned at the end of December last year, claimed the company had no role in emergency planning during the blaze.

He told a public inquiry in central London on Thursday that the company, which looked after 10,000 homes including Grenfell, did not have the resources or authority to deal with the disaster.

He admitted KCTMO's own emergency plan was not activated, but claimed it was not necessary as the Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) had activated theirs.

"From my aspect, having dealt with some similar emergencies, there's just no way our plan could deal with that event," he said.

"Although we are a reasonable-sized organisation with 10,000 homes, we just don't have the resources or the authority."

Asked what the company's role in the emergency plan was, Mr Black said: "It has no role because the local authority liaison officers are the key part.

"They are on the ground, they have the authority to command resources."

He added: "The police, the fire brigade and the local authority have taken over."

Mr Black was at the scene for a total of six and a half hours and Richard Millett QC asked him: "What were you actually doing for that period?"

There were some giggles from members of the public as he answered: "Standing there, responding to phone calls. Not very much, as I said, because I was not part of the structure."

He told the inquiry he was standing outside London Fire Brigade's (LFB's) command unit but did not directly offer his assistance, with his only direct contact with firefighters by email.

Local authority liaison officer Nickolas Leyton earlier told the inquiry he had repeatedly asked Mr Black to provide a list of Grenfell residents at the request of firefighters.

A police officer's body-worn camera captured the moment Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Roe complained to a council employee that plans of the building had not been provided.

"I'm telling you now, the fact you have not been able to get me a set of plans is a major deficiency and will be highlighted," he said.

But Mr Black said he could not remember being asked for the list by the time Mr Leyton left the scene at around 7am, or for the building plans.

An email sent to Mr Black and others at 5.24am read: "All occupants of Grenfell as at May 30 2017. Still trying to get live data to run. Looking for plans."

A second, sent at 5.38am, with a document and spreadsheet attached, said: "This is up to date. Use this one."

The inquiry heard the email including the list of residents was not forwarded to the LFB for another two and a quarter hours, at 7.56am.

Asked for an explanation of the time gap, Mr Black said: "I think that is when I was asked by the LFB to pass them on to them."

Other emails sent between TMO staff included detailed information about Grenfell Tower and its residents taken from an emergency plan dated February 25, 2002, the inquiry heard.

Mr Black said he was "very disappointed" to see the document, which was 15 years out of date and did not reflect the building's refurbishment.

The inquiry heard Mr Black sent an email to colleagues at 6am on June 14 in which he wrote "questions about the cladding and spec", "questions about how it spread", and "we need all the information about the refurbishment as this will be a primary focus".

He said this was a response to "general" questions from councillors on the scene and that he was not aware of any deficiencies in fire safety in the building.

He added: "What I thought is that we have a brand-new refurbished building that's on fire and people will be asking, how could that happen?'"

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Pictures - Grenfell Tower (c) Nick Ansell / PA Wire. Robert Black (c) Twitter.