Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire an article appeared in London’s Evening Standard in which the former Conservative MP for Kensington accused me of ‘collective responsibility’ for the fire. This was exactly a week after I had won the Kensington constituency, overturning a Tory majority of 7,000 by just 20 votes.
I witnessed the fire, at the end of my road, in which several friends had been able to escape – and others had not. Some of them had been active in the residents’ group which had predicted the fire in November 2016, and then for their trouble had been sent a cease and desist letter from the Council for “scaremongering.”
The fire was utterly shocking and unbearably sad. The accusation levelled against me was inexcusable. I had countless death threats and had to ask the police for protection. My house was under police surveillance. I have asked three times for the former Tory MP Victoria Borwick to apologise and admit she had spoken in error. To date, she has refused.
After Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appalling comments at the start of this election that the victims of the fire lacked ‘common sense,’ I didn’t think it could get worse. But I was wrong. Grenfell has become a political football. In recent days the Liberal Democrat candidate Sam Gyimah has repeated the accusation that I was somehow involved, but embellished it by saying that I “was part of all the discussions that went on in terms of the cladding.”
This is quite simply a lie. Where Gyimah got his information from I have no idea, but when misinformation brings death threats, and the perpetrator refuses to correct the error or apologise, and others don’t bother to verify and repeat it, the lie spreads like a virus.
So, here are some checkable facts which I hope will end this libel. I joined the Board of the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) in June 2008 and left in October 2012. (Here is a link to the Board of Directors, also showing which Councillors were on it and when. Council Leader Cllr. Elizabeth Campbell was on the Board at the same time as me.)
During my tenure there had been numerous complaints from residents about the condition of Grenfell Tower: broken lifts, draughty windows, poor insulation, and the heating and hot water system regularly breaking down.
In October 2012 (around the time I left the TMO) the then-Cabinet member Cllr. Tim Coleridge announced that a major refurbishment would be undertaken. Residents were pleased. At the time, the proposed contractor was with Leadbitter. The scope of the work was agreed at the time, but the detail was to come.
In April 2013 responsibility for the project was handed over to the new Cabinet member, Cllr. Rock Feilding-Mellen. It was not until January 2014 that the planning application was agreed (search for Grenfell Tower at this link).
In April 2014 it was announced by the Council and TMO that, due to costs, the contract had been awarded to Rydon rather than Leadbitter, who had scoped the work. Note that this was after the planning application was granted approval.
Throughout the summer amendments were made and detailed specifications decided. Cladding materials were proposed on 1 July, 2014. There were several amendments during this period. Often the details of these are done by ‘delegated decision’, which means the final details and choice of materials is decided by officers and not the Planning Committee.
Then on 30 September 2014 ‘Condition 3’ was agreed by delegated decision; this related to the final choice of cladding.
Who made those decisions, advised by whom, and why, should be thoroughly scrutinised by the agencies tasked with the job of investigating these matters and allocating accountability, responsibility, blame and – we hope ultimately – guilt.
To be clear, I was on the Board when the principle of refurbishing Grenfell Tower was discussed, but I was nowhere near the decision-making process for the detailed specifications for refurbishing Grenfell which started when I left. Board members agreed the contract but do not specify cladding or indeed any other technical details. Neither should they.
As you can see clearly from the dates when decisions were made above, the accusation made by the Liberal Democrat candidate Sam Gyimah is incorrect. He has been asked to apologise for his mistake. At the time of writing he has not.
I have signed up for the ‘Compassion in Politics’ campaign, which among other things hopes to: avoid language or behaviour that encourages hate or disrespect; speak with truth and integrity; uphold a level of respect and professionalism. I have huge respect for those who set up this campaign. Some of those who have signed should have a long, hard think.
I met Gyimah for the first time at a hustings recently, and offered a quiet chat afterwards on whether he wished to withdraw his comments. He didn’t take up the offer. I have no wish to spend time, money and stress taking legal action against someone who is clearly misinformed, but if I must, I will.
If this politically motivated lie continues to spread some people will believe it. My life could be in danger. He will be responsible for that.
Politics has always been argumentative and bitter at times. It has now become deadly. For the record, I will never respond in kind. Kindness – and compassion – are also contagious.