Robert Black, the most senior executive at the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (TMO), told the public inquiry into the disaster that the obsolete plan showing no more than 12 vulnerable or disabled people was caused by staff not carrying out managers’ instructions allowing the block’s fire safety plan to become 15 years out of date so it failed to account for more than two dozen of the disabled people in the block.
Grenfell flats was in fact home to 37 disabled people and 15 of them died.
Counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC put it to Black: “In reality, as the chief executive you were ultimately responsible for a failure to keep these documents up to date lower down in your organisation”.
“Pass,” he replied. “It should have been updated. I’m not shying away from that, so that’s my situation.”
“Information should have been updated by staff,” Black told the inquiry. “The whole thing that I suffered throughout my career working with people is the ability to forget to fill in the paperwork.”
Black also said he had made a decision not to act on warnings that the landlord should draw up specific emergency evacuation plans for vulnerable and disabled people, claiming it was impractical and that the key policy was to tell residents to stay put in the event of a fire.
The inquiry heard how, in the preceding years, the TMO let the idea of producing personal emergency evacuation plans for vulnerable people “drop” despite warnings from safety consultants and the London fire brigade that its fire risk management was falling short. Seven years before the fire a consultancy hired by the TMO said it should develop “formal procedures to deal effectively with fire safety issues associated with disabled or vulnerable tenants and leaseholders … this should include a range of options from relocation in severe cases … and the provision of personal emergency evacuation plans in those less serious cases.”
It indicated this was a “high risk” issue, but asked whether this was done, Black said: “No, we didn’t have individual emergency plans per block.” He didn’t accept that specific fire evacuation plans needed to be made for disabled people, despite being warned that failing to do so would breach fire safety regulations.
Black also described how he gave the TMO’s director in charge of financial services and IT, Barbara Matthews, responsibility for fire safety, even though he did not check if she had any experience in fire safety.
“Can you account for having a head of health and safety who had no health and safety background?” asked Millett.
“I wouldn’t have had the income to have someone sitting on the executive specifically doing health and safety,” said Black. “Local authority funding across the country had been cut.”