Residents of Grenfell Tower who raised concerns about its renovation were labelled “rebels” by a contractor in charge of the work, an inquiry into the fire has heard.
Occupants who raised issues about the renovation were accused of being “vocal” and “aggressive” by Simon Lawrence – a Rydon contracts manager who managed the work on the west London block.
Referring to issues raised with window fittings and a show area, Mr Lawrence said in an email to other contractors: “We are under massive pressure and criticism from the rebel residents about our quality of work.
“I’m being called to answer questions and defend our actions.”
Questioned by inquiry lawyer Richard Millett QC, Mr Lawrence explained his comments made in spring 2015 by saying: “At the time there was a vocal group of residents that either didn’t want the work to proceed or wanted it to proceed in a different way.
“They weren’t happy with the TMO (Kensington and Chelsea tenant management organisation) and way the work was progressing.”
Mr Lawrence said a number of people who lived in the block printed posters and stuck them on their front doors refusing access for construction staff to carry out work in their flats.
Mr Lawrence was also accused of “demonstrating a lack of trust and an attitude of not believing residents”, by an occupant whose flat door was left in a “mess” by the work.
In an email sent in August 2015, David Collins complained to TMO staff and a number of councillors at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea that Mr Lawrence “implied that I could just be making this up for my own agenda and because I have an axe to grind” when he came to view the issue.
Mr Collins added: “Clearly, Simon does not appreciate this is not a fun pastime for me. I do not really want to be spending my time in these kinds of conversations.”
Mr Lawrence, who worked on the project until 2015, told the hearing: “I don’t accept that I treated anybody badly,” and added that he thought his workmen were “always courteous with the residents”.
He added: “I felt there were several very vocal, dare I say aggressive, residents that, in my opinion, regardless of what work was being carried out or not, they would still have had reason for complaint.”
He said he had “met several of the residents that I would put in that category”.
Eddie Daffarn, who escaped from the 16th floor on the night of the fire which killed 72 people, was referenced by Mr Lawrence in Wednesday’s hearing as a person who “could be extremely vocal and was quite well known by the TMO”.
Mr Daffarn founded the Grenfell Action Group blog, and had raised concerns about how the revamp affected the block’s fire procedures with London Fire Brigade in 2014.
In an email read to the inquiry, Mr Daffarn said to the service: “Please be advised that residents of Grenfell Tower are very concerned about fire safety after the recent closure of all land and rights of way to the west and north of Grenfell Tower.
“We are also very concerned that we have no idea where to assemble should there be a fire in Grenfell Tower as there is no open space in the vicinity that is available to our community.”
When asked if he remembered the issue being raised, Mr Lawrence answered: “I don’t specifically remember.”
Concerns about Rydon’s relationship with residents were also raised by local councillors after complaints of “some Rydon workers (…) being very aggressive and threatening towards them”.
Councillors Robert Atkinson and Judith Blakeman, for the Notting Dale ward, wrote a letter following a meeting with tower residents in summer 2015 stating: “There is a need for both the TMO and Rydon to treat residents with proper respect, engage with them properly and apologise when an apology is justified.”
Mr Lawrence said the issue did not “ring any particular bell”, but said: “I would expect Rydon to be treating residents with respect.”
The inquiry continues on Thursday.
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