On the eve of the first report into the tragedy, prophet of Grenfell Edward Daffarn reveals his hopes for phase two of the inquiry

In the two years and four months since the country awoke to horrific images of a burning tower block, Edward Daffarn has lived and breathed Grenfell 24 hours a day. Efforts to find some normality reading a novel, going to the cinema, playing sports have had little success. The other day, while visiting an art gallery with a cousin, a fire alarm went off. That freaked me out. Im not good with alarms and sirens. The only way I can escape Grenfell is by leaving the country, he says.

For Daffarn, who escaped from the 16th floor of Grenfell Tower in the early hours of 14 June 2017, the trauma and the battle for truth and justice has never diminished while, inevitably, public attention has gone elsewhere. But on 30 October the first report of the public inquiry into the tragedy which claimed 72 lives will bring the appalling events of the night sharply back into focus.

This is a very significant moment for us, says Daffarn, 57, a key figure in Grenfell United, which represents survivors and the bereaved. He was also the co-author of a community blog that, seven months before the fire, warned: Only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.

Phase one of the public inquiry, chaired by the retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, examined the events of the night, including how the fire started in a fourth-floor flat and spread to the top of the building in less than 30 minutes, and the response of the fire brigade and other emergency services. Phase two, due to start in January, will investigate the lead-up to the fire, including decisions made by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the towers landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), architects and contractors.

This weeks report will draw on seven months of hearings, including testimony from survivors, families and the emergency services, and 200,000 documents. Its very personal to us, but its important to the whole country. After all, we dont live in dangerous buildings any more, but thousands of people go to sleep at night in homes effectively covered with liquid paraffin, says Daffarn. The fact is that this catastrophe was predictable. There was a series of forces in play that led to this. Accidents do happen, but this wasnt an accident.

In the hours after the blaze, Daffarns blog, spurred by rage at the sheer injustice of how we were treated, recorded some three million hits, earning him the epithet the prophet of Grenfell. Everything you need to know about Grenfell is contained within the pages of that blog, he says.

He lived in Flat 134 of Grenfell Tower for 16 years. We had a beautiful community; people from different cultural backgrounds, all different races and different financial backgrounds. We all lived in one block side by side and got along well. We often joked that the reason why we knew each other so well was because we spent so long waiting in the foyer because of the defective lifts, he said in his witness statement to the inquiry.

Edward
Edward Daffarn co-authored a community blog which had warned of the risk of fire. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

On the night of the fire, he was listening to the radio in bed when he heard his neighbour Joes smoke alarm go off. I assumed Joe had burnt some toast or something, his statement said. But then he heard shouting. He got out of bed, opened his door a fraction. The whole hallway outside my flat was full of black and white smoke all mixed together.

His instinct was to stay in the flat, but another neighbour phoned him to tell him to get out quickly. With a wet towel wrapped around his face, he opened his front door again. I couldnt see beyond the end of my nose The smoke was aggressive and bellowing against me. Panicking, disorientated, and thinking he was about to die, he was grabbed by a firefighter and helped to find the stairwell. I ran for my life, he told the inquiry.

Speaking to the Observer, he describes Grenfell as a tragedy in three acts: a community ignored and abused; the trauma of that awful night; and the aftermath being abandoned by the state. He talks cautiously about justice. Justice is a word that has a different meaning for each person, he says. Say half a dozen people go to prison and social policy changes for the better will that bring us justice? And: Justice cant bring back the people we lost, it cant replace our community.

Nevertheless, Daffarn is hoping for some specific outcomes in this weeks report. One of the most important things is that Moore-Bick finds the building was non-compliant with regulations. If he does, then phase two can concentrate on which corporate bodies were responsible. If he doesnt, phase two will be mired in uncertainty.

He also wants to see clear exoneration of Behailu Kebede, in whose fourth-floor flat the fire started and who was vilified in some media reports in the days after the inferno.

Daffarn expects the actions and decisions by the London Fire Brigade to be closely examined. Its really unhelpful that this issue is looked at through the prism of heroes and villains. We need to know about the management, policies, training and advice, and how all these things contributed.

My life was saved by a brave firefighter. But at the same time there are many questions the risk assessment of buildings, the radios that didnt work, the stay put policy [residents were told to stay in their flats and await rescue rather than escape the building]. When I came out of the building at 1.37am, there were numerous people shouting up to those inside, telling them to get out. That tells its own story.

Messages
Messages of condolence at the base of Grenfell Tower. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Its vitally important that we understand why the stay put policy was in place for as long as it was [the advice was abandoned two hours after the first 999 call], and why we werent evacuated sooner.

He also wants to see the behaviour and culture of KCTMO, the company that managed the tower, scrutinised in the report. We were up against an incredibly powerful and incredibly abusive non-functioning mini-mafia, and I hope and pray that by the end of the inquiry this is widely known.

The visceral anger of survivors and bereaved relatives, which was vented in distressing and frustrating community meetings with officials in the aftermath of fire, has not dissipated, he says. Its still raw. The anger is valid and authentic but it needs to be channelled into bringing change.

Daffarn was a mental health social worker until he took time out to care for his sick mother, and later his stepfather. Over the last couple of years, he has spent about 120 hours in police interviews, and now is devoting much of his time with his solicitor preparing to give evidence to phase two of the inquiry. He also has regular counselling.

He struggles to imagine a time when his life could move beyond Grenfell. All of us [survivors] are on different paths. Some went back to work really quickly. For me, its like Im on a train journey and though there have been plenty of times I want to get off, I have to follow through to the end.

Were determined not to be remembered for the way we were treated before the fire, but for the changes we bring. Our next fight will be to ensure the reports recommendations are implemented and not swept under the carpet. Were already steeling ourselves for the next part of this battle.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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