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Kensington and Chelsea council “slow to react” in aftermath of Grenfell, ex-employee tells inquiry – South London News

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By Hannah Neary, Local Democracy Reporter

An ex-council worker has revealed the ‘pandemonium’ in Kensington and Chelsea as the authority responded to the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people.

A former officer for the borough said its emergency response team was not properly trained to deal with a major incident and was too slow to react to the blaze on June 14, 2017.

The Grenfell Inquiry heard how the council was responsible for organising emergency shelter for people who escaped the fire, known as “rest centres”.

But Rebecca Blackburn, an expert in disaster management, said staff didn’t have a handle on the situation and were unable to direct people to where to go.

At the time, Ms Blackburn worked as an officer for the council’s contingency planning unit, which was supposed to manage the rest centres.

But Ms Blackburn said staff did not know where the centres were or how many people were inside them.

Rebecca Blackburn

Speaking to the Grenfell Inquiry on Thursday last week, she said: “It wasn’t great, no one knew what they were doing.”

Ms Blackburn said the atmosphere in the council’s emergency control centre was chaotic when she arrived in the early hours of June 14.

She said there were about a dozen members of staff there, but an IT failure meant they could not use their computers and take calls.

She added: “You had people just sitting around. None of the computers were logged in. It was complete pandemonium.”

Ms Blackburn said the team should have sprung into action much sooner to co-ordinate a proper response to the fire and took too long to get to the scene of the emergency.

She said poor leadership and delayed action in the first few hours of the fire meant staff were unable to regain control as it progressed.

Despite the team struggling, Ms Blackburn said senior officers were slow to accept help from other authorities.

She added: “We’d already lost it by then. They didn’t know what was happening on the ground – how can you if you haven’t got people there?

“With an incident such as this size, if you lose it at the start it’s very difficult to get back. We didn’t deal with it early enough.”

The fire began at around 1am and some residents managed to flee the building soon after.

Many were in a state of shock and some were in their pyjamas or not wearing shoes.

The inquiry previously heard from survivors who escaped the fire that they were not given advice from the council about where to find shelter or where their missing family members were.

Some family members of the bereaved desperately searched hospitals for relatives as they were left in the dark about whether they were still alive.

In a statement, Ms Blackburn said: “I am left with the sense that the borough did not react quickly enough.

“Perhaps, with hindsight, the magnitude of the incident was not grasped at the outset.”

Pictured top: The burning tower (Picture: PA)

 

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