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MP accuses Grenfell Tower council of displaying ‘racism or snobbery’ over area

Kensington and Chelsea Council said it would investigate Emma Dent Coad’s claims if they can be substantiated.

The Grenfell Tower blaze on June 14 2017 left 72 people dead (Victoria Jones/PA)
The Grenfell Tower blaze on June 14 2017 left 72 people dead (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Grenfell Tower area was described as “little Africa” and “full of people from the Tropics” by council officials, an MP has claimed.

Labour’s Emma Dent Coad (Kensington) said the attitude from Kensington and Chelsea Council following the fire was either “racism or snobbery, take your pick”.

The MP added she is also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the blaze at the west London tower block on June 14 2017, which left 72 people dead.

The council said it would write to Ms Dent Coad to find out the details of the allegations, adding it would investigate them “urgently” if the claims can be substantiated.

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Labour’s Emma Dent Coad, MP for Kensington (Yui Mok/PA)

Speaking as MPs criticised the response to the tragedy, Ms Dent Coad told the Commons: “A senior council officer was told to go down to the site but refused. He said, ‘It’s like little Africa down there’.

“Another said ‘the area was full of people from the Tropics’.

“A senior officer regularly in front of others referred to my neighbours as ‘mussies’.”

Ms Dent Coad, who is also a councillor for the London borough, added: “This attitude is hardly surprising.

“A senior councillor about two years ago during a debate on refugee children said during his speech, ‘If we let these people in, we will have an Islamic caliphate in Kensington and Chelsea’.”

The MP referred to her own health, adding: “As someone myself suffering from PTSD, but able to function and I know so many who cannot, I will on their behalf wear the scars of my own mental ill health with pride.”

Earlier she said: “We have 11,000 people affected to varying degrees by the Grenfell atrocity in our neighbourhood. Some have been helped (by mental health services) but many have not.

“The type of trauma we have does not go away. There have been several suicides and while it is often difficult to ascertain causes, the people that I know of, five, who have lost their lives in the past seven months were affected to varying degrees by what happened.”

If these claims can be substantiated we will of course investigate them urgently Kensington and Chelsea Council leader Elizabeth Campbell

Campaigners from the Grenfell United group sat in the Commons public gallery to listen to the debate and wore the campaign’s green colours.

Ms Dent Coad added: “The police investigation, as we have seen, is struggling for funds and has asked for a further £2 million from the Government and has been refused.

“The timeline for criminal charges is slipping and along with it the hope for justice.”

In a statement, Kensington and Chelsea Council leader Elizabeth Campbell said: “If these claims can be substantiated we will of course investigate them urgently, but I hope Emma would have reported them at the time as both a local councillor and MP. I will be writing to her directly to find out the details of the cases she outlined in the House of Commons.”

She defended the council’s efforts to rehouse the survivors, adding: “We are nearly there, but we will not be rushing the last few families to meet artificial deadlines. There is currently one household in a hotel, and 184 families have a permanent home.”

Conservative Sir David Amess, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety rescue, highlighted changes made by the Government following the fire, but said: “It’s not true to say nothing has been done, but not enough has been done.”

Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North, criticised the failure of ministers to act on recommendations made following the 2009 Lakanal House fire in south London and said they had chosen to “cover up their earlier inaction with more inaction” following Grenfell.

He said: “If the leaders of a private company had acted in the way that ministers did, they would find themselves in the dock for corporate manslaughter – and ministers should reflect on that point.”

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “We rededicate ourselves to seeing the survivors getting the homes and the help they need, to bringing all those culpable to justice, and to putting in place every measure needed to make sure we can with confidence say that Grenfell can never happen again.”

Mr Healey said that while progress has been made over the last two years, the response had not been on a large enough scale.

He added: “Ministers have been like rabbits in the headlights. For two years the action they have taken has been too slow and too weak on every front.”

Housing minister Kit Malthouse said he was “happy to be held to account” for the Government’s response.

He added: “Grenfell does change everything and I have made commitments in private and in public that there needs to be fundamental change as a fitting legacy to those who died.”

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