POLITICS
17/10/2017 23:22 BST

Grenfell Survivors Hail 'First Battle Win' In Quest For Justice As Bid To Close TMO Delayed

'They need to go back to square one and listen to what the tenants want.'

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Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have hailed halting a bid to close the organisation which managed the block as their “first battle win” in their quest for justice. 

Plans to disband the hated Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) were delayed amid fears shutting it down could derail potential corporate manslaughter charges or civil cases in the future.

The TMO manages more than 9,000 properties on behalf of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), but was stripped of responsibilities for the tower block following the tragic fire in June.

Its members were due to vote on whether to end the TMO’s agreement with the local authority at the AGM on Tuesday, following a unanimous council vote in September to sever ties with the arm’s-length organisation.

But members passed a motion by more than 80% to delay the meeting and crunch vote for at least 21 days, resident Gordon Futter said.

Futter, who proposed that the meeting be postponed, said people were angry but kept the discussion under control.

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He said: “This is a great battle won against the TMO. This is the first battle win against the TMO, so it’s taken 20 years to get to this point and it takes such a devastating event to actually get the TMO to agree to something that we’ve chosen ... a historic first.”

Survivors present were “very happy with the outcome”, he said.

Lawyers from Bindmans and Bhatt Murphy, who represent a “large number” of people affected by the fire, wrote to the TMO multiple times requesting the meeting be postponed.

Residents have “very serious concerns” that disbanding the TMO could lead to the organisation avoiding prosecution for corporate manslaughter, or being sued in any civil proceedings, they said.

There is also concern that folding up the TMO before the public inquiry is complete could undermine future liaison on issues of disclosure and witnesses.

Tuesday’s meeting started 45 minutes late as attendees queued outside before going through security checks and entering the town hall.

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A small group of protesters chanted “Justice For Grenfell, rotten borough out” as they waited for the meeting to start.

A source inside said the members of the board refused to answer questions from the floor and that tempers were running high during the meeting, in which deputy council leader of the council, Kim Taylor-Smith, addressed the chamber.

Councillor Taylor-Smith said afterwards: “We are disappointed that the TMO has decided to adjourn the AGM. We have spoken to many residents, and they want certainty over the future of housing stock in the borough. Everyone agrees there is no future role for the TMO.

“But let’s be clear. If the KCTMO had voted the council in as the majority shareholder tonight, we would have secured three things.

“Firstly, the TMO would continue, and therefore it would be accountable to both the police investigation and the public inquiry. We have guaranteed that.

“We would be able to continue running the estates during an orderly transition period, ensuring simple things like repairs are carried out.

“Most importantly, it would have allowed us to start a consultation with residents and communities so that they decide the future of housing in the borough. We want to give the power back - and we remain committed to that, no matter how long it takes.”

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Labour MP Emma Dent Coad

Local community members have repeatedly called for an end to the TMO amid accusations that it breached its duty of care by ignoring residents’ complaints, failing to carry out repairs and over its response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

But they are concerned about proposals to make the council the TMO’s sole member and are hoping to use the coming weeks to negotiate a better alternative.

Futter said Barry Quirk, chief executive of the council, promised that there should be “co-designed” future management of residents’ homes, adding: “Now we need to get those agreements in writing, that would be a wonderful thing.”

It is understood that all options regarding future management are being considered by the council.

Local Labour MP Emma Dent Coad also welcomed the decision, and said: “What happens next is really down to everybody to work together.

“They need to go back to square one and listen to what the tenants want. There are lots of potential experts here and the tenants are the experts here, not them.”