The family of a disabled woman who died in the Grenfell Tower fire are taking legal action to force the government to protect other residents who need assistance in evacuating from high-rise blocks of flats.
Last year, the Grenfell inquiry said the government must develop national guidelines for evacuating high-rise residential buildings.
It said this should include procedures for “evacuating persons who are unable to use the stairs in an emergency, or who may require assistance (such as disabled people, older people and young children)”.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, told MPs last October that the government “plan to accept in principle all the recommendations that [the inquiry] makes for central Government”, adding that “where action is called for action will follow”.
But the family of Sakina Afrasehabi, a disabled woman who lived on the 18th floor of Grenfell and died in the fire, say that Johnson’s pledge has been broken.
They say the government’s own proposals have watered down the inquiry’s recommendation on evacuating disabled people from blocks of high-rise flats.
The inquiry recommended that every resident of a high-rise building whose ability to evacuate may be “compromised”, including “persons with reduced mobility or cognition”, should have their own personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) drawn up.
But the Home Office’s fire safety consultation (PDF), which ends on Monday, recommends that this proposal should only apply to those in high-rise buildings covered with the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding used on Grenfell – and blamed by the inquiry for being the primary cause of the fire spreading – rather than all high-rise buildings.
This means that the government’s proposals would apply only to the three per cent of high-rise residential buildings that still use ACM cladding, and would ignore those disabled people needing assistance who live in the other 97 per cent of high-rise flats.
Solicitors Bhatt Murphy, who represent the family of Sakina Afrasehabi, argued this week that the government’s consultation process had been unlawful because it included “misleading and inadequate information”.
And it suggested that the government had relied on industry or sector advice on the “practical challenges” and costs of having to implement a system of PEEPs in all high-rise buildings.
Sakina Afrasehabi was housed on the 18th floor of Grenfell Tower even though Kensington and Chelsea council knew of her “very significant mobility issues”.
She and her sister, Fatima, both died in the fire which began in the early hours of 14 June 2017 in a block of flats owned by Kensington and Chelsea council and managed by the council’s Tenant Management Organisation.
In a statement to the Grenfell inquiry (PDF), Nazanin Aghlani said that her mother had needed a mobility aid to walk, and had a series of long-term health conditions including arthritis, diabetes, memory loss, hypertension, depression and asthma.
But despite her health conditions, she was forced by Kensington and Chelsea council to accept a tenancy on Grenfell’s 18th floor.
In the statement, Aghlani said her mother had been placed in the flat “knowing that there was no rescue plan in place for her. Her human right to escape was denied even before the fire.”
Her statement added: “When the fire happened at Grenfell Tower my mother could not escape because, even on a good day, she could not go down 18 floors, let alone in that fire.
“The Council failed in their duty of care. They failed to provide any provision for my mother that would allow her to escape in the event of a fire.
“She was forced to live in the flat, knowing she could not manage the stairs.
“I think that if she had been placed lower down in the Tower she would be alive today.”
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, said: “The prime minister needs to make good on his word from a year ago.
“Disabled people should never be collateral damage in disasters like this.
“The recommendations are common sense and lifesaving and must be prioritised as a government action.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have received this pre-action letter and are considering our response.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
Picture: Close-up of Grenfell Tower with banners in June 2018 (c) by Carcharoth is licensed under Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International