There were calls for a Tory councillor to resign on Saturday after she called rent being deducted from a Grenfell Tower resident a “tiny thing” in an interview that left listeners reeling over her “unbelievable arrogance”.
Catherine Faulks appeared on the Radio 4′s Today programme where she responded to claims from Yvette Williams, coordinator of Justice4Grenfell, who said one resident had recently obtained a new bank card following the June 14 blaze only to find rent was still being taken from her account.
Faulks called the deduction a “tiny thing” before backtracking somewhat to say that Kensington and Chelsea Council had provided affected residents with social workers to deal with such matters.
Responding to Williams’ revelation, the councillor said she was “very sorry to hear that” and could “understand its very distressing”, but then proceeded to downplay its significance in the aftermath of a fire that claimed at least 80 lives.
When asked why the council had allowed it to happen Faulks said: “Oh come on, that’s a tiny thing - I mean it’s not a tiny thing for them it’s a huge thing and it’s very upsetting.”
The dismissive comment sparked a torrent of disbelief on social media where it was branded “ill-judged” and a PR disaster that may result in her having to resign.
Faulks continued to try and put the payment in context saying the council was in the process of trying to house 400 people.
“They’ve got people in hotels, they’ve got a social worker for every single family who is triaging them into a wraparound service.
“I’m very sorry to hear that’s happened, but that person to whom that has happened will have one person connection they can go to to sort it out.”
She continued: “I know you’re hearing a lot of noise about nothing happening but actually, on the ground there is a lot of hand-holding going on and I haven’t heard anyone in the media speak to someone who is receiving that help.”
Williams said she received a call from the distressed survivor on Friday.
“She came to me and said she had just got her bank card and that she went and looked at her bank statement and they had deducted rent for Grenfell Tower.
“It is, you would think, a simple process (to fix) as it can be done on a computer.
“It is quite clear that whatever is supposed to be happening down there isn’t happening - it is about what checks and balances are in place there.
“Of course she is distressed, we have all seen the tower and what it looks like, everyone is living there.”
Asked if the survivor had raised her concerns with the council, Williams added: “She hasn’t. She has lost her home, she has lost everything.”
Faulks caused further outrage during the interview by claiming protesters who stormed Kensington Town Hall days after the Grenfell Tower fire demanding justice for victims “weren’t the local community” but “people who like doing that sort of thing”.
She branded press attempts to report on the meeting by obtaining a High Court order as “a very clever stunt”.
Faulks told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “The reason we had given primarily to have the meeting in private was that we were worried there was a public order issue which had been already demonstrated by the invasion that happened at the council - which, by the way, when you say we weren’t affected, the whole council chamber had to be evacuated for the whole afternoon on the Friday after the tragedy.”
She went on: “I think actually the people that stormed the council weren’t the local community, I think they were people who like doing that sort of thing and I think they did a disservice to the local community.
“But I completely understand the anger, the frustration of the local community.
“Of course we weren’t immediately quick off the ground, it’s an enormous tragedy, I don’t know if everyone realised how complex and how vast this fire was.
“I challenge any borough in the whole country to have immediately had an action plan they could put into place.”
Faulks interview came after the Tory leader of the council, Nick Paget-Brown, resigned in the wake of the fire, saying he accepted a “share of responsibility” for the “perceived failings”.
Robert Black, the chief executive of the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, also stepped down on Friday so he can “concentrate on assisting with the investigation and inquiry”.
On Friday Downing Street rebuked the council after it aborted a meeting on Thursday about the fire after a judge ordered journalists could attend.