Exclusive: London Review of Books used quotes without consent in Grenfell article, interviewee claims

Exclusive: London Review of Books used quotes without consent in Grenfell article, interviewee claims

Author Andrew O'Hagan, who wrote the article, entitled The Tower

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The London Review of Books has been criticised by an interviewee who said she was “misled” about her contribution to an article about Grenfell Tower.

Melanie Coles submitted a complaint to the LRB which has been published online by Noha Maher, who lost her brother in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Coles claims the article, The Tower by author Andrew O’Hagan, is “damaging to the credibility of our community” and makes for “highly distressing reading for people directly affected, and for some of them offensive, due to the inaccuracies it contains”.

Coles, a teacher, lives in the area around Grenfell Tower and taught Fethia Hassan, a four-year-old girl who died along with her sister and mother in the blaze.

In her complaint, she accuses O’Hagan of inventing quotes about Fethia, writing: “I did not say ‘Fethia gets herself all churned up about such things’, nor did I say that I thought it.

“I do not think I have ever used the term ‘churned up’ about anything.

“It seems like a minor thing, but if a small detail like this is fictionalised, how can we the readers… feel sure that other, more significant apparent quotes by the people referred to, are not also fictionalised?”

She is referring to a passage where O’Hagan quotes her as describing Fethia’s last day at school before the fire, and being upset about losing decoration from her shoe.

Read more: Grenfell contractors accused of being 'inhumane' over inquiry silence

She also says that a video recording was published within the online version of the article without her consent, saying she was led to believe that any recordings made were “solely for the purpose of making transcripts”.

“The act of posting that video is dishonest. I feel I was not just misled, but lied to.

“I do not want this video of me posted online so publicly, and I want it removed immediately,” she wrote.

The Golborne and Maxilla Children's Centre

She also pointed out that the children’s centre Fethia attended was named as Maxilla Children’s Centre in the article, but its actual name is Golborne and Maxilla Children’s Centre.

“Someone aware of local history, background and politics should be aware of the significance of the difference,” she wrote.

The Maxilla Children’s Centre was closed in 2015 after council funding cuts, and planned to amalgamate with the nearby Golborne Children’s Centre.

Coles also criticised O’Hagan for “[presenting information] as factual when they are his opinions”.

Another local resident told TalkRadio that the community found O'Hagan's article "offensive".

Since her complaint, the video, the quotes about Fethia, and the inaccuracies over the name of the children’s centre have been removed.

Read more: Grenfell 'stay put' fire policy failed, report finds 

Coles told TalkRadio she had not received a response from LRB and that the removals were made without them acknowledging her complaint.

“No other issues have been addressed,” she said.

LRB told TalkRadio in a statement: “We will be publishing Melanie Coles’s letter, and a response from Andrew O’Hagan, in our next issue, as is our usual practice.

“The author made everyone he spoke to aware that these interviews were for publication.

“We fact-checked thoroughly and checked hundreds of quotes with interviewees. The author regrets that this didn’t include Ms Coles.”

On Twitter, LRB responded to those questioning why the video had been used, writing: “It was used in the belief that Melanie Coles had consented to its use; it was certainly never the intention of the LRB or of Andrew O’Hagan to use any material without permission, and we apologise for any distress caused by its posting.”

Note: This article was updated on June 6. A previous version incorrectly claimed that the Maxilla Children's Centre closed in 2014. The piece also included a claim from the Grenfell Action Group blog that there were insufficient school buildings to house the children, leading to them being housed in a caretaker's office.

A representative from Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council contacted TalkRadio to inform us the current Headteacher of Golborne and Maxilla Children's Cenre disputed this claim. "Works had been done to the building prior to the schools coming together, therefore children were not housed in anything other than the school when they returned after the summer holidays in September 2015," they said.