“First Things First”
On the 14th June 2017, a fire broke out in a 24 storey block of flats in North Kensington, West London. As the world witnessed the WORST UK residential fire since World War Two, 72 people died, more than 70 others were injured and a further 223 escaped.
I can still remember turning on the news and seeing the fire that took 24 hours to get under control and which burned for over a further 60 hours before it was fully extinguished. But as we reach today, the third anniversary of this horrific but potentially preventable tragedy, any memories I may have, pale in comparison of those still living with the repercussions and nightmares of it.
There has been Police investigations into the fire, coroner inquests and a- public inquiry. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry ordered by then Prime Minister Theresa May, the day after the fire, launched on the 14th September 2017, exactly 92 days after the fire. The initial purpose of the Inquiry, headed up by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick “to establish the facts of what happened at Grenfell Tower in order to take the necessary action to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.” Divided into two Phases, with Phases 1 held hearings from June – December 2018, results were published on the 30th October 2019.
So what did we learn? A plethora pf evidence was collected from experts, survivors, and firefighters leading to the following findings:
- The resident of the flat where the fire started was not at fault.
- The principal reason the fire spread was the aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic used on the building exterior.
- Firefighters showed “courage and devotion to duty” and 999 call operators were “unstinting” in their efforts to help trapped residents.
- Incident commanders were not trained to cope with the fire and there was no contingency plan for evacuation.
- The LFB failed to lift the “stay put” advice when the stairs remained passable, which cost lives.
- The brigade suffered “significant systemic failings”.
- Communications systems failed and there were serious deficiencies in command and control.
- Pictures transmitted on the night of Grenfell could not be viewed by the LFB because the encryption was incompatible with its receiving equipment.
The publication of the report also saw ’46 recommendations embedded within 35 paragraphs of chapter 33 of the four volume full report, and published again in the executive summary’ all of which can be read in the report at the public inquiry website.
Rapper Stormzy, who featured on the charity single that was released to raise money for Grenfell victims has been very vocal about his requests of justice for them and accountability from those responsible.
At his historic 2019 Glastonbury performance he used his platform to call attention to the tragedy and the unacceptable response that the public has seen so far in response to it, stating:
“We urge the authorities to tell the fucking truth, first and foremost. We urge them to do something. We urge the fucking government to be held accountable for the fuckery, and we ain’t gonna stop until we get what we deserve.”
Additionally, he previously used his platform to bring awareness to the failings around Grenfell with a freestyle at his 2018 Brit awards performance of Blinded by your grace part where he rapped:
“Like, Yo, Theresa May, where’s that money for Grenfell?
What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell?
You’re criminals and you got the cheek to call us savages
You should do some jail time, you should pay some damages
We should burn your house down and see if you can manage this”
The UK media jumped on this, with number 10 defending its then Prime Minister, Teresa. May. The Guardian reported that “The prime minister’s spokesman said the government had committed millions of pounds to the community in the aftermath of the blaze at the west London tower block that killed at least 71 people in June last year.” Seeming to miss the mark as Stormy hadn’t disputed that money had been allocated but questioned where the money had actually all gone.
The Downing Street spokesperson further stated “The PM has been clear that what happened at Grenfell was an unimaginable tragedy, which should never be allowed to happen again,” and that Teresa May “is determined the public inquiry will discover not just what went wrong but why the voices of the people of Grenfell had been ignored for so many years.” This was in 2018, and as we look back today on the three year anniversary it seems like these were nothing but empty words and missing gestures. No 10, flings out the £58.29m figure in conjunction with Grenfell but fail to further elaborate that this is the amount they have decided to allocate but not the amount that has actually spent. Nor has it given the British public a true breakdown of all funds spent thus far, lacking clarity and dismantling whatever little was left of public confidence in their handling of Grenfell.
In 2018, BBC News reported that by while by July of 2017, £20m had been raised for victims and survivors of Grenfell, only £800,000 had been allocated. Like Stormzy, they too ask, “Grenfell Tower: What has happened to the donations?”
Three years on, we are still disappointed with the UK government.
The Sun newspaper reports that “Almost seven in ten of those who escaped the tower block blaze on June 14, 2017, have needed care for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”. Figures released by Kensington and Chelsea council.
Karim Muissihly, Vice Chairman of the Grenfell United group and relative to Hesham Raham (his uncle) who perished during the fire, draws parallels between the governments response then and the governments Covid 19 response now as he’s states:
“Especially in the beginning, there were a lot of similarities to what was happening just after the fire”- Grenfell relative draws comparisons between fire and Covid-19 response.
He expands on this in the Guardian article:
“The government has been criticised for not reacting quickly enough, making sure the NHS has the right equipment and is supported in the right way to be able to tackle the pandemic. They just didn’t react quickly enough.
“It’s also three years on, people always say that time changes, time is the best thing for healing, but in this case it feels like it just gets worse and so many things are happening that have so many similarities to what happened to us, and what continues to happen to us.”
Nothing seems to have changed. Phase 2 of the public enquiry opened on the 28th January 2020, it is expected to take approximately 18 months to complete and publish findings. In January of this year 10 days before the start of phase 2, despite a large majority of the 201 affected households being permanently rehoused, there are still at least 8 families living in temporary housing and one known to still be living in a hotel. This is unacceptable and beyond disappointing to see at nearly a whole three years on. It should also be noted that only 59 seats at the second phase of the public enquiry have been given out of some 560 bereaved. Teresa May had originally rejected calls for a diverse decision making panel to sit alongside the head of the public inquiry, something that was met with resistance from the public who wanted to ensure all voices were heard and the outcome was fair. This decision was reversed when a petition sighted by over 156,000 people and publicised by Stormzy became public.
The panel for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry issued a statement on today, the third anniversary of the fire, which can be read on their website.
What now? Today my thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims, survivors and anyone affected by the senseless tragedy that was the Grenfell fire, we still demand answer and justice. We want to see those responsible for ignoring the calls and concerns from the residents in the years leading up the fire. In the words of Simon Webb, an architect and fire expert who surveyed hundreds of residential tower blocks across the country in the early 1990s and found that half of those buildings didn’t meet basic fire safety standards,
“This tragedy was entirely predictable, sadly,” .
So as I quote the questions that Stormzy addressed to Teresa May, I quote him again as I also say to the UK government, Kensington and Chelsea council and any excuses they still may have as to why this is still not resolved,“SHUT UP”!!!!