8 min read

When will there be Justice for Grenfell?

On the morning of Tuesday 14th June, just before 1 am, a fire started in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower off Latimer Road in Kensington, West London. Engulfing the building in less than an hour, it burned with an intensity and speed that has shocked those whose business is the prevention and defeat of fire.

6 minutes after the first call alerting emergency services to Grenfell, the first firefighters arrived onsite. Before entering the building, it is believed, they were instructed to write their names and designated codes of their fire stations on their helmets. Not all of those going in were expected to come back out. Undeterred, they advanced: willing to risk their lives to rescue others.

As more arrived and ran towards the fire one was overheard saying, “we’re going in and we’re going up” and as residents ran down the single stairwell to the tower, that is what they did: they ran to the fire and up towards the flames. 250+ firefighters fought through the night, working in repeating shifts, going in and going up, to rescue as many as they could and bring the blaze under control.

Today (16th June 2017), the death toll at 16:30 stood at 30, but it is expected that in the coming days and months that number will significantly rise.

Slowly we are learning of those who were trapped and likely died through their last messages to their loved ones and from those who tried to rescue them: (the links below are hard to read, but I hope that you will)

‘The fire is here, I’m dying’: panicked messages of Grenfell Tower residents

Grenfell Tower fire: Woman trapped in burning flat records ‘goodbye’ Snapchat message for loved ones

Firefighters left ‘truly traumatised’ by Grenfell Tower blaze.

It is not wrong for you to recoil or turn away from these harrowing accounts. It is not wrong if you find tears flowing. However, there are a couple of things I hope you will do, once you are able. Ask yourself and others 2 questions

  1. Could this have been prevented?
  2. Why did this happen?

The answers will not come easily, so don’t wait: do something

WHY?

Whenever there is a disaster, involving severe injury or loss of life, there is often a rush to reach a resolution. Caught in the incomprehensible maelstrom of grief and loss we seek to anchor ourselves by focussing our frustration and rage on the one thing we know to be true: someone or something is to blame.

Wise heads and calm voices tell us now is not the time, they tell us that it is too soon and to let the authorities investigate and reach reasoned conclusions. Often that is the right thing to do, but not always. Not this time. Not now.

Sometimes we have to say screw it: now is precisely the time to start the conversation and to demand answers.

Warnings were given, why were they ignored?

Concerns were raised, why were they not met?

Recommendations were made, why were they shelved?

Yes, we should allow investigations to be run by our police and fire investigators. We should let a Grenfell inquest, not an inquiry run its course: the government should have no control over it. However, we should not wait for that process to finish. There are actions that need to be taken immediately and questions that require rapid answers.

There is a lot for the Government and Kensington and Chelsea Council to be getting on with, but first:

  1. Find temporary local housing for survivors and promise them permanent housing in the local area, and do the same for those too traumatised to remain
  2. Provide free trauma and ongoing support services for survivors and emergency staff (all 1st responders – firefighters, police, paramedics, call centre staff, etc) for as long as they need.

Once those are in place, then answers on the following questions should be quickly provided. This should not be difficult as the Government, Council and their partners ought to already have them, as they are questions that should have been asked and answered long ago.

Some of you may be too busy to make it to the end of this blog, so here’s the end for you:

“I’m a Londoner, born and bred” is the ready reply or permutation that I and many of my friends proudly respond with when asked, “where are you from?”. On the morning of Tuesday 14th June, I woke up and learned that less than 3 miles from where I live now and 5 miles from where I grew up a building and many of its inhabitants that I regularly passed on my way into or on the way back from the work or gym or town burned.

I have spent hours trying to edit the last word of that previous sentence: trying to find a different word or a paragraph that won’t offend, but I can’t.

People died because people like me didn’t fight hard enough against a profit motive mentality. Silently, with no protest, people like me allowed building regulations to be modified to make building easier. Without protest, people like me moved away from the communities that we loved because “market forces” demanded so.

People like me are the reason the World is as it is

People like me need to stop excusing ourselves from the societies in which we live because we have busy lives: enough with that. People like me need to stop being selfish. People like me can find a f*cking hour in their week to make the lives of people that we don’t know better; and the reason that you don’t is because you choose not to. Is that who you are: is that who you want to be?

The boring bits that some may choose not to read (sorry, I’m still furious).

Lakanal House

Six people were killed in July 2009, and more than 20 injured in a blaze at Lakanal House, a tower block in Camberwell, South-East London. The Lakanal inquiry now seems to have been pointless, but it was not.

It raised many important recommendations. Lessons were learned, but not implemented. The shame of the inquiry is that those that set it up and, us, the public allowed it to be toothless. Never again should we permit this. From now on whenever something is deemed important enough to have an inquiry, then it must be set-up with iron-clad commitments to review conclusions within 3-6 months with Yes / No responses and all explanations prominently publicised with public broadcasters and in mainstream media. Governments should never be allowed to kick inquiries into the long grass again.

Questions

Actions

  • Publish the Lakanal review in full, and
  • Implement all recommendations or publish as advised above.

Cladding

Grenfell Tower was fitted with zinc rain-screen cladding and glazed curtain walling after a £10 million refurbishment. Experts have claimed this could have exacerbated the spread of the fire.

Questions

Actions

  • Ban any further use of the type of cladding or similar used in the Grenfell Tower
  • Review all fire procedures of all buildings that use the same cladding or similar. Determine and implement improved procedures and / or re-house tenants.

Resident concerns

In a Blog post from November 2016, residents wrote: ‘It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.’

They claimed that ‘only an incident that results in serious loss of life will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light’ on the failings.

Following the fire, the group posted: “All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

Video: David Collins, the former chair of the Grenfell Tower residents association: “Our concerns were not investigated”.

Questions

  • Why were residents’ many concerns not addressed?

Actions

  • Every concern previously raised must be addressed by the inquest
  • When they are ready, if they ever are, gather the stories and views from every surviving Grenfell Tower resident for a living memorial. It may be too soon for some, but cathartic for others.

Sprinklers

The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association has estimated that the cost of installing a sprinkler system in the Grenfell Tower would have been £200,000. Of the £10 million budget, one wonders how much was spent on the external cladding to improve the tower’s “appearance” for its neighbours?

Questions

Actions

  • If Nick Paget-Brown is unable to provide evidence of his claim, he must retract, apologise and, in my opinion, resign
  • The Government allegedly resisted calls to install sprinkler systems in high-rise blocks in the wake of the Lakanal House tragedy. According to the London region of the Fire Brigades Union, nobody has ever died in a fire in the UK in a property with an effective sprinkler system fitted. The Government need to release funds immediately to councils for the installation of sprinkler systems in high-rise blocks

 Fire Alarms

There seems to be confusion over if there was a working central fire alarm system for the tower block. There are reports that some residents claim that there wasn’t one, several residents say they did not hear a building-wide alarm. One man said the first thing he heard were the sirens of emergency vehicles and a couple claim that there was a low hum that later properly and loudly sounded at 4 am – over 3 hours after the fire had started and engulfed the building.

Questions

  • How was the building’s alarm system set up?
  • How often were building-wide alarm checks run?
  • How often were alarms physically checked?

Actions

  • All landlords to confirm that they have conducted alarm checks and where necessary installed building-wide alarm systems

Stay put or evacuate policies

According to the board minutes of  Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO runs the building), it had been engaged in “ongoing publicity to residents, particularly in relation to the ‘stay put’ fire strategy and procedures residents should follow in the event of a fire in their flat or elsewhere in their block.”

The “stay put” advice stems from longstanding strategies for fighting fires in “compartmentalised” high-rise buildings. The theory is that most fires will be contained behind each flat’s fireproof front door buying firefighters time to isolate the fire and rescue tenants floor by floor. However, if a fire spreads, the brigade commander should order an evacuation.  The Grenfell Tower fire was not contained in a single flat but spread rapidly, perhaps, too fast for an evacuation order to be given.

Questions

  • Was the stay-put advice the correct strategy for the Grenfell Tower prior to the fitting of the cladding?
  • When the cladding was put in place, were fire procedures reviewed and should the stay-put strategy have been kept or changed to an evacuation one?
  • How often were alarms physically checked?

Actions

  • All landlords to confirm that they have conducted alarm checks and where necessary installed building-wide alarm systems

Links

They work for you

What happened at Grenfell Tower? A visual guide

This government must carry out a FULLY TRANSPARENT INVESTIGATION into the Grenfell tragedy

Ten key questions about the Grenfell Tower fire

Grenfell Tower cladding that may have led to fire was chosen to improve appearance of Kensington block of flats

Grenfell Tower fire: Council leader claims sprinklers were not fitted as residents did not want prolonged disruption

Gavin Barwell: Theresa May’s new chief of staff faces questions over delayed tower block fire safety review

Southwark council pleads guilty over worst ever tower block fire

Damning Speech Proves Housing Minister Failed To Act On Tower Block Safety

London fire: Grenfell Tower cladding ‘linked to other fires’

Grenfell Tower fire: Cladding used on block ‘was banned in US’

“We’re going in and going up” – London firefighters praised for heroism in high-rise fire

Grenfell Tower fire: Full details of all the missing people

Grenfell Tower fire: Full details of all the missing people

Here’s How To Donate Online To Help People Who Have Lost Their Homes In The Grenfell Tower Fire

Cladding for Grenfell Tower was cheaper, more flammable option


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Created: 15th June 2017, Published: 16th June 2017
Updated: 14th November 2018 – Minor grammar changes, heading style updates & copyright inclusion; 22nd September 2019 – addition of Previous & Next links and subscription block.

© JAK 2016
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