14 June marks six years since the Grenfell tower tragedy. As with every year since the tower burned down, survivors and activists are coming together to mourn the lives lost and rally in response to the deep injustice still keenly felt. In 2017, a fire broke out and spread quickly in Grenfell tower. A number of failures in housing regulations and other catastrophic errors meant 72 people died. As the BBC reported, the plastic cladding surrounding the building was central to understanding what happened:
In his report to the public inquiry, Professor Luke Bisby said evidence “strongly supports” the theory that the polyethylene material in the cladding was the primary cause of the fire’s spread.
Many of the victims were Black and Brown people, a fact undoubtedly impacting how the tragedy has been treated over the years.
Stay put order
Since the fire, a public inquiry has been ongoing. However, the process has been beset with cruel politicians and terrible policy standards from the government.
Former Cabinet minister Eric Pickles got the death toll from the tragedy wrong. In 2022, Pickles referred to the victims as the “nameless 96 people”. The actual total was 72. His mistake typified the reaction from ministers who bumbled through speeches about Grenfell and showed no regard for the victims or their families.
Appallingly, Jacob Rees-Mogg – who was leader of the House of Commons at the time – said in 2019 that victims didn’t use “common sense” to leave the building. He later apologised for his comments. Regardless, it was a callous thing to say – especially given the fact that at the time of the fire, the London fire brigade ordered residents to stay put.
Indeed, as the Guardian reported:
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Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is leading the Grenfell inquiry, said that more lives could have been saved if the London fire brigade dropped its stay put policy sooner as they tried to tackle the blaze.
As for the inquiry itself, people have questioned its integrity. The Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack rightly asked why politicians were only questioned for a few days compared to firefighters who were questioned for weeks:
Individual firefighters and control staff did not put cladding on Grenfell Tower – politicians created the regulatory system that allowed it.
The stay-put policy employed by firefighters at the tower has been heavily questioned as the Home Office released new papers which continue to state that in case of a fire at certain buildings, people should stay put and wait for firefighters rather than leaving the building. As such, this is a question of policy at state level.
‘Misplaced and abused trust’
Jason Beer QC, who represented the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, told the inquiry that the public trusted the government to use proper cladding materials. He commented:
The Department greatly regrets that it took the Grenfell Tower tragedy to lay bare this misplaced and abused trust.
The fire detection system in the tower was “defective” and, in fact, a local councillor tried to warn officials back in 2009 that fire safety measures in tower blocks were inadequate. After an onslaught of evidence showing a culture of carelessness, what did MPs do? They voted against amendments to a fire safety bill which would have placed a greater duty of care on those who own or manage multiple buildings.
Organisations like INQUEST often have to do the work of accountability when public inquiries and political systems fail to address the needs of communities:
We need to keep talking about Grenfell.
6 years on. We remember the 72 innocent people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire and stand in solidarity with the Grenfell community and their loved ones.
We still demand justice and accountability.
We still demand change. pic.twitter.com/y6LkocK8Fp
— INQUEST (@INQUEST_ORG) June 14, 2023
Hesham Rahman was one of the people who died in the fire. His nephew Karim Mussilhy said of the lack of justice and accountability:
This is torture, we are being tortured. We can’t move on. We can’t grieve.
We can’t rebuild, as much as we’re trying to.
Grenfell United shared that 14 June marks 72 months since the survivors and their families lost 72 loved ones:
— Grenfell United (@GrenfellUnited) May 22, 2023
United Families and Friends Campaign, a coalition of families and friends affected by police violence, promised to attend the silent memorial walk:
Our bereaved families led campaign demanding Justice for 1,800+ murdered by British police and died in custody since 1990, will attend and speak at the Grenfell 6 year anniversary silent walk tomorrow for the 72. Starts at 6pm,Notting Hill Methodist Church. No Justice No Peace 💚 https://t.co/EIrunPiqwu
— United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC) (@UFFCampaign) June 13, 2023
Jeremy Corbyn noted that this was a preventable tragedy:
Today marks six years since 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower Fire, a preventable tragedy caused by institutional neglect & corporate greed.
My heart goes out to those who lost their lives, loved ones & homes.
How many more anniversaries will we spend calling for justice? pic.twitter.com/hlrUy8iDTg
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 14, 2023
One person shared their anger at the failings that killed so many people:
The Grenfell Tower fire still angers me to this day. Like, I wish they actually took the concerns of the residents seriously in the first place 💔
— Sims 🇨🇩 (@leizenomis) June 13, 2023
Author Nooruddean Choudry stressed to the urgency of the situation:
Still no justice. Never allow them to get away with saying ‘Now is not the time to point fingers’ or ‘don’t politicise a tragedy’. They know the window of public interest is very short, and after the cameras move on, the victims and the mourning are left to battle alone #Grenfell https://t.co/lsoPuSjATW
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) June 14, 2023
The Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance also acknowledged the injustice:
Remembering the 72 people who died at Grenfell.
Thoughts are with the survivors and the families of all those who died
6 years on and still no one held to account pic.twitter.com/KpsBUTqAzC
— Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance ( HSA ) (@HillsboroughSu1) June 14, 2023
Nothing has been learnt
Research from Inside Housing found that six years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy nothing much has changed.
Tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Our new research shows that 84% of social housing high rises still don't have sprinklers and 88% don't have block-wide fire alarms.
What happened to 'never again'?https://t.co/Or4pjf7jTR
— Peter Apps (@PeteApps) June 13, 2023
They reported that:
New data gathered by Inside Housing reveals that of 1,768 social housing blocks owned by 37 housing associations and councils across the UK, just 334 (18.9%) have sprinklers fitted and 217 (12%) have a block-wide fire alarm.
Of the sprinklers, 181 have been fitted in a £93m programme by Birmingham City Council, meaning that in the rest of the country the figure drops to just 8.6%.
Six years on from this tragedy, it’s clear that successive governments – there have been many since 2017 – are choosing to ignore basic fire safety standards. How can anyone believe that politicians or managers of social housing even care about their residents being safe from fire in the face of overwhelming evidence suggesting otherwise?
Many of the victims of the Grenfell fire were poor Black and Brown people. This country doesn’t care if poor Black and Brown people live or die. Overwhelming evidence of institutional failings that caused the fire has been ignored. What’s taking so long?
There’s been no justice and no accountability because Britain is a white supremacist country that can only rally itself into action if rich white people are at risk. What else would you call a country that dishonours, demeans, and denies the realities of the Grenfell victims?
The Grenfell Silent Walk will commence from 6pm on Wednesday 14 June at Notting Hill Methodist Church.
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