In the early hours of 14 June 2017, Grenfell tower was engulfed in flames and now it seems as though the victims have been forgotten.
It has been six months since the tragedy and as Christmas nears, with four out of five survivors homeless, the victims have not been provided any reassuring answers.
The Independent reported that “almost two-thirds of the families who lost their homes in the Grenfell Tower fire are still living in hotel-type accommodation.”
Whilst talking to BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire, ‘Silence of Suicide’ founder, Yvette Greenway stated that, based on conversations held with victims and people of the community, twenty witnesses and survivors have attempted to commit suicide.
In hindsight, the government’s response to the fire was ill-advised. In fact, a few days after the fire, Theresa May was questioned by Sky News on whether existing high rises would receive extra funding for sprinklers, she said, “What we need to do is to ensure that this terrible tragedy is properly investigated. That’s why I’m ordering a full public inquiry, so we can get to the answers.”
This decision was greeted with a backlash because in an inquiry the judge is appointed by the government and the terms of reference are created by the government. Read here are the terms of reference for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
Sophie Khan, a solicitor who represented the victims of a deadly 2009 tower block fire in Camberwell, insisted, it would be best for the victims’ families to demand an inquest to avoid a ‘whitewash’.
An inquest is an independent investigation held in public and carried out by a coroner who seeks to find out where, how, and why a person or people have died and concludes with a recording about the cause of death.
Several admirable efforts have been made to, temporarily, bring solace to those who have survived, by providing basic essentials such as toiletries and food and events to help them get back on their feet. At an art-auction held by Sotheby’s, £1.9m was raised for the survivors, double the estimated figure. The auction was organised by Harnish McAlpine (a film producer) and Katie Heller (an arts consultant), who reached out to artists to donate some artwork.
They said, “No one should have had to suffer the trauma that these people have endured. It is only right that we should do all we can to help in any way that we can and the artists have responded with immense generosity and goodwill.”
Artwork from Wolfgang Tillmans, Tracey Emin, and Antony Gromley, were amongst those donated; Emin’s ‘Loving You More’ (2015) was the highest selling piece fetching £135,000.
Tributes were made to the victims during the Notting Hill Carnival too. Fundraisers and speeches commending the hard work of volunteers were held and pop-up stalls were organised by ‘Justice4Grenfell’, who also made sure party-goers were aware of the movements aims.
Six months later, 130 out of the 202 households that lost their homes are in “emergency accommodation”, 26 families have managed to secure permanent homes, while 47 families remain in temporary accommodation.
Notting Hill Carnival, 27 August 2017 (Dreamstime / Ben Gingell)
A parliamentary question from Labour MP David Lammy allowed for the latest figures to be revealed. This may come as a surprise to some because in June Theresa May promised all victims would be rehoused within three weeks.
Nonetheless, given the complexities surrounding the rehousing of victims it is inevitable for problems to occur. Some of those working with victims have said some of the accommodation offered to victims are unsuitable, some even being offered houses outside of London, and this is creating a delay in getting the victims back on their feet — regardless, this does not suffice for the governments jaded handling of this situation.
A spokesperson from North Kensington Law Centre, which is supporting a number of the families, said:
“Grenfell survivors are dealing with grief, trauma and loss while attempting to make really important decisions about their and their family’s lives.”
“Local residents remain very sceptical of the council’s intentions. Every time a key worker or housing officer rushes a Grenfell survivor into signing a tenancy agreement, puts pressure on them, or provides them with inaccurate information, it reinforces that sense of mistrust.”
Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said, “When families want to move out of emergency accommodation we help them do that as quickly as possible.”
“We are buying 300 good quality homes before Christmas to give them as many options and choice as we can, spending £235m in the process.”
“But people have to understand that we have been moving at the pace of the victims and survivors, this is not a numbers game — we are talking about traumatised families and children making very big decisions.”
However, when Sajid Javid was asked several times whether ministers would provide funding to councils to update sprinklers in all high-rises, he failed to confirm this motion even though it was backed by fire chiefs.
He claimed, in order to make retrofitting sprinklers a legal requirement for all high-rises, he would need the results from an official investigation intro fire safety and building regulations. This laidback approach towards ensuring a tragedy akin to Grenfell does not happen again is why many are still angry because they are not receiving their indebted answers.
Naturally, there is a great level of frustration still surrounding Grenfell. It is a struggle trying to hold anyone accountable for the tragedy. With Theresa May’s awful leadership and bottom-less promises it is evident the government does not, once again, care for the working-class.
Despite being situated in the wealthiest borough of London (Kensington & Chelsea), Grenfell is among the 10% poorest areas in the country. In May 2016 the tower underwent an £8.6 million refurbishment, carried out by Rydon Construction — part of a large transformation scheme for the local estate. The building was fitted with new exterior cladding, communal heating system, and new windows. Several reports have stated that the polyethylene insulated plastic cladding that was fitted is said to be the predominant reason as to why the fire expanded so quickly.
Additionally, the tower did not have a sprinkler system and since 2014 the tower had undergone 16 checks, last one being 11 months before the fire, without any checks raising a fire threat. In fact, a blogger had written a post about the insufficient maintenance of the tower in 2013 stating that it “is strongly suggestive of years of ongoing neglect and criminal negligence of the fire safety systems at Grenfell Tower, we would suggest that the managing authorities need to take a long hard look at themselves, and how they manage this estate.”
The blogger received a letter demanding the blog post to be taken down; ten blog posts had been published prior to the fire, repeatedly, exclaiming the need for a sufficient fire system in Grenfell.
Evidently, the repeated cries for help fell on deaf ears; the cladding installed the renovation last year was chosen because it saved the council nearly £300,000. The Times obtained leaked emails sent to Artelia UK — construction consultants who carried out the project — from Kensington and Chelsea tenant management organisation show that, to maintain low costs, easily flammable aluminium panels were selected in preference to fireproof zinc material.
This blatant and disgusting disregard for human life was a decision put forward by Nick Paget-Brown, who had the audacity to appear on BBC Newsnight and claim that the “collective view” of the residents was against the installation of sprinklers because it would have caused a disruption to the renovation project. In the process £293,368 was saved by using “aluminium cladding in lieu of zinc cladding,” reports The Times.
Recently, major news outlets, such as, BBC, Sky News, and The New York Times reported that the official final death toll is now 71; mind you more than 120 flats were destroyed, the fire started on the fourth floor which spread upwards, police footage showed over 200 people escaping, so how is it possible after stating “the official death toll stands at 80”, six months later to say “the final death toll is” 71?
Many took to social media to express their displeasure, with some claiming that there is a cover up due to the unreliable information provided by officials whilst others want the council and the construction companies involved in the £8m refurbishment scheme to be charged with corporate manslaughter.
The Grenfell Tower fire is the result of institutional prejudice towards the working-class, an act of negligence that highlights the systematic corruption this country thrives off — look to the recent revelations made in the ‘Paradise Papers’ for further evidence.🔷
(First published on The Blog!)