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Grenfell: One year later.


This week marks the first year since the Grenfell tower tragedy which saw ‘72’ people lose their lives in the early hours of 14 June 2017, hundreds have been left displaced as a result of poor management by the government, subsequently, forcing them to rely on each other, local communities and communities across the U.K. for support.


Doctors and volunteers in the area have stated several victims are suffering from mental health issues with some children experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Naturally, coupled with the recent Windrush scandal tensions between the working-class and the government have yet again risen to a boiling point with justice seeming like a mere dream, victims are left to rely on each other and hope.


Recounting the tragedy

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 — since the government ignored calls to implement sprinklers in high rises in a 2010 review — and since 2014 the tower had undergone 16 checks, last one being 11 months prior to 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.


Victims

As for the survivors of the disaster NHS figures obtained by Sky News showed that “a total of 521 children and 2,006 adults have been seen by health teams,” and “more than 1,600 people have been identified as being in urgent need of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.” The NHS has been aiding those affected by the fire through services that were set up in Kensington since the fire.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has condemned Theresa May and her government over their “inhumane” treatment of survivors, in a letter to Downing Street. Adding that rehousing efforts should be accelerated, relatives of the victims should be granted visas to sit in on the inquiry and the families of Grenfell had been faced with “institutional indifference” a year on from the fire, he said:

“The institutional indifference these families have faced in the 12 months since the fire is simply unacceptable. Your government has failed to give the support so clearly required by the local authority as these families experienced repeated failures and broken promises from the government and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It has become ever more apparent to me that your government is unwilling to step in and take responsibility for local response efforts.”


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Rehousing efforts have been criticised as more than 200 households are waiting to be rehoused and Home Secretary Sajid Javid admitted to the House of Commons that the government will break its promise of permanently rehousing the victims within a year and that 82 households remain in emergency accommodation such as hotels, in a report from the official Grenfell recovery taskforce. Additionally, a report conducted by North Kensington Law Centre has found out that only 82 households have moved into permanent accommodation and the government has spent £235m on securing 307 properties but said:

“The fact that so much of this housing stock has lay empty for up to six months as it is being made habitable is illustrative of the fact that many of these purchases were not suitable”.

“In the last 12 months the council has failed to fully grasp this reality and has let down survivors as a result”.

The council has said rehousing efforts have become complicated since more people need rehousing, Elizabeth Campbell, the leader of the council, said:

“It has been a hugely complex challenge, but 90% of families have accepted an offer of a permanent home and 90% of these homes are ready to move into. I have seen and heard the personal stories bravely told in the first two weeks of the public inquiry, every day. The families involved are not statistics that need to be moved around a balance sheet. So, we will no longer set deadlines. They are not required. What is required is understanding, support and above all a willingness to do everything we can to help. No matter how large or small the task.”


Inquiry

A day after the fire Theresa May ordered a public inquiry which intends to “examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017. It will establish the facts and will make recommendations as to the action needed to prevent a similar tragedy happening again.”

Initially, Theresa May rejected requests from grieving family members to diversify the panel who would sit alongside inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the reason being many felt concerned over More-Bick’s ability to relate to the victims. However, a petition signed by more than 156,000 people forced the Prime Minister to include two more panel members who will join the second stage of the inquiry, which is not scheduled to begin yet. The first stage, which began on 21 May, will hear tributes from to the victims and examine emergency services repose and the night of the fire. The second stage will look at the factors of the fire such as the justification behind using the cheaper flammable cladding that aided the blaze and took ‘72’ lives.


Here are some important updates:
  • Both the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and London Fire Brigade (LFB) have stated their defence against claims that their ‘stay put’ policy is to be blamed for deaths. Martin Seaward representing the union said, “there remains no obvious and safe alternative strategy nor detailed plan.” Legal counsel for the LFB said: “If there is no policy applied by the building owner which provides for a policy of simultaneous evacuation and there are no evacuation plans and there are no general fire alarms — what is an incident commander on the fire ground to do?”

  • FBU will back new measures that ensures all high-rise flats have fire blankets in kitchens and a ban on combustible cladding for all building over 18 meters tall.

  • There have been arrests over alleged fraud. Eight men and one woman have been arrested by Scotland Yard, however, there is no connection. They have stolen between £25,000 to £100,000.

  • 11 more addressees have been raided over alleged fraud.

  • Scotland Yard has opened an investigation over LFB and its senior officers ‘stay put’ policy; detectives are trying to analyse whether the order could have breached health and safety law.


The inquiry is, currently, on hold to acknowledge the first year since the blaze and the next hearing will be on Monday 18 June at 10am with a live stream being posted here.


What next?

Honestly, I have no idea. In scenarios like this one can only hope. Nothing can be done to bring back the deceased but the government owes it to the survivors and bereaved to outright ban the flammable cladding and provide a proper support system and consoling answers.🔷



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(This piece was originally published on The Blog.)


(Cover: Dreamstime/Ben Gingell - Marchers on a silent march from Kensington Town Hall to the ruins of Grenfell tower ten months on from the devastating fire that killed 71 - 14 April 2018.)



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