Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2160

A fire ripped through Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, on 3 July  (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

A fire ripped through Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, on 3 July (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Safety questions after the Camberwell fire

The Camberwell fire (» Tragedy reveals state of housing for poor, 11 July) was a terrible event that must have made thousands of other tower block residents across Britain angry and fearful for their lives. Housing authorities will have to work hard to reassure residents that this will not happen again.

It seems quite obvious that privatisation of council services is part of the problem. The quality of these services will depend upon the area in which such housing is situated.

Social class is the key here. The poor lack the resources to choose where they live.

Kathryn Rimmington, Portsmouth

The way that the fire spread rapidly in Lakanal House in south London is surprising. It prompts questions about the quality of built-in or “passive” fire protection that is present in all buildings.

Passive fire protection is based on designing or modifying a building to stop fire spreading beyond its point of origin. It is the foundation for all other aspects of fire safety, keeping a building standing during fire, allowing people time to escape and firefighters to get in.

In Camberwell something clearly went wrong.

Lakanal House is a 1960s block. While building regulations at the time of construction weren’t the same, ample fire safety legislation applies to existing and new buildings.

We are told that there was an extensive recent refurbishment of Lakanal House and details of this will be part of the investigation. This will show whether the measures taken were appropriate, of the correct quality and could be expected to work.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 passed the responsibility for fire safety to the owners and operators of buildings, making them personally and criminally liable.

They have a duty of care to learn the requirements. Yet few people have even heard of passive fire protection and the guidance given to them on this is inadequate. Until this changes we can only expect more tragedies.

David Sugden, Aldershot

The real reason for league tables?

The Torchwood science fiction TV series last week came up with a new use for the government’s school league tables. An alien race demands that it be given 10 percent of the children in the world or it would destroy humanity.

The British government agrees to this demand and after ruling out handing over the children of the elite the cabinet discusses who should go.

One particularly repulsive minister says that those destined to be “less socially useful” should be targeted.

She goes on, “If we can’t identify the lowest achieving 10 percent of this country’s children then what are the school league tables for?”

What a brilliant, satirical take on the social categorising so beloved of Labour and Tories.

Katherine Branney, East London

Collusion in torture

The Guardian newspaper last week revealed how the British M15 sercret service “outsourced” the torture of British citizens of Pakistani origin to Pakistan’s intelligence agency. This was after they had been detained during counter-terror operations in Pakistan.

Rangzieb Ahmed had three of his fingernails ripped out by the Pakistani agents in an attempt to get answers to questions drawn up by MI5 and the Greater Manchester Police.

He was later deported to Britain and jailed for terrorist offences.

While in prison he was visited by an MI5 officer and a police officer who offered to secure a reduction in his sentence or a payment of money if he withdrew his accusations of torture.

This is not a one-off case.

British resident Binyam Mohamed was tortured with Britain’s help before being sent to Guantánamo Bay. There are numerous other examples of British collusion in torture.

It seems that officers have been operating in line with a government interrogation policy drawn up for MI5 and MI6 officers in the wake of the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The attorney general has since called in Scotland Yard to investigate possible criminal conduct on the part of the officer involved in Mohamad’s case and those who managed him.

But as Binyam Mohamad has said “the individual officers involved should not be scapegoated.”

Tony Blair was the prime minister when the policy was drawn up. He must have understood this policy would result in individuals being tortured.

They deserve justice. We deserve to know how far our government was complicit in this torture.

The “war on terror” has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

It has also increased the level of insecurity and mistrust in the Muslim community. The very people that are meant to uphold the law are torturing innocent British citizens for no other reason than their being Muslim.

Nahella Ashraf, Manchester

Racism is institutionally ingrained within army

It’s great to see an ex-soldier write so passionately about how racism is challenged in the army (» Letters, 11 July). However, I had a very different experience when I served in the army for three years.

For the first month a lot of people wouldn’t speak to me because I was Asian.

When people got to know me and we talked about the rotten way we were all treated, the racism broke down.

They then began to look out for me.

But the abuse continued from the higher ranks. As I was a Muslim, I was made to work in the officers’ mess serving alcoholic drinks and given ham sandwiches.

I was singled out on parade and told if I was sent to a corner I would open up a shop.

One of the nicknames the officers gave me was “nigger”.

If I didn’t run fast enough I was punched in the stomach.

It was a long time ago.

But I don’t see change happening when we are drawn into racist wars where the “enemy” are called “rag heads”

I was a Labour Party member when I joined the army.

But seeing class society in its rawest form turned me into a revolutionary.

I saw I had a lot in common with other ordinary soldiers.

People who are often written off as hardened racists can change their ideas.

Salman Mirza, Birmingham

A defeat for NHS privatisation plan

NHS workers and patients will be pleased to hear of a victory against privatisation in Scotland.

It has been announced that the controversial Scottish Regional Treatment Centre at Stracathro hospital near Brechin is to be scrapped.

The services will now be provided within the NHS.

Private health firm Netcare, which ran the centre, did not want to extend its contract following a campaign demanding the Tayside health board should be accountable.

The centre was an expensive private sector experiment which failed.

There is suspicion that Scotland’s only Independent Sector Treatment Centre (ISTC) came about after then health secretary John Reid badgered the Scottish Labour Party to embrace the market in healthcare.

England has 37 ISTC centres so far with contracts worth £2.6 billion. The contracts for many of these are now nearing completion with the potential for extension and more NHS money subsidising the private sector.

If you would like to know if there is an ISTC in your area please contact me at

Andy Market, Edinburgh

In an Estate of revolt

The PCS civil service workers’ union Revenue & Customs Euston branch committee have launched a petition against the department culling Estates and Support Services.

The petition can be found at »

There’s also a campaign blog at »

Please sign the petition. Estates & Support Services are invaluable to the efficient running of local Revenue & Customs offices across the country.

The people fulfilling these roles deserve job security and to have their experience and contribution recognised.

Dave Plummer, North London

Wrong on Connect vote

I was a delegate at the recent Connect union Conference.

I must take issue with the statement (» Connect conference debates merger , 4 July) that “the whole weight of the union machine was used to force” through support for the executive’s proposal to merge with the Prospect union.

There was a fair and open debate. Everyone who stood up to speak for merging with the CWU union instead was called.

But there was more support from the members for merging with Prospect. That was democracy.

The CWU will spend the next few years fighting for its members’ rights in the Post Office.

How can it possibly represent professional and managerial staff in the flourishing telecoms sector when concentrating on Royal Mail’s crisis?

The CWU is, I’m sure, a fine and noble union. But its critical lack of resources means it would be poorly placed in serving Connect’s members.

That is, in part, why we voted to merge with Prospect.

Terence Eden, Surrey

Lend us your support

Two hundred delegates recently attended the Campaign for the Book conference to press the case for a higher profile for reading for pleasure and the defence of libraries against cuts.

One initiative that came out of the conference was the decision to support an online petition to make school libraries statutory.

I would appeal to all Socialist Worker readers to sign up to the petition. It already has thousands of signatures but needs many more to make the government take notice.

It can be found at »

Alan Gibbons, Liverpool

Danger in Total strikes?

The unofficial construction strikes against the Total company (» Total victory for Lindsey strikers, 4 July) was a victory, the likes of which has not been seen for sometime.

But is there a danger of a racist ticket during the strikes with the use of the “British jobs for British workers” slogan? What position should a paper like Socialist Worker take on it?

Len Blood, by email

A threat to vital events

local police forces have been charging community arts and music events for the cost of policing under recent guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Any community event with a stage or entertainment license, a few stalls and stewards is at risk.

These events are often run by volunteers on shoestring budgets and cannot afford the charges.

Community events promote cohesion, encourage engagement and are a force for good in society. Sign our petition to stop the charges at »

Ozzy, Campaign to Defend Community Events

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Article information

Tue 14 Jul 2009, 18:56 BST
Issue No. 2160
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