Socialist Worker

Four weeks after the Grenfell fire, vigil focuses grief and anger

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2563

Justice 4 Grenfell activist Moyra Samuels speaking to a Defend Council Housing meeting

Justice 4 Grenfell activist Moyra Samuels speaking to a Defend Council Housing meeting (Pic: Simon Doyle)


Four weeks on from the fire that ripped through Grenfell Tower a vigil gathered to remember the dead and demand justice last night, Wednesday.

Some 400 people assembled in the shadow of the burned-out tower.

“This fire started in 10 Downing Street,” Labour councillor Pat Mason told Socialist Worker. “People on the council here messed up, but they're little minnows. The government set the scene.

“It was a lethal combination along with a Conservative council that think they have the right to do whatever they like to working class people.”

Local activist Niles Hailstones told the crowd, this "destruction was wrought on us by those in positions of power.

"Out of the ashes of Grenfell has been born a new energy," he said, referring to the inspiring organisation from local people that has stepped in to replace the council's absence.

"The more people we can get to stand up against the Tories, the more chance we have of getting justice," Michael Evans told Socialist Worker at the vigil. "The best start would be to force Theresa May to resign."

Emma Dent Coad, the newly-elected Labour MP for the area, was at the vigil. She told the Press Association, “It's very, very hard. People are on the edge.

“I know people who have been lost, I know people who have lost people, I know people who are besides themselves with grief. It is really, really difficult.

“It is still chaotic, the whole process of housing people, getting them social housing, mental health help, whatever other help they are getting, obviously the people who aren't getting help come to me.

“It's disgraceful, actually, the council are still failing people every day.”

Police

Earlier in the day Grenfell Tower survivors confronted the senior investigating officer of the police probe into the disaster.

A meeting intended to give local people an opportunity to question key figures saw residents become angry and upset.

Investigating officer Matt Bonner was questioned at St Clement's Church, a short distance from where the blaze happened.

"I cannot tell you about the case as it would put the investigation at risk," he told the audience.

He was met with cries of "arrest someone" as the crowd grew increasingly frustrated by his explanation.

One man responded, "The authorities never listen. Because you are a tenant, you are classified as sub-human. The pace is too slow. If you need 1,000 officers working round the clock, find 1,000 officers. This is a national disaster, a national disgrace, a national tragedy."

Another resident said, "Everyone in this room has probably attended 50 meetings in the past four weeks. Every time people say they’re listening to us. But what we want is for you to do your job, and do it properly."

Ordinary people in North Kensington are paying for the greed of the Tories and the class whose interests they fight for.

The anguish people feel has turned into anger at the system which allowed the fire to happen.

Out of that anger concrete demands are beginning to emerge.

At a meeting of around 100 people called by Defend Council Housing in Camden earlier in the evening, Justice 4 Grenfell activist Moyra Samuels laid out some of those demands.

She argued for survivors “to be housed in Kensington and Chelsea” if they wish to be. There needs to be a “full amnesty” for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers with information about the victims of the fire.

All of the council members who “approved the cladding” and stopped a sprinkler system being installed “need to be held accountable and prosecuted,” she said. And the inquiry into the fire should not be “narrowed to cladding and safety. Those are important but not enough,” said Moyra.

She added that what had happened was a “massacre, and some call it social murder”.

Before the meeting, Ilford residents Lisa and Michael Evans spoke to Socialist Worker about their concerns.

“Our kids’ school has cladding,” said Michael. “I want to know if it’s safe and what's going to be done about it.”

“The cladding tests need to be pushed out across all schools and hospitals," said Lisa.

Solidarity

At the meeting Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack said that he and the FBU stood in solidarity with the victims of Grenfell, the displaced people and the fight for justice.

He gave a string of examples of how the Tories were to blame for the conditions that had caused the fire. "The council are to blame but let's point the finger at those in government," he said.

NUT union general secretary Kevin Courtney reinforced the point that no one should be forced to move from Kensington and Chelsea. "They should be allowed to stay, whatever the cost," he said, arguing that breaking traumatised children from their classmates and support networks would pile on even more trauma.

In the discussion tenants from estates in different parts of London spoke about councils' plans for social cleansing, their failure to listen to tenants, and the need to organise to win safety improvements.

Several gave examples of mobilising tenants to pressure councils and housing associations.

“We will not let the same horror as Grenfell happen to us," said one tenant.

Demonstrate - Justice for Grenfell,  Wednesday 19 July at first full meeting of Kensington and Chelsea council since the fire, 6pm, Town Hall, Hornton Street, W8 7NX. Called by Justice 4 Grenfell

Cyanide fumes at Grenfell

At least one survivor of the Grenfell fire was diagnosed with cyanide poisoning.

Medical discharge papers show 12-year-old Luana Gomes was treated for the effects of the highly toxic gas, which may have been released by burning of insulation or plastics during the fire.

Her sister and mother, Andreia, were also treated for risk of cyanide poisoning.

Andreia was seven months pregnant at the time of the blaze and says she lost her unborn baby.

She told the BBC she felt deep anger towards whoever was responsible for deciding to place cheaper, less fire retardant cladding on Grenfell Tower.

“You just killed my son,” she said. “If it was in a normal situation, I could have gone out. And he was seven months. He could have survived. But because of the conditions, he passed away.”


Racist laws mean we will never be sure how many died

We will never know the true death toll of the fire because the authorities have refused to offer undocumented survivors or their families a full amnesty.

Rhea is from the Philippines and lived on the 21st floor of Grenfell with her friend Helen and her 12-year-old daughter.

But, unlike Helen, 40-year-old Rhea wasn't a registered tenant, having lost her legal right to remain in Britain in 2012.

She is now homeless and afraid to identify herself to immigration officials.

“I thought maybe they'd lock me up,” she told the BBC.

Rhea arrived in the UK in 2010 on a one-year working visa with an employer, but this expired.

“I didn't have money to renew it and I couldn't find an employer as a solicitor was holding my documents.”

Charities and volunteers believe many unregistered people could have been killed.

They also say they have been in touch with other survivors like Rhea who are afraid to get help.

Last week the government announced a wholly inadequate 12-month amnesty for survivors like Rhea. There needs to be a full amnesty.

Rhea says, “My family back home need my support. I called them in the Philippines, and to hear them say they still need me, is upsetting.

“That's why I was afraid to face immigration because they would send me home. I thought, how are we going to live? We are not rich, we are poor, we have nothing.”


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