Socialist Worker

Grenfell fire victims take their rage to top cops and council

by Alistair farrow and Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2563

North Kensington residents held a silent march and vigil last Friday

North Kensington residents held a silent march and vigil last Friday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


A month on from the Grenfell Tower fire, angry survivors and residents were set to demonstrate outside a Kensington and Chelsea council meeting this week.

The Justice4Grenfell group that called the protest said, “Tell what’s left of the shoddy leadership of this rotten borough to resign!

“Those with blood on their hands must be held to account. No cover up. We demand a people’s public inquiry.”

Grenfell survivors last week confronted the senior investigating officer of the police probe into the disaster.

DCI 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.

Classified

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.”

When Bonner said the size and scope of the investigation was unlike anything outside of a counter-terrorism operation, several residents shouted, “It is terrorism!”

Another said, “This is mass murder. You didn’t just burn down the tower. You murdered our friends, you murdered our families, you murdered our neighbours.”

On the same day some 400 people assembled in the shadow of the burned-out tower for a vigil to remember the dead and demand justice.

Labour councillor Pat Mason told Socialist Worker, “This fire started in 10 Downing Street.

“People on the council here messed up, but they’re little minnows. The government set the scene.”

Wrought

Local activist Niles Hailstones told the crowd that 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.

Journalist Andrew Gilligan wrote a witch hunting article in the Sunday Times newspaper last weekend.

He suggested that unrepresentative activists with links to “hard left organisations” were making the inquiry into the fire more difficult.

Such stories are an attempt to slur those fighting for justice and to deflect from the real issues.

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell was right last weekend to reiterate his demand that the people responsible for “social murder” at Grenfell should be held to account.

He insisted he had no regrets about saying the victims of the disaster in west London were murdered by political decisions taken over recent decades.

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

Firefighters’ union slams ‘lottery’ of resources for local fire services

The FBU union has warned that some fire authorities dont have the resources to deal with Grenfell-style fires

The FBU union has warned that some fire authorities don't have the resources to deal with Grenfell-style fires (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The FBU union has said that firefighters’ ability to deal with devastating blazes such as Grenfell varies widely depending on where they are based.

In a letter to Theresa May, union general secretary Matt Wrack wrote, “In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower we are aware that there are greatly differing standards and approaches adopted by different fire and rescue services across the country.

“We had hoped that one immediate response from central government would be to implement or establish an urgent review to ensure that the appropriate resources are available to firefighters attending such incidents in the future.

“This appears not to have been done, which causes us concern and alarm.”

There are 125 aerial ladder or platform vehicles—with long ladders or platforms to reach fires in high buildings—in England.

But only 33 of them are available around the clock because of a lack of fire crews.

Kent, Humberside and Nottinghamshire have just three fire engines and no aerial platforms ready for automatic dispatch, while Hampshire has eight fire engines and an aerial vehicle.

The size of a fire crew can also vary between four or five firefighters per fire engine. Wrack called the situation “utterly unacceptable”.

Staggering

He added, “We find it staggering that nothing has been done to address this grossly unjust postcode lottery of resources, and the fact that governments in all parts of the UK appear not to have even considered it is a disgrace.

“Citizens everywhere need to feel safe and confident that those in authority are taking their safety seriously. Anything less is, frankly, obscene.”

Some firefighters have said that their efforts at Grenfell were hampered by low water pressure.

Privatised water firms including Thames Water have reduced pressure over many years in order to minimise the leaks from water mains.

There have been arguments about who should pay when new buildings and tower blocks require extra pumps and equipment to maintain pressure.

And there have been many warnings, including about fire safety.


Homeless migrants fear deportation after trauma

Some of the Grenfell missing are afraid to identify themselves

Some of the Grenfell missing are afraid to identify themselves (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Police now say that 81 people died in Grenfell, and the number is unlikely to rise.

But we will never know the true death toll 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 Britain 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.”

Unregistered

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 said, “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.”

Many survivors believe that the death toll is much higher than 80. Some have been compiling their own lists and say it is over 100.


Fighting talk from activists

Defend Council Housing held a solidarity with Grenfell meeting last week in Camden, north London. Activist Moyra Samuels argued for survivors “to be housed in Kensington and Chelsea” if they wish to be.

There needs to be a “full amnesty” for all with information about the victims of the fire, she added.

All 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 should not be “narrowed to cladding and safety. Those are important but not enough.”

Tenants from different London estates spoke about councils’ plans for social cleansing, their failure to listen to tenants, and the need to fight for safety improvements.

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

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


Salford council’s risky cock-up

At least six blocks on the Pendleton estate in Salford, including at least one 22 storey tower, have had their cladding removed after the Grenfell fire.

But it may have left them more, not less, vulnerable to fire.

One safety expert claimed that the landlord’s actions have resulted in a breach of building regulations and created “a known fire risk”.

Pendleton Together Housing, which manages the properties for the city council, removed the panels.

But they left exposed swathes of synthetic phenolic insulation which are rated either B or C for reaction to fire in British Standard tests.

That means that the exposed insulation is combustible


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