In the wake of the fire that tore through Grenfell Tower in west London on 14 June local residents were left reeling.
“Everyone went from numb to being shocked, to hopeful, to weary and now we’re at anger,” Lancaster West resident Joe Delaney told Socialist Worker.
Now a real debate is going on over what justice for the dead would look like, and how to get it.
“For me, justice is someone being held accountable for people dying,” Tasha Brade told Socialist Worker. She is one of the volunteers behind the Justice4Grenfell campaign.
“It means someone holding their hands up and taking responsibility for it. No one’s done that yet.”
Pointing the finger at the culprits and exposing their guilt is crucial. But it can only be part of a broader reckoning.
The blame goes right to the top.
Eric Pickles was communities minister at the time of the inquest into the Lakanal House fire in 2009.
He only asked local authorities to retro-fit sprinklers rather than demand they do it.
The people who made policy decisions that allowed Grenfell to burn must be brought to justice.
Pickles is just one Tory minister among many who did nothing to prevent Grenfell from happening. They must all be put in the dock.
Gavin Barwell was Tory housing minister from July 2016 until he lost his seat in the 2017 general election. He and his predecessors blocked a report warning of fire risks in tower blocks for four years.
The legacy must be that another Grenfell doesn’t happen again. The privatisation and deregulation of the construction and safety industries must be reversed.
“The government’s fire safety tests have shown there are about 300 public buildings with flammable cladding on them,” said Tasha.
“Tens of thousands of people are going home, going to school and going to hospital wondering if that building is going to be another Grenfell Tower.”
It is clear the Tories have no interest in holding those responsible to account.
And what few avenues there were to hold those in office to account are being closed off.
Monthly Grenfell scrutiny committee meetings have been held so the people managing the response can answer to local residents. Now they are to be ditched and are to be replaced by drop-in sessions.
People must be sent to jail for the choices that led to the fire. Who signed off on decisions to clad the building in flammable material? And why haven’t they been arrested yet?
Joe pointed out that changes to the scrutiny committee could be to do with the approaching local elections.
“They’re realising the May election is getting closer and they need to do something,” he said.
United campaign can keep pressure on the Tories
The debate over how to get justice was thrust back into the public eye when rapper Stormzy used his performance at the Brit awards last month to highlight Grenfell.
He also used social media to push a petition initiated by survivors calling for a panel of local residents to sit on the inquiry into the fire.
After 100,000 have signed, it can be debated in parliament. So far, over 150,000 people have added their names.
“We’re still waiting for a date for it to be debated in parliament. It’s been over two weeks now,” said Tasha.
“It’s all delay tactics. What Stormzy did was to bring it back into the spotlight.
“What are they doing? Trying to get people to forget?”
The Tories have been forced to make some limited concessions over undocumented migrants who have information concerning Grenfell.
Now people who come forward can get indefinite leave to remain, albeit after jumping through hoops for five years.
“We need to point to where we’ve had victories,” said Moyra Samuels from Justice4Grenfell.
Crucially there is a need for unity among those fighting for justice.
“It’s just about how we choose to fight this fight,” argued Tasha.
“In Justice4Grenfell we won’t be quiet. Other people want to go in a different direction to the same destination, that’s fine.
“We need to keep it in the public eye and keep people talking about it.
That’s why we’re doing meetings up and down the country.”
The fight for justice for the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough has only recently seen results, after a decades-long war with the British state.
If we want to see real justice—and ministers paying the price—the campaign will need to be united, and ferocious.
Sir Knight said cladding is safe
The government’s chief fire safety officer, Sir Ken Knight, signed off on cladding similar to that used on Grenfell as safe.
Knight was appointed to the role after the Grenfell Tower fire.
But in 2014 he signed a safety certificate for combustible cladding which approved it for use on “multi-storey” buildings.
A Labour Party investigation discovered the certificate.
Knight was previously the chairperson of a private fire testing firm.
His appointment raises serious questions about whether the Tories have learnt any lessons from the deregulation of the fire safety and building regulation industries.
Bosses profit as people die
The firm that refurbished Grenfell Tower—Rydon—saw its profits rise by 50 percent last year.
They rose to £19 million. The salary of its highest-paid director also rose by 8 percent to £459,000.
The company was the principal contractor on the refurbishment that installed the flammable cladding onto the building.
That cladding has been blamed by many as one of the key reasons why the fire spread as quickly as it did.
A government-backed inquiry last December said the cladding appeared to have helped the fire spread more quickly. Now lawyers have advised that social landlords can sue contractors that installed flammable cladding to recoup the costs of having it removed.