Socialist Worker

Damning revelations in Grenfell inquiry as officials try to pass the buck

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2608

Demanding justice for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire

Demanding justice for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has heard how a smoke ventilation system failed eight days before the fire. It would have cost £1,800 to fix. It wasn’t fixed.

It's one of the scores of examples of the contempt for ordinary people that led to the tragedy.

Lawyers have been making opening statements to the inquiry on behalf of their clients. These include survivors and the bereaved, Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) and firms that produced flammable cladding.

Wednesday saw RBKC, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and the Rydon construction firm give evidence. It also saw the manufacturer of the cladding, Arconic, and the firm Celotex, that produced the flammable insulation, give evidence.

Their opening statements were either formal platitudes to the bereaved and survivors or actively tried to pass the buck.

The most shocking assertion came from Arconic’s lawyer, James Hockman. He argued that the cladding was “at most, a contributing factor” to the fire spread, blaming instead the window fittings.

Yet multiple expert reports have identified the cladding as a main cause of the spread.

James Leonard, representing CS Stokes and Associates fire risk assessers, said, “Fire risk assessment is always available for the London Fire Brigade to audit as the enforcing authority.”

But his client Carl Stokes had written on his fire risk assessments for Grenfell Tower, “You do not have to give a copy of your risk assessment to anybody, not even the fire authority.”

And the lawyer for the KCTMO argued that it was not a specialist in design and construction. It had contracted these tasks out when the tower was refurbished.

Ignored

However, when it came to why the KCTMO had ignored residents’ warnings the lawyer was less vociferous. “How TMO dealt with these complaints will be considered during this inquiry”.

Antonio Roncolato survived the fire in the tower. He told Socialist Worker, “Rydon ordered items from various companies and subcontracted work to other companies.

“But that doesn’t mean they weren’t responsible. They are passing the buck continuously.

“The inquiry needs to point the finger and say, ‘You are guilty, you are responsible for this. Face the consequences.’

“The shocking thing for me was that the gap between the windows was not filled up, leading to a chimney effect when the fire took hold.

“This is what the inquiry is about—finding the details which we didn’t know."

In contrast to the lawyers for the KCTMO and the manufacturers, the opening statements of lawyers representing survivors and families of those who died targeted those responsible.

On Tuesday lawyer Imran Khan slammed the “institutional racism” that led to the fire.

He quoted one of the people he represents as saying, “Had this been Westminster or Knightsbridge, with white, upper middle class people residing in the tower, the fire and the measures taken beforehand would never have happened.”

Michael Mansfield levelled his criticism at the inquiry itself, demanding that the speed of making recommendations be increased.

Slow

He estimated that, given the slow pace of proceedings so far, the interim report from phase one of the inquiry would not be released “until perhaps the beginning of next year.” The inquiry’s chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, had previously said it would be released by Easter of this year.

Mansfield speculated that the final report would not be delivered for another year after the inquiry’s initial report.

He argued that initial recommendations, in particular recommendations that cladding be removed, should be made as early as this summer.

Monday saw the release of five separate expert reports, some of which criticised firefighters who attended the fire.

In particular, the “stay put” policy has been put under the spotlight. This sees people in tower blocks advised to stay in their flats during fires. This is because tower blocks are designed to contain fires within the flats where they occur.

However, decades of deregulation of both the construction and the health and safety industries have undermined the policy. One of the expert reports described how faulty fire doors were installed, compromising the policy.

And the flammable cladding and window installation turned the building into a deathtrap. Firefighters are not responsible for that.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is due to give its opening statement to the inquiry on Thursday.

On Tuesday Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the FBU annual conference. He backed firefighters and slammed the Tory response to Grenfell.

“Where is the necessary overhaul of fire safety regulations that is so clearly needed?” he asked. “Where is extra funding for the Fire and Rescue service? Where is the action on dangerous cladding on other buildings?

“After the Lakanal House fire the 2013 coroner’s report recommended sprinklers be installed in tower blocks. This government failed to act.”

The people and institutions responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire are trying to pass the buck, either to each other or to a failed regulatory framework. Anywhere, so long as it doesn’t land on their doorstep.

There are systemic failures, of course, but each of the individuals responsible must be held to account as well. The inquiry will need to be placed under a lot of pressure to make sure that happens.


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