Socialist Worker

Smears, crimes and lies - the people and firms responsible for the Grenfell disaster

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2608

The 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell killed six people - but the authorities failed to act on safety recommendations following the fire

The 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell killed six people - but the authorities failed to act on safety recommendations following the fire (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Grenfell Tower fire was a crime against the working class made possible by a system that puts profit before ordinary people’s lives.

But there are also specific people who made decisions that directly led to the fire. They must be held to account—that means criminal prosecutions and jail time.

The public inquiry into the fire can’t recommend criminal charges. But evidence heard at the inquiry, and other recommendations made by it, can feed into a criminal investigation.

That means pressure on the inquiry can have an impact.

Over 60 different organisations and subcontractors were involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

Kensington and Chelsea council would like the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) to take the blame.

The KCTMO wants Rydon, the firm that refurbished the tower, to take the blame. Rydon wants to pass the buck to other firms involved in the work—Arconic, Celotex or Harley Facades.

As Sam, a fire safety expert, told Socialist Worker, “At least 72 people died in that fire. Whatever work was done, whatever fire safety audits were carried out, there have been failures from the top to the bottom.”

The bereaved and the survivors have been met with a wall of silence from the contractors. One lawyer told the inquiry, “These corporates have no desire to assist this inquiry, even though their participation could save lives in the immediate future.”

They must all be made to pay, and so must the Tories in central government.

They pushed through laws that laid the ground for the fire—then dragged their heels when it came to helping desperate people.


Theresa May, Tory prime minister

  • Pledged to rehouse all survivors within three weeks. A year later just 134 out of 203 households have been rehoused
  • Said that no one should be scared to come forward with information—then dragged her feet over guarantees for undocumented migrants
  • Promised £400 million for removing cladding from social housing blocks. That’s nowhere near enough, and it comes from a pre-existing budget

Gavin Barwell, Tory former housing minister

  • Refused to act on a 2016 report into the 2009 Lakanal House fire, which killed six people. The report said sprinklers should be retro-fitted into all high-rise tower blocks A London Assembly report released in March found that sprinklers almost entirely eliminate fire deaths

Boris Johnson, Tory former London mayor

  • Slashed £100 million from the London Fire Brigade’s budget when mayor. This led to station closures including one station in Knightsbridge, near Grenfell Tower
  • Cut 550 firefighters
  • Forced through a plan that got rid of 13 London fire engines
  • An October 2016 report revealed that 27 fire engines, two Fire Rescue Units and crewing were all cut under Johnson

Eric Pickles, Tory former minister

  • Repealed section 20 of the 1939 London Building Act in 2012. This stipulated that any high rise building’s exterior must be able to resist fire for at least one hour
  • Pickles was communities minister at the time of the 2009 Lakanal House fire
  • He asked local authorities to consider retro-fitting sprinklers, rather than instructing them to do so

Brandon Lewis, Tory immigration minister

  • Described the promotion of fire sprinklers as the “responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the government”
  • Said that undocumented migrants with information about the fire could apply for the right to remain “subject to their continued eligibility and the necessary security and criminality checks being met”

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council

Council building control officials signed off on the refurbishment work. They visited the site 16 times between the time work began in 2014 to when it effectively finished in 2016.

A lawyer for the council defended its policy of subcontracting at the inquiry into the fire. He said, “Whatever recommendations are made in the inquiry’s report, it seems inconceivable that one of them would be to reverse the tide of the modern world to the extent that all the complex skills required to design, construct and refurbish a building such as Grenfell Tower should be brought in-house by local authorities.

“Even if that were considered desirable—and I suggest that it is not—it would be impossible to turn the clock back in that way.”

Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown, Tory former council leader

Paget-Brown set up a consultancy firm after the fire—NPB Consulting—to provide “policy analysis, seminars, briefings and drafting assistance for organisations working with local authorities”.

Blamed tenants and residents for the lack of sprinklers. “There was not a collective view that all the flats should be fitted with sprinklers because that would have delayed and made the refurbishment of the block more disruptive,” he said

Elizabeth Campbell, current Tory council leader

Campbell promised that “things will change” and that “this is a new leadership team”. She has since presided over vicious cuts to local services and previously cut the budget for a children’s transport service by half.

KCTMO, council housing management firm

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) managed social housing on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea council.

Its lawyer told the Grenfell inquiry that it is not a “specialist design or construction company and had no in-house expertise in these areas”. The lawyer was quick to specify others who could be blamed for refurbishment decisions. But when it came to complaints received against KCTMO, he simply said that they would be “considered”.

Robert Black, former CEO KCTMO

Black led the KCTMO senior team of “key management figures”, who shared a £650,000 pay pot. He's still on a £150,000 salary and took six months to stand down.

Of the refurbishment that wrapped Grenfell Tower in flammable cladding Black said, “This has improved the homes overall and residents can now have the benefits of living in energy-efficient homes, all in a vastly improved environment.”

Rydon, contractor

Rydon was the main contractor for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment. It is still winning contracts to carry out construction and refurbishment work across Britain today.

  • Its CEO, Robert Bond, claimed the Grenfell Tower refurbishment “met all required building regulations”. He remains in his job
  • A report found that Rydon undercut the council’s preferred bidder for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project, Leadbitter, by some £1.3 million
  • Zinc panels would have been more fire resistant and would have cost just £5,000 more to install on Grenfell than the flammable ACM cladding

Harley Facades, contractor on Grenfell Tower

  • The firm was paid £2.6 million to install the cladding onto Grenfell Tower
  • Its CEO Ray Bailey lives in a £1 million house in Crowborough, East Sussex, with a swimming pool
  • His son Ben carried out the work on Grenfell Tower
  • In the days after the fire Ray Bailey said, “At this time, we are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.”

Arconic, contractor

Arconic manufactured the cladding panels used on Grenfell Tower.

The panels, Reynobond PE, achieved a Euroclass E fire safety rating. “To be blunt, you wouldn’t put ‘E’ on a dog kennel,” said one fire safety expert.

It has been alleged that Arconic intentionally failed to notify a British safety board of its product’s low European safety rating.

Arconic has defended the panels’ use. At the inquiry the firm’s lawyer, James Hockman, even argued the cladding was “at most, a contributing factor” to the fire spread. Multiple expert reports have identified the cladding as a main cause of the spread.

Celotex, contractor

The firm manufactured the insulation used in the cladding.

A Panorama film alleged the firm used extra fire retardant material in tests on its products to influence the tests’ outcome.

Carl Stokes, Fire safety inspector for Grenfell Tower

Conducted fire inspections of Grenfell Tower on 20 November 2012, 17 October 2014, 20 April 2016 and 20 June 2016.

James Leonard, representing Stokes at the inquiry, said, “Fire risk assessment is always available for the London Fire Brigade to audit as the enforcing authority.”

But his client 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.”

 

 


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