By Isabel Ringrose
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Grenfell activists rage against guilty companies

Four and a half years after the blaze that killed 72 people, campaigners are taking action. Isabel Ringrose reports from protests at Celotex headquarters
Issue 2786

Activists block a lorry outside Celotex headquarters (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Grenfell campaigners want justice—and they want to make it clear that the bosses are the ones with blood on their hands.

On the four and a half year ­anniversary of the blaze in the west London fire block, Grenfell Community Campaigners travelled from west London, to the Celotex headquarters in Ipswich.

Celotex’s flammable RS5000 ­insulation was built into Grenfell and proved to be deadly.

It released toxic gases—­including hydrogen cyanide. Not only did Celotex bosses know its product was lethal, but they also manipulated test results to be able to sell it.

Seventy-two people, including 18 children, died in the fire that broke out in the early hours of the morning on 14 June 2017.

Activists planned on causing ­maximum disruption to Celotex to draw attention to its crimes. They made sure their presence was noticed with sirens, whistles, horns and flares.

They were able to turn away at least six lorries from leaving or ­entering the huge site.

Organiser Leearna told Socialist Worker that the day was “a really big success.”

“We stopped work in both ends of the factory. Lorries couldn’t get in or out or do anything. And we stopped deliveries from other companies.

Protesters chanted, “Celotex has had its day, now it’s time it was put away”, “Celotex lied and people died,” and “Celotex sells insulation, death results with suffocation”.

For the campaigners, justice means jail time and prosecutions for the bosses.

Protester Sue told Socialist Worker, “Four and a half years and nothing has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse. It feels important to keep up the pressure on companies such as Celotex who are responsible for deaths because of their flammable material.”

Nervous

Other chants included, “Corporate greed kills,” “Justice equals jail time,” “Blood on your hands,” “No justice, no peace,” and, “Shame on you.”

For the protesters, payoffs aren’t enough. “We don’t want your blood money, we want to see you in prison and nothing less,” one shouted.

Leearna added that the action hitting the news is “going to make Celotex bosses sit up. And it’s going to make the others like Arconic and Kingspan nervous.

“They should now be thinking ‘when is it our turn’.”

The Grenfell Community Campaigners have regularly ­protested outside of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and also held actions outside Downing Street.

Leearna thinks travelling out of the city is important so that all companies responsible are held to account.

“We’ll come for you wherever you are,” she added. “Our message is prosecutions now.

“Action means people learn about what’s happened. We’re spreading the messaging and keeping the spirit of Grenfell alive.”

With MPs set to head to the inquiry in February, the Grenfell Community Campaigners say they will be outside to greet them. They are also planning to call a major action every 14th of the month.

“We absolutely need more people to join us,” Leearna said.

“Targeted actions have to be kept quiet so the police can’t close it down, especially as protesting is going to be made harder. But in the new year we will put out a national call and want as many people to come as possible.”


Inquiry found a ‘total disregard for tenant well-being’

In 2021, phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry revealed corruption, a prioritisation of profits and a disregard for those who lived in the tower.

Arconic, the company that made the deadly cladding used on Grenfell, admitted to selling the flammable panels because they’d make more money.

Its Britain wide sales manager said she knew the Reynobond polyethylene cladding “was and is flammable”. This fact was hidden from buyers.

Classification of the panels was also “significantly misleading” as results from a different panel that passed fire safety tests were used.

Meanwhile managers at Kingspan celebrated that their flammable K15 insulation—earlier described as “a raging inferno”—had passed tests.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) and bosses from its tenant management organisation (KCTMO) were scrutinised on how they treated residents.

RBKC denied any fault and laid blame on the profiteering companies. It also denied ignoring the warnings of the tower’s residents.

But when the survivors and bereaved gave evidence, it was clear the authorities did not care for their lives.

Contractor

The inquiry was told that there was a “total disregard for tenant and leaseholder well-being” by KCTMO and the refurbishment contractor Rydon.

No evacuation plans were made for residents with disabilities.

As a result, 15 never made it out alive.

KCTMO managers ignored fire services’ notices about smoke ventilation systems and disregarded risk assessments.

Broken fire doors were left—proving deadly on the night of the fire as smoke poured into the stairwells.

Those who had raised concerns previously were labelled “troublemakers.”

The biggest concern for the Tory council leaders was the colour of the cladding panels. Safety was not a concern.

Switching to cheaper and flammable cladding meant the council could save itself £500,000—at the cost of 72 lives.

Government deregulation of health and safety rules allowed this all to happen—with cover ups rather than exposures being sanctioned.

The inquiry has seen fake tears and apologies, as well as those with blood on their hands not taking responsibility.

Campaigners will have to continue their fight for justice when the Inquiry reconvenes.


Cost cutting cost lives

Celotex, alongside Arconic, Kinsgpan, contractors Harley Facades and Rydon and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, profited from the deaths of 72 people.

Celotex rebranded its existing flammable FR5000 insulation product as RS5000.

It needed to pass tests to be used on buildings taller than 18 metres.

RS5000 failed testing in February 2014. It later passed a second test, but by using thinner boards to strengthen the cladding panels.

The Building Research Establishment advised the company on how to pass the test —and omitted this fact in its reports.

Celotex also added fire-resisting magnesium oxide boards to the test wall.

Misleading

Former employees admitted to the inquiry that Celotex was “deliberately misleading and dishonest” after it lied about results to compete on the market.

This was all done in the knowledge and with the approval of Celotex’s senior management.

Grenfell Tower was “among the first times” RS5000 had been installed on a high-rise building.

Harley Facades bought the insulation at a 47.5 percent discount, amounting to savings of £45,803 and failed to check the necessary safety requirements.

The company, owned by French manufacturing company Saint-Gobin, is still turning profits.

Saint-Gobin CEO Benoit Bazin grabbed over £560,000 last year. CEO of the Saint‑Gobain Group Pierre-Andre de Chalendar took £174.5million

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