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Letters—North London fire showed the cost of council’s failures

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Across Haringey, only 10 percent of homes show an acceptable level of fire risk
Issue 2844
Residents standing outside Kenneth Robbins House in Tottenham, north London due to fire in building

Fire broke out at Kenneth Robbins House in Tottenham, north London on 17 February (Picture: Olivia Opara/Twitter)

An angry gathering of residents met last week outside Kenneth Robbins House in Tottenham, north London, which had been hit by fire. The blaze was so intense that 60 firefighters in eight engines were at the scene battling the fire for around two hours. One resident was injured, and four households were placed in temporary accommodation. 

It could have been far, far worse. At the meeting residents talked about constant water leaks, mould, poor personal safety, and poor fire safety.  The Labour council simply did not do what was needed. It’s a catalogue of disastrous failures. 

It had six months to do fire-stopping in the cupboards. But it did not do it in a year. It had six months to check the panels on the outside of the building to see if they would catch fire or spread fire. But it did not do it in a year. It did not check smoke alarm systems in all flats. 

Around the borough, only 10 percent of Haringey’s housing Fire Risk Assessments show an acceptable level of fire risk.  The rest are unacceptable. And the council does not do the actions that it needs to do.  There are 13,000 fire safety actions overdue, for 13,000 homes.  

We will write to the Fire Safety Minister and demand the funding needed to make all of our homes safe. Fire survivor Jacob Oti said, “My dad’s flat caught fire. I am traumatised by my ordeal and the ordeal of my family.  

“We have to come together to really fight on behalf of ourselves, but we also take up the fight for everybody else that is not getting the right care that they are meant to be getting.   

“People in positions of power are not doing their jobs here, they are not thinking about us, they are not putting us first. If we don’t put ourselves first, then nobody is going to do it for us.”  The experience of this fire, and the safety failings that preceded it, should spur everyone to demand action to make their homes secure.  

Paul Burnham,

North London 

We will stand up to racism in Devon  

Around 50 people came to a gathering last Thursday at Jubilee Square in Bideford, Devon, in solidarity with refugees.  It was part of a national Stand Up To Racism day of action in support of refugees and to build for the demonstrations in London, Cardiff and Glasgow on 18 March. 

Speakers individually and from different organisations reiterated the need to support refugees and oppose the fascist Britain First group. It plans to stand in the Bideford area in the  local elections in May.  Many people have volunteered to leaflet the Bideford South ward to expose the fascist nature of Britain First and to counter its lies about refugees. 

Last week’s gathering was the start of the campaign against the fascists and it was very inspiring and gave hope for anti-racist success in the future. Lots of work still to do. Planning and organising is now vital.  

Dave Clinch,


  • Great to read about mobilisations in Liverpool, Rotherham, Erskine and elsewhere against racist attacks on refugees. 

It has given me hope that we can win this argument. But it’s not easy because of the government’s continual lies about the scale of the refugee issue. Invasion it’s not.  

Tracy Cohen,


Private system means we lost millions of homes 

I don’t think many people realise how dire the record of British house building is. 

If Britain had added homes at the rate of the average European country from 1955 to 2015, we’d have about 4.3 million extra houses, or 15 percent more homes than today.  

For some countries it’s even higher.  

If we’d built at the rate of Finland, we’d have an extra 8.3 million homes, or nearly a third more. 

This would have changed at a stroke the argument about refugees, the future of young people and so much more. 

Squeezing the supply of social housing, particularly council housing, and relying on profit-seeking private construction companies has been a disaster. 

And so has a planning system that has no real democratic vision of the supply of homes for the majority of people. 

Judith Mainwaring,


Justice now for Ricky Reel and his family 

I was heartened to hear that the police have been forced to re-investigate the death of Ricky Reel 25 years ago. 

Ricky, a student, was found in the River Thames a week after he went missing on 15 October 1997.  

On the night he went missing, two white youths had attacked him and his friends, a group of young Asian men. 

As his friends fought the attackers off, Ricky disappeared. 

His mother Sukhdev Reel last year released a book that chronicles her fight for justice and the pain of the last quarter century which remains undiminished. 

The book opened my eyes to one of the most glaring cases of injustice and state racism. 

Sukhdev says the police spied on her because of her race, and that officers had gathered intelligence on her when she campaigned for answers about her son’s death. 

The Met Police now say a new investigation will look with “fresh eyes” to “explore every possible avenue” of what happened. Let’s hope justice is coming at last. 

Mohsen Fayez,

West London 

Don’t blame the victims 

Doctors are to be told to sign fewer people off work with sick notes and instead keep them working under plans being considered for the budget. 

It’s classic Victorian thinking to blame economic problems on the victims.  

To imply that it’s because working people are malingering is obscene when the economic problems facing the country were created by the Tories and the corporations that bankroll them. 

People are off work because their jobs or government-caused poverty make them sick. 

David Revill,

by email 

French action can hit racism  

The strikes in France against the raising of the pension age have been truly inspirational.  

A BBC journalist asked a woman why she was protesting, seeing as she had voted for Macron. She instantly shot back “It was him or the fascist.” 

I hope more French workers realise that Marine Le Pen’s fake support for workers’ interests is a deadly trap. Anti-racism and anti-fascism need to be at the heart of the workers’ movement, on both sides of the Channel. 

Andy Pettit,


Why call off NHS strikes? 

I struggle to understand why the RCN union called off strike action. Nurses’ strikes have the potential strength to bring the rotten Tories to their knees.  

Stop the politeness and naive belief that the Tories will change their attitude and approach.  

Art Murfitt,

by email  

Cheaper end of the line  

Direct cremations, when the body is cremated without a service and the ashes are returned to the family, are getting more popular. Good, funerals have always been a rip-off. 

Helen Browning,

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