In another gesture of contempt towards survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council shut out survivors and local residents from last night’s council cabinet meeting.
They had gathered demanding entry to hear the cabinet’s discussions but disgracefully were barred.
Moyra Samuels, who has helped to organise meetings and protests demanding justice for the residents of Grenfell, was one of those who tried to attend. She said, “We’re angry that they are not going to come out and offer an explanation as to why we are not able to get into this meeting.
“We want to hear what the plans are for the future. They need to talk to people as a whole.
“It’s a continuation of what they have done from the beginning of this avoidable disaster. They have dodged their responsibility completely and hidden away and not come out and talked to the community.”
The council intended to hold the meeting entirely behind closed doors.
However, a group of media organisations obtained a high court order preventing the council from banning journalists. When the meeting started, the Tory leader Nick Paget-Brown said many of the criticisms of the council would be “challenged” in future.
Following his statement, Paget-Brown said the rest of the discussion about the tragedy could not be held with journalists present and closed the meeting.
The Labour group in the council demanded the resignation of the whole cabinet of the Conservative-controlled council.
Beinazir Lasharie, a councillor who lived near Grenfell Tower, was in tears at the closing of Paget-Brown’s statement. She said residents had been “fobbed off”.
She told reporters she had come to the meeting to have her questions answered on behalf of residents but had been denied.
The council had said that it wanted a closed meeting because it fears protests.
Meanwhile the retired judge heading the inquiry into fire has told survivors it may not be as far-reaching as they hope.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick said, “There may be other ways in which the desire for that investigation could be satisfied other than through the work that I’m going to do.”
He went on to say the inquiry may focus on “basic factual questions” about how the fire started and how quickly it spread.
The implication is that the Metropolitan Police’s criminal investigation into the fire will be left to determine who’s responsible.
But the police investigation will likely focus on those directly responsible—not the bigger political decisions that led to the blaze.
This news comes as a kick in the teeth to people mourning the murder of friends and relatives in the inferno.
Previous decisions by Moore-Bick include allowing Westminster City Council to rehouse a tenant more than 50 miles away in Milton Keynes. Titina Nzolameso, a single mother with five children, had lost her Westminster flat because of the benefit cap.
Her lawyer said at the time of Sir Martin’s ruling, “This judgment could have dire consequences for vulnerable families across the country. It gives the green light for councils to engage in social cleansing of the poor on a mass scale.”
The Supreme Court later overturned Moore-Bick’s decision.
He was also involved in a decision to reject a challenge brought by the family of Mark Duggan, killed by the police in Tottenham, north London, in 2011. The family’s lawyers had argued that the Association of Chief Police Officers was wrongly operating a policy of allowing officers to discuss their evidence.
There is also increasing disquiet over how many people the police say have died or may have died in the fire. Police said on Wednesday that 80 people died, but that it will be months before a final number of victims is established.
Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said contact had been made with at least one occupant from 106 of the building’s 129 flats. From those properties, 18 people are dead or assumed dead.
This means the remaining victims are thought to have been in the flats that were wiped out by the fire. “There are 23 flats that, despite huge investigative efforts, we have been unable to trace anyone that lives there,” she said.
Grenfell residents’ groups have begun several parallel investigations to compile their own lists of the victims and survivors. They argue that the police and council have been far too slow to release information about the death toll.
Sajad Jamalvatan, who lived on the third floor of the block, has set up a Whatsapp group of 86 families who escaped from the fire. From conversations with these residents over the past fortnight he is sceptical about the police death toll of 80.
He believes that the actual number is likely to be above 120.
Sajid said, “We were expecting the tenant management organisation to do this list for us, but we don’t think they are willing to help us”.
He said he was trying to organise a meeting between the council and all of the survivors, in one place, but that it was proving difficult to arrange. “They don’t want to face 400 people in a room. They prefer to deal with us individually,” he said.
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