At least 30 people have now been confirmed dead as a result of the Grenfell tower tragedy. The blaze that engulfed the tower block in the early hours of last Wednesday was entirely avoidable, these lives and homes needlessly destroyed.
In the aftermath of the fire there was visible grief on the faces of the residents interviewed but there was also anger. Anger that their concerns over the safety of the building had been brushed under the carpet, anger that panels in a recent £10 million refurbishment seemed only to fuel the blaze rather than provide protection. The reasoning for these panels couldn’t be more shocking, they were merely an aesthetic measure to appease wealthy locals who had branded the building an eyesore. In a video that has since attracted great attention one resident went as far as to sayhe believed this wasn’t an accident.
It’s easy to see why such a sentiment exists as a second video has since emerged depicting Boris Johnson in 2013 telling The London Assembly to ‘stuff off’ rather than listening to what now appear to have been veryreal and pressing concerns regarding cuts to the London Fire Brigade. These cuts -amounting to £29 million – led to the closure of 10 fire stations, the loss of 552 fire fighters, 14 fire engines and the lowering of minimum staffing level from five to four. Mr Johnson’s claims that these cuts were “improving fire cover” now ring very hollow.
Vote Against Human Habitation.
There was also the vote in the commons to ensure all accommodation is fit for human habitation, it was rejected by 312 votes to 219. Of the Conservatives who voted against this, 72 of them were landlords which has led to allegations of them voting in their own interests rather than the people of the country. If true, these allegations pose serious questions regarding the functionality of our democracy and whether MP’s should be allowed to vote on matters where they can profit.
This isn’t just a matter of a freak accident, there has been a sustained trend of wilful ignorance to the plight of the Grenfell residents. As far back as 2013 they had put together a report warning that their landlord was putting their safety at risk by restricting their access ways to the car park, it was not just the residents who felt the building was unsafe, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue produced a report recommending the installation of fire suppression and sprinkler systems across 4000 tower blocks – including Grenfell – around the country. This report was held by the Conservative government for four years with no action being taken on it.
Legal Action Threats.
The report commissioned by the residents was not the only length they took to get through to the council that their building was unsafe. Repeated attempts by the Grenfell Action Group (GAG) landed on deaf ears with one resident, Francis O’Connor, threatened by the council with legal action for blogging about his concerns regarding the fire safety in the building. After claiming that it would take a “catastrophic event” to expose the “ineptitude and incompetence” of their landlord he received a letter that accused him of “defamatory behaviour” and “harassment.” It is small wonder that in light of such a response the incident has since been labelled “corporate manslaughter” by Labour MP, David Lammy, who has also called for arrests to be made. He stopped short of naming individuals.
We could have been seeing a very different story had legal aid not been savagely cut in 2013. Were it not for these cuts that some argue have created a two-tier justice system, the Grenfell residents would have been able to fund a case against their landlord and the council, forcing them to take the necessary precautions to make the building safe. While the government have pledged a £5 million fund to help the residents and promised to pick up the legal aid bill it simply comes as too little, too late.
With more and more damning revelations appearing every day it comes a smack in the face for residents and indeed the wider public to be told not to politicise a tragedy that has clearly come about due to administrative and governmental negligence. Such sentiments cry of fear of having to take responsibility, fear of yet another scandal hitting an already beleaguered government. Such platitudes are themselves inappropriate as they show our government’s inability to recognise and thus rectify its own mistakes, a trait entirely unsuited to ruling a nation.
Whatever the outcome of the pending inquiry or inquest it is absolutely imperative that the failures of the council, government and landlord are not only laid bare but acted on and responsibility not negated but fully and graciously accepted. Without such an outcome it is easy to see the bleak reality of history repeating itself.