As we head towards the date of publication for the Interim Report of the Grenfell Tower Fire Public Inquiry, on Wednesday 30 October – a moment of reflection.
I remember in October 2012, when after years of lobbying by residents in cold, damp flats with dodgy lifts and heating and hot water system constantly breaking down, the Council and TMO announced a major refurb of Grenfell Tower. I was leaving KCTMO Board after four years, and this overdue investment was welcomed by residents at the time.
Between then and 14 June 2017 were five years of meetings, negotiations, consultations, design decisions, planning decisions, contracting, commissioning, estimating, re-estimating, materials decisions – ‘value engineering’ – and the work itself.
In 2015 a group of residents had been concerned about failures and delays in the process of the works, the noise and inconvenience, concerns about fire breaks, the position of boilers in hallways, exposed gas pipes, the loss of emergency road access, the loss of green space at Lancaster Green to build the school close to the Tower, and fears that the building itself may be dangerous post-refurb.
Rather than take residents’ concerns seriously, in November 2016 the Council sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to the complainants, stating that they were frightening residents.
Six months later a fridge now deemed so dangerous it has been withdrawn from sale burst into flames, and fire services were called. Unknown to them the fire had burnt through a UPVC window frame and flames had begun to tear up the building fuelled by a devastating combination of flammable insulation and flammable cladding. Then –
- The stair lighting failed.
- The smoke vents failed.
- The fire doors failed.
- The fire breaks between floors failed.
- Badly fitting UPVC windows blazed and emitted deadly gases.
- The insulation and cladding failed, due to their combustibility and to poorly fitted breaks and gaps which acted like a chimney.
- The gas supply could not be turned off for 18 hours.
- And the ‘value engineered’ insulation (now banned) and cladding combination described as ‘solid petrol’ raged for hours.
The devasting fire that had been predicted by residents turned a concrete frame building with fire safe compartmentation, where ‘Stay Put’ policy had worked for 40 years, into a 24 storey bonfire.
Into this nightmare, firefighters had to work to save lives with equipment inadequate for a combination of disastrous errors that should never have been allowed. They went in untrained for a disaster that should never have happened.
And here lies the problem with this back-to-front Inquiry.
Despite the preceding 60 months of appalling decision-making and dereliction of duty by those in power and authority, we fear the Inquiry will focus on the efforts of those sent to save lives into the hell created by others.
This process is unfair, inequitable and seems destined to blame the responders in place of those responsible.
As we wait with trepidation, anxiety and sleepless nights for the Interim Report and recommendations, it is sickening to contemplate what our brave and selfless firefighters may be accused of.
An Inquiry is not a criminal prosecution. Blaming responders rather than those responsible goes completely against the spirit and purpose of a Public Inquiry.
I will stand by all victims of this avoidable atrocity, those we have lost and those left behind, until justice is served for them all.
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Reposted with thanks to Justice4Grenfell: