On Wednesday afternoon, we met with the Rt. Hon. Nick Hurd MP, The Grenfell Minister.
We had 4 key points that we raised at the meeting:
1. Justice4Grenfell is supporting Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith, who has tabled a private members Bill on Freedom of Information Act (Extension). The Bill highlights how dependent we have become on contractors for public services, yet the current FOI Act suffers from a major loophole; information which the contractors themselves hold about their services may not be covered. If the contract doesn’t give the authority the right to obtain that information from the contractor, the public has no right to it from the authority. The transfer of a function from the authority’s staff to the contractors, may signal the denial of the public’s right to know under FOI.
When the Grenfell Action Group made FOI requests to the former Kensington and Chelsea TMO, they were denied this. They will now be given that information by the Grenfell Inquiry and Police Investigation. It may be that if the Grenfell Action Group had accessed and scrutinised crucial information prior to June 14th 2017, the fire at Grenfell Tower would not have happened.
Justice4Grenfell supports this bill, and we have asked the Rt Hon. Nick Hurd MP to support it when it gets a debate date in Parliament.
2. We have also asked the Minister to look at applying the same principle to the Public-Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010.
The Act should be amended so that Public Authorities outsourcing bounds Contractors to the Duty. The broad purpose of the equality duty is to integrate consideration of equality and good relations into the day-to-day business of public authorities. If you do not consider how a function can affect different groups in different ways, it is unlikely to have the intended effect. This can contribute to greater inequality and poor outcomes.
Compliance with the general equality duty is a legal obligation, but it also makes good business sense. An organisation that is able to provide services to meet the diverse needs of its users, should find that it carries out its core business more efficiently. By outsourcing public services to contractors has allowed a caveat for them to renege on their statutory duties.
3. Justice4Grenfell attended the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday 24th July. It is clear that community trust and confidence in the work of the local authority is not improving and the mere change of venue for the GRSC is not working.
The GRSC intends to co-opt four community members to the committee. We have asked the minister to support our request that one of the co-opted members is also appointed as a co-chair to alongside current Chair Cllr Robert Thompson. There needs to be action to build trust and confidence, not just words and venue changes. Not only will the appointment of a community co-chair begin to build public trust, but it will also ensure that there is somebody chairing who really understands the needs and temperament of the community.
4. Additionally, a huge contribution to building trust and confidence would be a ‘tier of scrutinisers’ at RBKC who the community will have immediate trust in.
Justice4Grenfell discussed with the Minister that it would be prudent for RBKC to have non-executive Directors with effective community knowledge and understanding plus equal decision-making powers to the CEO. This would instantly increase openness and transparency and be a great step towards building community trust and confidence.
We hope that Minister has listened and will support these recommendations.
Press Release: For Immediate Release
At the first anniversary of the Grenfell Disaster, the Justice 4 Grenfell Campaign finds itself as members of a stronger, closer and unified North Kensington community. On the Anniversary, we will foremost honour and remember the 72 children, women and men who lost their lives. We will be here with our community and we will stand with Grenfell.
I find myself going through three phases each day. Firstly, it feels like it was only yesterday that I stood at the base of the tower watching the ‘inferno’; at other times it feels longer than a year as there have been so many struggles, e.g. lack of permanent homes for former residents; sometimes I wake up questioning if the horror at Grenfell really happened? I want the world to stand with Grenfell on the anniversary. The community needs to see and feel huge support at what will be a difficult time. The road to Justice continues and ‘Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.’
One year on, as I reflect on that fateful morning, I recall that for a brief time our community felt like we were in a warzone where a bomb had been dropped. The horror of watching the fire, the pain of the loss of lives and homes as well as the frustration and anger at the absence of support from the local authority still resonates. We have stood firm and used the unity of our community and the solidarity from across the country and internationally to keep our focus on the demand for justice. Today I will honour the lives of my neighbours and friends who lost their lives so needlessly and take courage from the dignity of the bereaved families.
I can’t believe that a year has passed, though at times I find myself still questioning if the fire at Grenfell Tower really happened. It has been a whirlwind year, and although full of so many difficult emotions that I didn’t know existed, we’ve also seen so many beautiful gestures from people to people, and city to city since. When we’ve been at our lowest, it’s been ordinary people and communities who have given strength. Today, as we mark the 1st anniversary of the fire, I want to thank this community for all that they have done and continue to do. I am so honoured to have grown up in and live in North Kensington, and will continue to fight alongside this community for as long as it takes. We will get justice but, today let’s remember the 72 men, women and beautiful children that were lost, let’s remember their families and the survivors of Grenfell Tower. Most importantly, let’s do what we have proven to the world we do so well: love and support one another.
The sarcophagus of Grenfell Tower stands as a monument to what the North Kensington community has endured over the past 9 months. The trauma, pain, exhaustion and anger has led to the blooming of a spirit of resistance, care, support and self-organisation. The community remembers with dignity, on the 14th of every month, in the Silent Walks,72 men, women and children, whose lives were so brutally taken, while families left languishing in hotel rooms wonder in despair, if this is what justice looks like.
It has been 3 months since the last procedural hearing of the Public Inquiry. Three months in which survivors and displaced families have struggled through a quagmire of institutional indifference from the local authority. At the opening of the Inquiry, Leslie Thomas QC asked whether the panel could understand the experiences of the residents from diverse backgrounds. He stated,
“that affects confidence. Confidence or a lack of it affects participation. And a lack of participation from the very people who matter will affect justice”
The Justice 4 Grenfell Campaign demanded a diverse panel in June 2017. Bereaved families took a petition to Downing Street in December asking for the same. It was in the gift of Prime Minister to grant this; she refused. It appeared particularly heartless especially as it was announced over the seasonal break; A PARTICULARY VULNERALBE time for many who were facing their first festive season without their loved ones and where they had little opportunity to challenge her decision.
Theresa May quoted, “I am also very conscious of the need for the inquiry to complete its initial report as quickly as reasonably possible. I therefore consider that additional panel members should not be appointed at this stage,”
Dr. Richard Stone OBE an independent Inquiry Panel member of the Stephen Lawrence Campaign said this about the Grenfell Inquiry Panel,
“They will have to be a diverse group, which ensures that the experiences of the whole range of people affected by the fire are in the ear of the judge from the earliest moment. From my previous experience, I would argue that civil servants or government officials should not be involved in the choice of any ‘independent’ person within the Inquiry team. I have found in some senior officials an almost irresistible desire to maintain control even of officially ‘independent’ Inquiries. The team must be absolutely independent, from the outset.”
Once again, the survivors and bereaved families have had to turn to the community and ordinary people up and down the country for support. Following Justice4Grenfell’s ‘3 Billboards’ Campaign and Grime Artist Stormzy’s timely reminder to the Prime minister at the Brits not to forget the horror of what happened to Grenfell; the petition got over the 100,000 signatures to trigger a debate in parliament. This has raised serious questions about the commitment of this Inquiry to put those most impacted at the heart of the Inquiry. The date for the parliamentary debate is set for 14th May 2018 – this is the very date of the 11-month anniversary of the Grenfell Fire; the community holds a Silent Walk on the 14th of each month and it is also the first day of Ramadan!!!
Justice4Grenfell and the community of Grenfell’s expectations of this second procedural hearing are near zero and until the demand for a diverse, equal decision-making panel has been granted, we enter the doors of Holborn Bars with the question still firmly in our minds:
“72 dead, no diverse Inquiry Panel, how come?”
We’ve got some new photos from our ‘Three Billboards outside Grenfell, London’ protest.
71 people died in the Grenfell Tower.
And still no arrests.
And still 297 flammable towers.
And still hundreds of survivors are homeless.
And still they are not represented on the inquiry.
And still there is no justice.
These 3 billboards are here to keep this tragedy in the national conscience, to make our voices heard.
And our voices call for change to a system that kills.
And our voices demand justice for Grenfell.
You can add your voice; retweet, share, talk.
**For Immediate Release**
The Justice4Grenfell Campaign is outraged that survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire who have core participation status in the upcoming Public Inquiry could face the possibility of deportation .
Immediately after the disaster Theresa May said no one should feel scared about coming forward. Then immigration minister Brandon Lewis announced a pitiful one-year amnesty for undocumented migrants living in the tower. Now he has said survivors can apply for permanent residence, but only after a five-year period of regular observation by the state. This constant shifting of the immigration policy has meant that people will not come forward with crucial information for the Public Inquiry and the criminal investigation. Survivors suffering from various kinds of trauma are not accessing trauma and bereavement services.
J4G are also concerned that the Home Office policy for families bereaved by the fire simply does not go far enough. Relatives who were granted visas in the aftermath of the fire, now face the possibility of their visas expiring. Yet in some cases, it has taken over four months for remains to be released and funerals to take place. This could mean that families will have to leave the UK before any substantive hearings at Inquests or the Public Inquiry, and before any completion of the police investigation and criminal proceedings.
Labour MP’s Emma Dent Coad and Dianne Abbott’s letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, highlights concerns that the Justice4Grenfell campaign raised in October 2017 when we pointed out that “This piecemeal and underhand policy does not encourage undocumented survivors to confidently come forward, and if survivors do not come forward then justice cannot be served.”
We therefore repeat our call for a full and comprehensive amnesty to allow survivors to take part in the inquiry or for their family members to support them.
The Justice4Grenfell Campaign are hosting a Public Meeting on the 1st February 2018, 7pm at Maxilla Social Club, raising the question: ‘How do we get Justice For Grenfell?’
The meeting provides a platform for the community to discuss what justice looks like, and how it can be achieved. This is particularly pertinent as nearly 8 months after the fire, the following issues are still outstanding:
- There have been no arrests
- Hundreds of families are still without permanent accommodation
- Thousands, nationwide, are still living in unsafe buildings and;
- Despite a petition and legal advice, the Public Inquiry panel still remains unrepresentative of our diverse community.
Speakers will include:
- Emma Dent Coad – Local Labour MP
- Clarrie Mendy – Bereaved Family Member & Humanity4Grenfell Founder
- Matt Wrack – General Secretary of the Fire Brigade’s Union
- Joe Delaney – Resident & Grenfell Action Group Member
- Eileen Short – Defend Council Housing
- Kevin Courtenay – General Secretary of National Union of Teachers (NEU)
- Brian Richardson – Stand Up To Racism
The Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted failures in protecting the safety of social housing tenants, adequate public services, lack of equality and human rights with little or no accountability.
The Justice4Grenfell campaign says “It’s vital that those in authority begin to act upon community demands immediately, and lessons are learned, so that no community ever has to face what this community has endured in the last 8 months – only through the responsible authorities implementing action and change, will Justice be done and be seen to be done, by those that matter.”
The Grenfell Inquiry Chairman has today written to all core participants responding to the issues that were raised at the Procedural Hearing on 11 and 12 December.
The main outstanding issue is that Sir Martin declined to recommend to PM Theresa May that panel members with equitable decision-making powers should be appointed alongside him.
‘I am and must remain completely independent of the government and in my view it would be wrong for me to take the initiative by advising the Prime Minister either to appoint additional members to the panel or not to do so. That must be a matter for her own judgment, free of any unsolicited advice from me. If proposals were made to expand the panel, I should, of course, consider them carefully and with an open mind, but unless and until that occurs, I must refrain from comment.’
J4G continues to call on the Prime Minister to urgently make these appointments as a step to building community trust and confidence in the Inquiry.
Other Key points in the response include:-
- Lawyers representing Grenfell families ‘may’ be allowed to question witnesses directly, the chairman of the public inquiry into the fire.
- Ministers, town hall chiefs and company bosses will be told to identify their Grenfell Tower responsibilities amid worries that the inquiry could be hampered by a “culture of denial”.
- An expert in tenant management will draw up a report and give evidence amid claims that “little heed was paid” by the authorities to warnings by Grenfell residents about the fire risk.
- Exploring assistance such as travel, childcare and refreshment costs for victims’ families and survivors to attend hearings in central London. No local venue in Kensington has been secured for future hearings. This was requested at the procedural hearings.
- Documents will be disclosed in “sensible tranches” but not all the raw information submitted will be made available to core participants, with some papers redacted. The inquiry may receive 270,000 documents.
- Local residents will be ‘consulted’ on setting up a “consultative panel” to promote a “sense of engagement” and build confidence in the inquiry.
If you’d like to read the Chairman’s full response, please click here: The Chairman’s Response to Submissions made on 11 – 12 December 2017
Definitions of Representation and ‘Exploitation’
Justice4Grenfell attended two days of procedural hearings opening the Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week. We welcomed the consensus that bereaved families and survivors’ voices should be placed at the centre, not on the margins, of the inquiry. It is vital that public confidence in the Inquiry’s work is both raised and maintained in order for justice to be served.
This week, survivors and the bereaved have also called for a representative panel with decision-making powers to sit in parity alongside the judge. It is clear that many bereaved families and survivors do not feel as though they have a central role in the Inquiry process. While Sir Martin More-Bick seems to understand the reasons for the request – namely, diversity of experience, background and ethnicity – it is clear that the only way this can happen is if the Prime Minister exercises her powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 to appoint a panel.
There was talk of a diverse ‘community consultative panel’ to act as a ‘critical friend’ to the Inquiry. Some welcomed this idea, however as Michael Mansfield QC effectively pointed out, ‘the key point that you are missing is that a panel of this nature will not have any decision-making power’. Additional diverse panel members with decision-making powers on parity with the current Inquiry Chair would demonstrate that the experience of the survivors and bereaved families and relatives was understood and considered. This is not a new concept; there are previous examples of public inquiries doing this – for example, the McPherson/Lawrence Inquiry panel.
All public bodies should endeavour to be representative of the communities they serve and a public Inquiry is not exempt from this. The Inquiry must be more representative and reflect the diversity of people from Grenfell Tower and North Kensington communities. Lack of representation in a public body at this level raises questions about the Inquiry’s approach to issues of race, class, age, disability etc. Representation is important. It is about ensuring that those most affected can trust that the process will be fair and truthful. Matters of equality and diversity are central to the work of the Inquiry, and to restoring confidence of all who seek justice.
The current Chair was selected and appointed by the Prime Minister. It was confirmed at the hearing that it is solely in the Prime Minister’s gift to decide if she wants to add additional diverse decision makers to the panel. We will await her decision.
In the meantime, Justice4Grenfell is disappointed to read coverage in some news outlets that clearly seeks to divide the community around Grenfell Tower. We are a community campaign focused on seeking justice. Some media have chosen to focus on creating divisions in our community at a time when we are still grieving and traumatised by what happened at Grenfell on June 14th. Certain media came into our community, shortly after the fire, asking vulnerable volunteers and survivors leading questions to ‘divide and rule’ us; then quoting them in their outlet some three months later. This is an overt example of ‘exploitation’. We’ve moved on as a community and we will not be silenced or divided.
Six months after the fire, there are urgent issues to be addressed. One obvious question is why 80% of former residents are still in emergency or temporary accommodation? J4G is campaigning so that questions like these are raised; so that institutional behaviours in need of change are confronted, and that those ultimately responsible for the tragic events at Grenfell Tower are held to account.
We ask everyone who is committed to the principles of justice and equality for the bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell Tragedy to come and show respect and solidarity for those who needlessly perished. Join us on the Silent March on Thursday 14th December at 6.30pm; meeting point Notting Hill Methodist Church, Lancaster Road, London W11 4AH.
**CORRECTION: In a previous version of this Press Release, J4G referenced that there were 20% of residents still living in emergency or temporary accommodation. In fact, the amount is significantly greater at 80%. The 60% difference here is important.
We apologise for any confusion that this has caused.**