Identity theft

“I didn’t know I was poor until I saw the media coverage of the fire.”

Tasha, my youthful Justice4Grenfell campaign colleague, felt that way because she had lived in social housing all her life.

Those who died in Grenfell Tower were clearly victims of a system that failed to prioritise the safety of poorer citizens, but in highlighting this, it seems the media quickly defined the residents as all being marginalised and poor. As Grenfell Tower remained ablaze, the media told the world that the residents who lived there had a history of illegal subletting, it was overrun with illegal immigrants, they were all poor, unemployed, benefit claimants and that most were unable to speak English. The risk here is that this one-dimensional portrayal has evoked images of tenants living in social housing having hopeless lives. This image perplexed our community, who knew that 14 of the properties in the tower were privately owned by leaseholders; there were civil engineers, teachers, architects, business owners, private renters, artists, nursery workers, hospital porters, the list goes on. In reality, the former residents of Grenfell were a diverse community whose lives and homes were full of purpose, meaning, work and pride, and in many ways just as rich as those who inhabit the townhouses of Kensington and Chelsea…

Read the full article in the RSA journal on Medium

72 dead, no diverse Inquiry panel. How come?

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?

3 Billboards Outside Grenfell Tower, London


8 months on from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower, the issue is being ignored.

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.

Fire Safety Seminar

A lot more fire safety work is being done by many councils and housing providers since the events at Grenfell. However, the Huffington Post recently reported that over one hundred blocks of flats have failed safety checks (while other estimates are even higher) and yet only seven have had cladding removed. Because of this, many residents still feel concerned about their safety. We must never stop campaigning until everyone lives in a safe home. But in cases where their housing provider is not yet doing enough to fix problems with buildings, residents can do a lot to reduce the risk of fire by taking direct action themselves.
Drawing on FIRAS training, and using resources such as this London Fire Brigade Safety Guide (pdf), Olli Group are sponsoring a free seminar on fire safety and prevention, for social housing tenants or other interested parties.

The seminar is to be held on 19th March at Olli Group’s offices in Canning Town. Fire safety seminar times and location details.

J4G Protest at the RBKC Town Hall at 17:30pm on 6th Dec 2017

*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

The Justice 4 Grenfell Campaign has called a protest today, 6th Dec 2017 at 17.30, to demand permanent homes for the Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk residents.

The protest is being held at Kensington Town Hall tonight at 6pm. It is taking place to bring to the attention of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) and the UK, how survivors of the Grenfell Fire Tragedy are being treated. Many were made involuntarily homeless by the fire and RBKC have a duty of care to them – this should be one that offers a premium service not one that meets a minimal standard.

Only 20% of survivors have be permanently rehoused.

Six months on, over 40 children under the age of 18 years are still living in temporary accommodation.

RBKC has a housing policy that is dense and subversive and not written for the audience it is intended to serve. This is creating more anxiety, stress and trauma. There should be a policy in place that is accessible and conducive to the needs of survivors, implemented with humanity and understanding – this is not currently the case.

Residents are expected to work through the complex policy (that even RBKC admits is a ‘monster of a policy’ to implement) and bid for homes against each other. We demand that RBKC puts competent officers in place now, who can lead on the Grenfell Rehousing policy; more importantly officers who can implement the policy with humanity, understanding the needs of former residents and their families.

The current RBKC leadership have shown, month after month, that they are not fit for office or purpose. A new ‘revised’ commitment by the government and RBKC to rehouse the survivors within 12 months is not acceptable and is akin to cruel and unusual treatment.

Providing safe and permanent housing is a paramount issue here – RBKC continues to fail on its promises, deadlines and effectively engaging with the community of North Kensington -so business as usual for them and on-going contempt for the local community. They fail the Litmus test over and over again – this cannot be tolerated!

In the words of a former resident who summed up RBKC’s continued treatment and poor attitude to our community, this is a perfect example of “Institutional Indifference” by a public service.

Home Office changes to the Grenfell immigration policy

 
Justice 4 Grenfell is deeply concerned about the government’s proposed ‘pathway to settlement’ for undocumented survivors of the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower. This immigration deal offers no certainty, safety or security for traumatised survivors.
 
The Prime Minister has gone back on her promise to Grenfell survivors. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Prime Minister Theresa May promised a full amnesty to undocumented individuals. Rather than giving them a guaranteed period of five years, this policy in fact provides for two possible extension periods of two years each.
 
This kind of uncertainty will not allow survivors to rebuild their lives, and may impact their confidence in taking part effectively in the Public Inquiry.  In order to access these extensions, traumatised survivors will need to apply, taking part in extensive, rigorous checks, providing details about their personal and financial life, and telling and retelling their stories over and over again. Only at the end of this, if successful, will they be able to apply for permanent residence if they wish.
 
We are also concerned that the Home Office policy for families bereaved by the fire simply does not go far enough. Relatives have been given a six-month visas, yet in many cases it has taken four months for remains to be released and funerals to take place. Those who came here immediately after the fire will need to return in the next 8 weeks, before any substantive hearings at Inquests or the Public Inquiry and before any completion of the police investigation and criminal proceedings.
 
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 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.
 
Justice 4 Grenfell Campaign Co-Ordinator, Yvette Williams, said:
 
‘Nothing has changed. We need a full amnesty for adults and their children. They should not be penalized any further. This policy still means that people who’ve been traumatised will live in fear throughout that period that if they fail an ‘unknown’ criteria they will be sent back to their country of origin.
 
We’re not talking about vast numbers of people. It’s a myth that there were huge numbers of undocumented people living in Grenfell Tower.  The Home Office should not aim for headlines that lure traumatised people to hand themselves over to immigration services. They haven’t explained the hurdles people will have to jump through, or the criteria for rigorous security and criminality checks.
 
People will be afraid to come forward. What if they get a driving ticket? They have to meet fraud checks, but what if they’ve got into the country illegally in the first place? The least the government could do is to offer these people some stability for the future and treat them with some dignity and humanity.
 
The deal for relatives is six months’ guaranteed residence. It’s taken four months to release some of the remains for burial.  What will the arrangements be for these families? How will they be able to support their bereaved relatives through the process?
 
We wouldn’t encourage anyone to present themselves on the basis of what was offered yesterday. Given the information published in the Prime Minister’s Race Disparity Audit earlier this week, you can understand our reservations.
 
If the government wants to understand why these disparities happen, they should look at this as an example of how their policies and legislation adversely impact communities that look like the community who lived in and around Grenfell Tower.

100 Days Since the Grenfell Tower Disaster

Marking 100 Days Since the Grenfell Tower Disaster, Friday 22nd September

One hundred days ago Grenfell Tower was engulfed by flames in the worst, land-based, UK peacetime disaster since WWII. We have witnessed the best and the worst of humanity since those life changing events in the small hours of June 14th. Justice4Grenfell mourns the loss of life, the shattering of a tight-knit community of vibrant, dynamic, talented souls. We offer our heartfelt condolences to all those who’ve lost loved ones, rest assured we will never ever forget and will do everything in our power to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.

No-one can forget the way the community, on the night and in the immediate aftermath, stepped into the void left by the local authority to assist, support and care for their families, friends and neighbours. 100 days later nothing much has changed, the wider local community maintains common humanity, empathy and love looking after the survivors whilst some public and statutory services continue to largely fail in their responsibilities and duty to the survivors, bereaved families, evacuated residents and the wider impacted community.

So much has happened since 14th June, so many promises have been made and broken by the authorities, so much pain, grief, despair, psychological trauma and anger has been endured by the survivors, bereaved families, evacuated residents and wider local community. The situation continues to be an on-going catalogue of blunders and failures; starting with RBKC leadership’s total failure to activate their own emergency/contingency action plan on Day 1.

Lest We Forget

Theresa May visited Grenfell on 15th June to meet the emergency services but not survivors, the ensuing wave of criticism forced her to meet with a small, hand-picked group 2 days later and subsequently. The Prime Minister made the first of many broken promises at that meeting – Grenfell Tower survivors would be rehoused, either temporarily or permanently, WITHIN 3 weeks.

More than 3 months later the majority of survivors and evacuated residents remain in totally unsuitable hotel accommodation, separated from each other and their community, unable to start to try and rebuild their shattered lives, stuck in terrible limbo. Just 34 households have been permanently rehoused, with a further 29 households now in temporary housing. This is shameful. It is doubly so when we know that RBKC has both the highest number of empty properties in the UK and the largest reserves of any UK council.

RBKC not only failed to distribute any of the public’s generously given donations to the community, the council actually removed them from the local organisations that had been receiving and distributing them and put them in storage. Those that weren’t given to the Red Cross (on whose authority we ask?) have been sitting in storage, not reaching those they were intended for. This week saw the return of some of those donations to the local community but only after a long struggle with the council.

When the Prime Minister appointed Judge Moore-Bik to chair the Inquiry, she broke another promise – that the community would be fully consulted over who would be chosen to lead the Public Inquiry and on its Terms of Reference (ToR). Judge Moore-Bik was appointed without any consultation whatsoever. A less appropriate individual would be hard to imagine, his most notorious ruling enabled Westminster Council to rehouse a Social Housing tenant and her children in Milton Keynes – 50 miles away from relatives, work and school. This ruling, overturned 2 years later by the Supreme Court, is seen to have given the green-light to Councils across the UK to “socially cleanse” their boroughs.

Judge Moore-Bik announced on the day his appointment was made public that he had already been given his very narrow Terms of Reference. The ensuing outcry forced him to open a period of consultation over the ToR.

The Judge’s unsuitability to lead the Inquiry remains a live issue, J4G, our members and the wider community found his comments and behaviour at the formal opening session held last week to be further evidence of this. The choice of venue; the requirement for all present to stand when he entered the room (a hired venue and NOT a court of law); his overall tone; his dismissal of the call for survivors to be involved in the Inquiry; his refusal to take any questions all compounded the very real fear that we are looking at another Hillsborough.

Moore-Bik has appointed a team of lawyers and related staff that fails to recognise the need to reflect the very broad ethnic, religious and social diversity of the impacted community in his team or to address this by appointing community advisors to the panel, this is another major source of concern.

The Prime Minister also promised an amnesty for undocumented migrants, initially presented as open-ended, it was subsequently limited to 12 months. Even Moore-Bik has written to the PM saying that it needs to be unlimited otherwise the Inquiry risks not hearing vital evidence. Apparently, the need to really understand what happened on that dreadful night and what led up to it; to learn the lessons that Grenfell can and should teach us, is less important than pandering to an anti-immigration agenda.

One hundred days after the fire, not only do we still not know the final “official” number of fatalities (considered by many in the local community to be closer to 200) we are now being told that the original, confirmed figure of 80 is likely to decrease. This is inconceivable, J4G, the survivors, bereaved families, evacuated residents and the wider local community know this figure of 80 cannot be true. 100 days on there is an increasing sense that a serious, concerted cover-up is going on, that those responsible are doing everything in their power to downplay the scale of the disaster and to dehumanise the victims and the survivors.

ENDS

Note: There will be a candle lit gathering at the Memorial Wall, Bramley Road at 4 pm on Friday 22nd September to mark the 100 day anniversary.

J4G’s Response to Met Police Announcement re: Individual Manslaughter Charges

Justice4Grenfell broadly welcomes the news that the Metropolitan Police have announced that individual manslaughter charges arising from the Grenfell Fire are a possibility. The survivors, bereaved families, evacuated residents and the wider community have all been calling for such charges to be brought, for individuals to be held personally accountable under the law. The prospect of RBKC Council being charged with Corporate Manslaughter and subsequently paying any fine arising with Council Tax Payer’s money is completely unacceptable, a travesty of justice, so this updated position is definitely a step in the right direction.

However, there’s still a long way to go and other hurdles to leap before anyone can be certain that individuals will be held accountable. The Police can of course recommend individual charges but the final decision rests with the CPS, there is no guarantee that the CPS will consider there’s sufficient evidence to successfully bring such charges. It remains a waiting game.

J4G is concerned that, following hard on the heels of the announcement that individual manslaughter charges are possible, the Police have also said that only 59 people have been identified as victims of the fire and that the overall death toll is likely to be less than the already announced 80. This is bizarre, how can it be so?

From the 14th June itself, the on-going narrative from the relevant authorities continues to try and reduce the scale of the disaster, to minimise the number of fatalities. The local Community has never accepted the previous “official” death toll of 80, believing it to be a gross under-estimate of the true number. How do survivors and the wider community reconcile the considerable number of people still reported as “missing” with that revised estimate, are those listed as missing included in the now reduced overall figure? In order to achieve any kind of closure, all impacted by the Grenfell fire need clarity, something that has been missing from day 1. The continuing attempts to apparently downsize the scale of the disaster only serve to compound the distress and trauma felt by those who’ve experienced unbelievable horrors. It certainly does not aid recovery.

Justice4Grenfell understands and accepts the need for a thorough criminal investigation, we recognise that this will take time. We would far rather wait for that investigation to be concluded so that ALL the evidence can be presented to the CPS in support of the recommendation for individual manslaughter charges, than for it to be rushed. Rushing the investigation may result in the bringing of lesser, Corporate Manslaughter charges and completely fail to satisfy the need everyone who has been impacted by the Grenfell disaster has for justice to be done and seen to be done.