This week, at the Inquiry, we heard further evidence from fire fighters who attended Grenfell Tower on 14th June 2017 and also evidence from Jo Smith, Senior Operations Manager, who attended the Control Centre after 2.00am on the night and on hearing the emergency calls from residents, indicated to the call handlers to tell residents to ‘leave the building’.
An apparent emerging theme this week was the inadequacy of communication methods and equipment available to our emergency services.
Additionally, this week, bereaved families have complained about the cramped conditions, with little sunlight at Holborn Bars. Again, paramedics had to attend to treat someone who fainted.
J4G questions to the Inquiry this week:
- Why in 21stCentury Britain do we have an emergency service still reliant on outdated radio equipment?
- Is it an indictment on government that our Fire Service had to rely on white boards, pens and ‘scraps’ of paper to record and communicate where residents were and what the conditions were in the Tower?
- Why don’t our fire service have mobile phones that can record dialogue and be linked to an electronic recording system?
- Should the Fire Service’s training budget be increased immediately?
- Have the firefighters and officers who have given evidence so far; received adequate counselling for PSTD and trauma?
- Is the Venue at Holborn Bars suitable for the Inquiry hearings?
The community living in Grenfell tower was representative of London in it’s wonderful diversity. Like many, I have been moved by the stories of people from all over the world who had made London their home and gave this city their hard work, love and solidarity. I, too, have been shocked by this devastating fire and the loss of so many lives, but I have also been amazed by the extraordinary spirit of community and togetherness that came out of it.
When marching with survivors on the anniversary of the fire on the 14th of June this year, some of whom lost friends or family members, I felt nothing but utter admiration for the courage and solidarity they showed.
The very least I expected from the Government after this tragedy, was for them to ensure that those who lost their homes were rehoused, that tower block residents across the country would be safe, and that the survivors and bereaved families could have full confidence in the ongoing public inquiry.
Over a year after the tragedy, only 39% of households have been rehoused permanently and the same cladding is still used in 470 high-rise blocks across the country, turning a tragedy into an outright scandal.
An Inquiry has finally been called, the first part of which started at the beginning of June. After strong public pressure and a hard-fought campaign by survivors and bereaved families, the Prime Minister agreed that a panel of experts with decision-making powers should be appointed to sit alongside Sir Martin Moore-Bick. It was a very obvious requirement and I wish that families who had lost a loved one would have been left to grieve instead of being made to fight for fairness.
I have since been approached by members of the Grenfell community and they have one more request. They want assurances that they will all be heard, no matter where they come from or if they have the right papers. They want to be consulted about an event that changed their lives forever. They want justice.
By Kate Osamor MP – Kate Osamor is the MP for Edmonton and the Shadow Secretary of State for International Develeopment.
As the Grenfell Inquiry enters it’s second month, each day and with every witness, we understand more the full extent of what actually took place on June 14th 2017. We have seen firefighters breakdown in tears as they describe the impossible situation they were in and the unimaginable sights they witnessed.
We are, of course, all united in our support and admiration for the brave men and woman firefighters who entered the Grenfell Tower that night in order to save lives. But let us never forget the work of the control workers who took the emergency calls on that evening, and who although not physically present, nevertheless experienced the horrors of that night in the same way as the firefighters.
This week the first of the control workers to give evidence at the inquiry has taken the stand. As with previous witnesses, they will no doubt conduct themselves with dignity and pride. Many of the control workers on the night of Grenfell took multiple calls and would have heard unimaginable and extremely harrowing calls.
Lets hope the control workers receive the same respect and admiration shown to them as the firefighters have so far.
By Lucy Masoud – London Fire Brigade’s Union Treasurer & Head of FBU Discipline
There was a focus last week on the ‘stay put policy,’; a policy the LFB use when fighting fire in high rise buildings. Most of the firefighters that gave evidence this week took the stand for several hours undergoing gruelling questioning and painfully recalling memories of what happen on that night. Their priority was to save lives, even if it meant at times risking their own.
There was also a focus on the lateness in implementing an evacuation policy and how ‘Order of Command’ and/or Rank dictates when and if a change in procedure can be made. Usually this is an officer not fighting the fire!
Evident last week, was that none of the firefighters were aware of any particular risks associated with the cladding.
Finally, the Home Office could force bereaved families with Core Participation Status to return home before the conclusion of the Grenfell Inquiry; as their visas are to be limited to six months.
Questions J4G would have asked this week:
- Why in 21st Century Britain would our fire service have a shortage of basic equipment; including breathing apparatus, hose nozzles and door breaking equipment?
- How can the fire service enable those actually fighting the fire to move from a stay put policy to an evacuation procedure policy with urgency rather than awaiting bureaucratic responses?
- Do you think that the ‘stay put’ policy should be immediately suspended until all flammable cladding is removed from all buildings across the UK, and is completely banned?
- Could recommendations following the Piper Alpha disaster 30 years ago, have made a difference or avoided the Grenfell Disaster?
- By not issuing longer term visas to bereaved families, do you think that the Home Office is making the Inquiry is a ‘hostile environment’?
- Do you think that the firefighters evidenced this week at the Inquiry showed us that these are ordinary firefighters who did extraordinary things on June 14th 2018?
- Do we live in a society where some lives just don’t matter?
Mrs Murray was a resident of Grenfell Tower. Thankfully, she and her family made it out in the early hours of that morning. Mrs Murray has written a powerful poem, and she’d like for us to share it with you.
Everywhere I look
They can’t hold us down when we stand together,
we march in silence no matter the weather,
no matter the season,
We stand United,
together for a reason.
No, we’re not savage and no, we won’t scrap.
you know we already know the hap,
what’s going on.
You want us to act out dumb
so you can paparazzi that and show us to be wrong.
Try escape your fate, try deny us justice.
Do you really think we’re gonna have this?
Do you think that’s gonna fly?
Do you really think we’re gonna give u a bly?
When we gather in respect on these roads
that are scarred and coated by the dust of the bones.
The ones we lost, you could never replace,
you can see it from the mourned out looks on our face.
On our faces.
Different skin tones, all different types
but all of us, the human race.
How many of us have you left displaced?
Diaspora in our own land,
feeling like an outsider with my own brand,
Survivor chic donations old and new;
we are grateful for those who rode through.
The ones who still stand, forever we thank you.
We bear our scars inside and out,
Thank God from us who made it out.
‘Survive and rise’ is what is going on,
and if you try stop it, we will remain together strong.
We march together, in respectful silence.
Justice our quest,
And until it is delivered, none of us shall rest.
None of us shall play,
none of us will ever just get on with our day.
Forever changed from that day forward in solace,
as we are taunted by the memory,
we see the event on replay.
Behind our eyes, inside our minds.
Sometimes there’s a reprieve for a sec when I
see my kids play.
But then it rushes back and its back to that day.
Back to the start.
Back to hearing every beat of my heart.
Back to the stairs,
back to the fear,
my heart and feet pounding in my ears.
Pulsating adrenaline giving me strength
to carry my child and run with my fear.
Run for my life.
Run down the stairs.
Cant find the right door.
How can I see myself outside of myself
feeling so helpless this way.
Follow my husband.
He leads the way.
Those flashing lights.
The fire brigade are here,
I think it’s gonna be alright.
How horrific it seems,
how horrific it was,
that day terrorises my every thought,
my every day is blighted since that fire ignited
and consumed my home,
our homes, their homes.
Yet some of them lie,
some of them pretend and like to say
that this happened to them but it didn’t happen that way.
We are not the same.
I am not the same,
In myself I have changed.
I look for escapes inside every building,
literally every room.
Sometimes with my kids we pretend it’s a game
but it’s my way to keep us safe after this.
How can I not, after this happened to us,
not them I see.
It was my house,
wrapped in that plastic cladding like Lego
I see. I survived. I see.
Our lives are precious and priceless at least,
how can you justify a saving of 2 pounds
per square feet?
I guess we will see.
Well that’s what I’m told.
When the inquiry is ongoing,
life changed from when the fire started,
my life feels on hold.
Justice, I hear.
Justice, I seek.
Please don’t overlook or forget about those
who still breathe.
Caught up in the mele,
caught up in the scrum,
feels like they’re making me beg for a scrap or a crumb.
What did we do that warrants this behaviour?
I cannot breathe,
I am numb.
Not all have been housed,
some still in emergency accommodation,
AKA stage 1.
I’m in need of readjusting to community,
I’m in need of a place, in need of a house,
of some personal space,
some space of my own,
a place to call home.
In need of some answers,
not just for the community from St Helens to St Francis,
but for those of us who survived this.
The reports seem like we’re settled,
I long for this to be true.
Do you know how this feels?
Has this happened to you?
Has this shredded your life?
Disassembled your mind?
Can you say that your trauma is like mine?
Can you imagine the sights?
The worst horror movie will never prepare
your eyes from seeing what was actually there.
But “return to work and pay bills and get on with life”,
What about the struggles, the scars the strife?
Can you imagine the firefighters now with PTSD?
This was their work,
they were prepared and yet still witnessed the worst.
How does someone cope with these facts?
These images that are forever embossed.
Whether or not I like it, my attention is engrossed.
Whisked back to the start
to the door knock, to the first.
Around we go in a loop I hope is not eternal.
Everywhere I look, I see that towering inferno.
On the 14th April 2018, I arranged Thanet’s first march in solidarity with the J4G team when I saw that Manchester had done the first. I wanted to be able to find a way to help and to continue the movement for justice but I didn’t know how so arranging a silent march allowed Thanet to be part of that support network.
I have to be honest, I didn’t realise how much it would affect me and pull me in as much as it did and still has today, you see I didn’t live in the area, I didn’t know any of the victims or the community but I knew that if surrounding communities pulled together to show their support it would help to make a difference or at least help in some way.
Arranging the march meant I spent a lot of time making up banners, posters and leaflets to promote the march and try and get as many involved as I could. This meant a lot of time was spend looking at the photo’s of the victims and this is when it hit home. I had seen their faces so much that I began to feel like I knew them. I cried a lot. For the victims, for their families and for what everyone was going through after. I lost a parent at a young age so I knew what it felt like to lose a loved one and this killed me inside because there were so many that lost families and friends.
As a mum of two and looking at the photos of those precious children that lost there lives my sadness quickly turned to anger and I thought right I’m going to do what I can to help, however small.
The first march was very moving. I didn’t get the turn out I was hoping for as I’d pretty much covered Thanet in Posters advertising the march but the ones that turned up still continue to supports Thanet with J4G and that support group is growing.
I learned from the first march that It wasn’t enough to do it on my own and I wanted the year anniversary of Grenfell to be a special event so I teamed up with local groups in Thanet that tackled racism and injustice. This wider network meant we were able to reach a much wider audience and the year anniversary event which we held on Ramsgate beach had a great turnout of over 70 people. I say a great turn out because to me the more people that turned up meant more people cared and were willing to do what they could help fight for justice as well.
We had Andy Akinwolere an ex-presenter of Blue Peter say what it meant to him, we arranged for a local choir to sing some songs and the event was a very moving tribute to the victims.
For me personally, some might wonder why I’m bothering to play as much of a part in the movement for justice now a year on, and to be totally honest it’s because I care. It’s with me now and I can’t turn my back on it. I feel I have a responsibly to those victims that I never met but feel in my heart like I have. My children aged 4 and 5 are aware to an extent of what happened and I also owe it to them to try and show what people sticking together means and what justice can come from it.
That tragedy shouldn’t have happened, those lives shouldn’t have been lost and the community shouldn’t have to feel that sadness for the rest of their lives. By communities getting involved in whatever way is needed will make sure that the Grenfell community know that we have their back and we’re here to help because we care.
By Claire O’Shea
Phase 1 of the Inquiry continues with Part 4 – The Outbreak of the Fire
Interviews this week included Firefighter Michael Dowden – the Watch Manager who took the ‘stand’ for 3 days; Crew Manager, Charles Batterbee who was first to respond to the fire along with Firefighter Daniel Brown and Firefighter David Badillo, who have also given evidence.
The Culture of the Inquiry this week seems to be focussing on junior ranking staff, questioning them like suspects and questioning their competence to do their job.
Inquiry lead Counsel Richard Millet QC asked the firefighters many questions. Most of the questions he posed opened with the phrase ‘Do you think …….?’
Here are some questions that J4G think that Counsel should have been asked:
- Do you think that cuts to the fire service played a role in the response to the fire at Grenfell Tower?
- Do you think that removing the responsibility of fire safety checks from firefighters contributed to the fire?
- Do you think that not having a fire engine with a long enough hose or ladder in central London hindered the response to the fire?
- Do you think that the governmental failure to implement the recommendations from the Lakanal House investigation contributed to the fire?
- Do you think there is anything that needs to be changed immediately on fire safety that could have made a difference if they were in place on the night?
- Do you think it should be those who made the policies, deregulation changes and cost cutting schemes sitting here and answering these questions?
- Do you think there should be an outright ban on flammable cladding?
- Do you think I should question you in a more respectful way?
Our Guest Writer this week is Joe Delaney, Resident of Lancaster West Estate and representative on the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee.
Here he shares his thoughts with us:
Whilst all of us in the area have heard the various organisations involved in the management and renovation of Grenfell Tower express their sorrow and sympathy for what happened. We’ve not heard a single one of them accept responsibility for the tragedy which has caused at least 72 deaths and upended the lives of countless others.
Week four of the Inquiry was when we first heard from some of the experts it had appointed; they spoke about the fire safety measures present (or not), the cause and origin of the fire, and its spread throughout the Tower. None of these experts spoke about blame or assignment of blame, but that does not mean that this hasn’t been happening already – it seems that there are plenty of armchair experts who know exactly who is to blame and oddly, their views do not match those find in our community.
A major target of blame so far has been Behailu Kebede from Flat 16; people who were not there on the night of the fire seem to think that they are in a better position to describe and condemn Behailu’s behaviour. They say that he had packed his entire household up without warning neighbours and that his carelessness lead to the fire spreading from his home to the rest of the building. Hopefully, such nonsense has now been dismissed once and for all – the witness statements of Behailu and other residents of Flat 16 as well as the CCTV evidence submitted show that neighbours were alerted and Behailu worked quickly to get the fire brigade to attend.
So this week gave the armchair experts another target; the firefighters. Let me be clear about something at this point; I do feel that the policies, procedures, training, and staffing of the fire brigade leave a lot to be desired but it is NOT within the power of individual firefighters to alter or override these and so I do NOT feel that blame lies with individual firefighters on the ground that night. For people to now say that individual firefighters and their actions that night are the cause of this fire is absurd; whilst the Fire Brigade and its policy makers certainly have a lot to answer for, the individual firefighters do not.
Evidence from firefighters will continue into next week, so I am sure we will no doubt hear more from the armchair experts who know so much.
Someone else who has recently had a lot to say about blame is Andrew O’Hagan in his piece The Tower published in the London Review of Books (LRB). Much criticism has already been levelled at the accuracy of this piece; numerous corrections has been made to the online piece and no doubt many more will be made in the weeks to come, but the damage such pieces can do to the morale of those at the centre of this tragedy cannot be underestimated. What I find most disturbing about O’Hagan’s work comes from the interview he gave afterwards for an LRB podcast, in which O’Hagan muses that perhaps we are all to blame for Grenfell. Whilst on the surface this seems a fairly innocuous comment on the state of modern society, it is an extremely dangerous position to take regarding the causes and consequences of the Grenfell Tower fire. After all if everyone is to blame, then it actually means that no one is – this would certainly suit the organisations and individuals in both the public and private sector who have a lot to answer for but it certainly doesn’t suit any of the victims.
This Inquiry is going to take a lot of time, money, and effort to complete; the police investigation is still progressing too. I would much rather wait until all of the evidence for both of these is public before making final decisions on apportioning blame – I just hope that everyone else feels the same as this will be the only way that we have a chance of ever seeing any justice for Grenfell.
By Joe Delaney
The Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry began hearing evidence from Firefighters, who were first on the scene, this week.
Sitting in the room, listening to the interrogation that Michael Dowden was subjected to was a distressing experience. I wondered if the Counsel for the Inquiry wanted to demonstrate to the public and the bereaved families that he aimed to be piercing in his questioning to uncover the truth. It had a somewhat of the opposite effect as the public watched a low ranking firefighter struggle with relentless questioning. Michael Dowden’s silences and body language revealed that not only that he lacked training in key areas of managing fires in high rise buildings, but that he still remained deeply scarred by the fire and the events of that night.
Was Michael Dowden to blame for his lack of training, the dangerous cladding, the poor fire safety doors or the range of other safety defects in the building?
It is incumbent on the Inquiry that it is as thorough in it’s questioning of those who made decisions which led to Grenfell Tower being a deathtrap.
To get justice, we need to be confident that this way of questioning will lead to the truth of why the fire happened on 14th June 2017.
At the moment, it feels more like the Firefighters are being scapegoated.