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.
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.
For the past couple of months, people in Bradford and Leeds have been making artworks, writing poetry and painting hearts in readiness for our solidarity event with Grenfell.
On the first anniversary, they gathered together outside Bradford City Hall and walked with their hearts and the names of the children, women and men who died, to honour and remember them. They walked to Bradford Cathedral, and spoke the names of the 72 people who died as they lit candles.
“The feeling of unity and love was heart-achingly shared and felt and we thank the Grenfell community for guiding us to that, through their show of strength and dignity.
The artworks we have made convey our feelings on life, love and loss and are another way for us to share our solidarity. They are there too, to raise money for the Justice4Grenfell campaign.
One of the pieces “we’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son” is a collective artwork of 72 miniature keepsakes made by a cross-section of people from all over Leeds and Bradford. You can bid online for them here: Keepsake Exhibition where you can also find out more about the other work.”
Gloucester park silent March for Grenfell, was very well attended. The speakers included Unite Union, Unite community, FBU, CWU and was attended by Unison, and a RMT representative. The local Pastor also spoke, as well as Gloucester labour parliamentary candidate.
Over eighty people turned out to march through Gloucester and there were plenty of acknowledges from general public.
Special thanks to Steve Gower for organising. Photo credits go to Kurt Schroeder Photography.
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.