Guest Writer Claire O’Shea writes about why she organised the Thanet Solidarity Events

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

What questions SHOULD the Inquiry have asked this week? By Justice4Grenfell

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?

 

Guest Writer, Local Resident Joe Delaney shares his thoughts with us

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 Firefighter’s First Week at The Inquiry – By Moyra Samuels

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.

One Year On: Bradford & Leeds Solidarity Walk and Vigil

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.”

Thanks to Neil Terry for photographing the event.

One Year On: Gloucester Park Solidarity Silent March

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.

I lost my cousin and her daughter at Grenfell – and I’m shocked the Hackitt review has refused to call for a ban on dangerous cladding

By Clarrie Mendy, for The Independent

It’s been almost a year since we lost my cousin, her daughter and 70 other named persons in the tragic Grenfell Tower inferno last year on 14 June 2017.

From day one bereaved family members, survivors, evacuated former residents, local residents living in the shadow of Grenfell and the local community have had to fight for their basic human rights.

The silent marches spoke volumes. The petition for extra panel members was signed by over 150,000 people. But still people had to practically beg for mercy and compassion to be heard and see action implemented.

My cousin’s death among 72 people soon became a cause to champion in the pursuit of justice. I have converted my grief and anger to creative energy, which helps me to cope and battle on. To know that tenants and people had raised concerns for three years prior to the Grenfell inferno infuriates me. Lives could have been saved.

In my opinion, human rights were abused – and all of the families in that tower were given keys to live in inadequate housing.

Last week I went to Parliament to discuss this with Theresa May with other bereaved relatives of those who died. The narrative from the government seemed to have changed, and I was glad.

Theresa May then stood up in parliament and said she would spend £400m stripping dangerous cladding similar to that on Grenfell Tower from other housing blocks. I felt this was a sign that she had listened to us.

But today we’re back here fighting again.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who has written the report into the disaster, has said the government doesn’t have to ban the flammable cladding which led to the deaths of 72 victims, including my cousin Mary Mendy and her daughter Khadija Saye.

While listening to May in parliament, after meeting with her last week, I felt proud that she’d made this call on removing the remaining cladding. She’d been reminded and she knew it was her deed. The conviction with which she stood up and said it, I thought well done Theresa – you listened to us.

But now this report says something different. Dame Judith Hackitt – the woman who is saying combustible cladding can remain legal – I don’t know what planet she comes from. She’s definitely not a humanitarian, or thinking about the next generation. She should have a meeting with the Grenfell community and then she might have an alternative view after speaking to us.

I’m absolutely disgusted and totally shocked. It’s abominable, and very conflicted considering what Theresa May has been saying. This decision might be good for industry, but it’s not good for the environment or for the people.

We know the dangers of this cladding. I’ve got children and grandchildren. I’m not going to be here forever but they don’t need to witness another Grenfell anywhere in this country. I can’t understand the logic behind it.

If the government is trying to prevent these kinds of things happening nationally, why is someone promoting this poison to harm society and the environment?

We talk about knife crime, trying to keep the numbers down, preventing it from happening. The same logic should be applied to flammable cladding. It shouldn’t be allowed. We didn’t have the resources to prevent Grenfell, and now we don’t seem to have the means to ban these toxic materials.

The people who make the cladding – and the contractors – have to be made accountable right now. We cannot let this be a normal thing.

Prevention is better than cure. It has to be banned. The government has got more say, and I hope they have woken up and realised there are human beings. This was and is a human tragedy and we don’t need any more of this nationally.

We don’t need any more crematoriums in the sky, and no generation needs to witness this again. Let’s lead by example in Britain.

By Clarrie Mendy for The Independent