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.
This week at the Inquiry, we heard further evidence from fire fighters who attended Grenfell Tower on the 14th June 2017 and also evidence from the control room staff.
There were many issues that came up this week, including problems with the water pressure that has been described by some only as powerful as “a garden hose”.
Here are some questions that we believe the Inquiry should have asked this week:
- Do you think the training that you received was sufficient to enable you to respond to Grenfell fire adequately?
- Following the inquest into Lakanal House fire in 2009, did the Department for Communities and Local government publish consolidated national guidance in relation to the “stay put” principle and it’s interaction with the “get out and stay out” policy?
- What impact has the fall in funding to local fire and rescue authorities, especially the loss of specialist fire safety posts, had on the provision of an effective fire service ?
- How did the water pressure impact on your ability to manage this fire?
The Inquiry is proving to have the most multicultural participants in an Inquiry that Britain has ever seen.
Whilst the corporate sector, the Local Authority and the Lawyers will likely be less diverse, we know that the vast amount of Core Participants will be from all over the world, have different faiths and will speak multiple languages.
This week at the Inquiry, Crew Manager Jamal Stern took the stand. Before he began giving evidence, Richard Millett QC offered his apologies to Firefighter Stern as he was about to be presented a Quran which was missing it’s cover. Might I add that no other witness has been presented a underprepared Holy Book.
Firefighter Stern decided to make his affirmation anyway.
After 13 months of the phrases ‘Institutional’ and ‘Cultural Indifference’, how was the Inquiry underprepared for it’s first Muslim witness? When we return from the summer break, will the Inquiry have remembered that they need to obtain a Quran with a cover, or will this be forgotten too? Will the Ethiopian Orthodox witnesses who will be due to take the stand later this year be presented with the correct Holy book?
It may seem like a small oversight, but it’s incredibly reflective of how those of other religions are treated on a daily basis within this Country – as well as being reflective of the way that certain witnesses who are not from the UK have been treated since the 14th June 2017.
This can be seen with the Home Office’s decisions to not extend Visas to immediate relatives of those that died at Grenfell Tower, and not having Visas ready for burials and the commemorative hearings, which some family members had to miss.
I hope that with the additional ‘diverse’ panel members chosen to join Phase Two, this habit will be broken. But as we know, if you have little or no experience in dealing with BAME individuals and communities, these oversights will only continue to happen.
By Tasha Brade (J4G Campaigner)
All across the country on the 14th of every month communities are organising walks to pay respect to those who died in the Grenfell fire and also raise awareness of the campaign for justice for their families and those who have been displaced as a result of this tragedy, many of whom still remain without a permanent home.
In response to the call for communities to join in solidarity with the Grenfell community, Horsham held its first silent walk on Saturday 14th July. The objective of these walks is to maintain a focus on Grenfell to ensure that those responsible are brought to account and those effected are appropriately compensated and receive justice as soon as possible.
Walkers processed silently from the Friends Meeting House through the town centre to Horsham’s council offices where in his supporting speech, David Hide, Chair of Horsham Labour Party, highlighted the need for those in power to always fully address their responsibilities to those to whom they owe duty of care.
Commenting afterwards David Hide said,
“We hope to organise a monthly event until such point the review delivers a satisfactory outcome for the Grenfell community. We would like to build this into a silent walk supported by all communities within Horsham. The next silent walk is planned for Tuesday 14th August at 7pm meeting outside the Friends Meeting House, all groups and individuals who share the objective of delivering justice for grenfell are welcome.”
David Lammy MP is the Labour MP for Tottenham.
Securing justice for the catastrophic Grenfell fire has two key components. First, those responsible for the gross corporate negligence and manslaughter need to be identified, arrested and sentenced. Second, the government needs to take steps to ensure that no tower block fire on the tragic scale of Grenfell is repeated. Over recent days, we have had progress on both of these counts, but over a year since 14th June 2017, full justice remains a long way off.
The Met Police has revealed that the Grenfell fire investigation has now moved onto a new phase. People will be interviewed under caution, as detectives consider who is responsible for “gross negligence manslaughter, corporate manslaughter and breaches of the Health and Safety Act.” I see it as vital for the victims and for faith in the police that the individuals responsible are punished, as opposed to limiting retribution to fines for corporations. It is understandable that the police take their time to untangle the thousands of pages of evidence, but the perpetrators must be brought to justice as soon as possible.
On the second aspect of justice for Grenfell, the government is right to ban flammable cladding on new high-rises. However, this does not go nearly far enough. Why should residents in existing buildings, with similarly dangerous cladding, be expected to live under the spectre of fear? How are they expected to sleep at night? The construction industry needs to be forced to wake up after Grenfell. A new era of construction, which prioritises fire safety, is vital, unless this industry wants even more blood on its hands.
By David Lammy MP For Tottenham
Matt Wrack is the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.
The Fire Brigades Union stands side by side with the North Kensington community as the terrible agonies of 14 June 2017 are replayed at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The public is looking at the events unfolding, clearly wanting to know the truth, but also expecting like us, that the years of de-regulation, risk-taking and cost-cutting are to come to an end.
We want to see a complete and total ban of flammable cladding. It is shocking that more than a year after the Grenfell Tower fire that this killer material is still in use. We want to see an end to the privatization of the fire safety inspection regime which has driven down standards. It has created a system where private, uncertified inspectors rubber-stamp building works as they have to win the repeat business of building owners.
What is shocking and sickening is that a year after the fire, people are still not re-housed. A year on we have hundreds of buildings with the same cladding. A year on nothing has really been done. Imagine if this had been a terror attack. Any such attack – even with far fewer deaths – would have resulted in much greater action. Theresa May would probably have invaded a country by now.
But since this is 72 people who died in their own homes, we just see inaction and continued complacency.
The Fire Brigades Union stands side by side with the North Kensington community and with the bereaved, the survivors and other residents affected by the fire. We want the entire labour movement to stand with us and to ensure Grenfell becomes a central political issue which we do not allow to be brushed under the carpet. More than anything we need to achieve justice for Grenfell.
By Matt Wrack