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.
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.
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.
J4G is deeply concerned at the appointment of Michael Clarke to the post of Director of Communications and Community Engagement at RBKC. Immediately prior to this appointment, Mr Clarke was Head of Press for the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry. J4G believes that his appointment to an internal Council post is a classic example of poacher turned gamekeeper and seriously undermines what little credibility the Public Inquiry had with the North Kensington community and other stakeholders. It also raises questions about the much heralded “new” approach to governance at RBKC, moving from the consultation model to a community led model.
This concern is further compounded by his previous role as interim chief media spokesman for First Secretary of State Damian Green and Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood. In this role, according to his own Linkedin Profile, https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelclarkethamesadvisors/?ppe=1
Mr Clarke led a team of press officers covering UK Government transformation programmes including the Government Digital Service, Crown Commercial Service, Government Commercial Function, Government Property Unit, and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
The odds continue to stack up against a robust and meaningful Public Inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bik already faced an uphill challenge as far as convincing survivors, bereaved families, evacuated residents and the wider community that the Inquiry would address their concerns about the Council and TMO. That task has just got a whole lot more difficult.