The fire that engulfed Grenfell tower on the 14th of June broke the heart of the nation, with media outlets expressing sympathy and outrage on behalf of those affected. As soon as the flames were extinguished, efforts to assign blame and call for justice began mounting. Whilst some place the blame on corporate apathy and austerity, others believe the conservative government and its officials were negligent in their duties to their constituents. Damning evidence has been unearthed in the wake of the disaster which in turn contributed to mass hysteria on fire safety. New evidence takes us a step closer to solving the whodunnit that we seem to find ourselves in, which may culminate in an inquiry being launched into the who, the what and the why of Grenfell tower. After the ashes settle and flowers placed at the site begin to wilt, we can begin to understand the implications of such a tragic loss of life.
After the breaking news bulletins of fire, smoke and tragedy came the questions; why did the fire spread so quickly? Who has been affected? Who’s fault is it? These questions were quickly answered when evidence came to light of complaints from residents that had been ignored time and time again. Some of the survivors noted that they had concerns about the fire safety of the building long before the fire engulfed the building. Last November the Grenfell Action Group spoke out on the ‘dangerous living conditions’ in the tower block, and in an example of tragic foreshadowing expressed their beliefs that only a tragic incident would ‘expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord’. Judith Blakeman, a local Councillor who also sits on the board of KCTMO, the landlord at Grenfell tower, raised concerns over fire safety 19 times, but claims she was treated as if she were a nuisance and repeatedly ignored. David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, has gone as far as to call the atrocity ‘corporate manslaughter’, calling for arrests to be made.
‘The fire that engulfed Grenfell tower on the 14th of June broke the heart of the nation’
Recent evidence shows the fire was so devastating because of the cladding on Grenfell. The cladding, which released 14 times more heat than the European standards of ‘limited combustibility’ allow, allowed the fire to climb the tower with terrifying speed. According to Phillip Hammond the cladding is illegal on high-rises in the UK, but due to the priority of cutting costs the cladding was downgraded to save £293,000. Despite warnings from the London Fire brigade the cladding was not assessed for the risk it potentially posed to the residents in the building. Many say the cladding was an attempt to disguise poverty in Kensington, a superficial aesthetic gesture in the midst of an expensive renovation to maintain the facade of opulence. However, CS stokes and associates expressed its confidence that the risk assessment was implemented to a high standard, and the landlord praised CS Stokes for offering a good price for their risk assessments and being willing to ‘willing to challenge the fire brigade… if he considered their requirements excessive’.
However, there are those who place the blame squarely at the feet of the powers that be, who not only acted insufficiently to help the residents but also, on a wider scale, have slashed away at the very institutions that could have helped the residents at this high-rise in Kensington, one of the most affluent boroughs in London. Many politicians have commented that the disaster is nothing short of definitive proof of the destructive wake of austerity. Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that the Tories have blood on their hands, as the deaths at Grenfell tower were caused by cuts implemented by the conservative government. The fire services which bravely tackled the blaze have been one of the victims of these cuts with many saying they ‘hindered’ the response to the blaze in central London. The firefighters at the scene say the response to the Grenfell tower fire was impaired by the lack of resources and adequate water pressure. The 30-meter ‘aerial ladder’ did not arrive at the scene until half an hour after the first responders arrived at the scene, and by that time the blaze had clawed its way further up the 70-meter high rise.
‘more and more buildings have been found to have the same cladding as grenfell, including three nhs buildings’
Paul Rogerson, with The Law Society Gazette, sees the disaster at Grenfell as a consequence of Legal Aid cuts, because residents could not access justice. Challenging landlords for safety concerns can become an expensive affair, and as cuts to legal aid left Grenfell tower residents with nowhere to turn their concerns were brushed under the rug. Robert Bourns called legal aid a ‘lifeline for the vulnerable’ and suggest that the lack of access means many disputes and problems that could have been nipped in the bud are escalating until they become untenable and ultimately cost the taxpayer more money than legal aid costs.
In the light of discoveries about the cladding at Grenfell Tower, buildings across the UK have failed fire safety checks in regard to their cladding, including hospitals and schools. The tragedy at Grenfell tower has sparked fear for many as concerns are raised about the safety of buildings we use on a day-to-day basis. Recently Sajid Javid halved his estimates of the extent of the cladding problem, perhaps indicating that the hysteria following the disaster at Grenfell was unfounded. There is something to be said however about a lack of trust in landlords and leaders for ensuring fire safety. Perhaps people no longer feel that their best interests are being taken into account and as more and more buildings are found to have the same cladding problem as Grenfell, including three NHS buildings, the feeling of unease grows.
An inquiry will be launched into the Grenfell Tower disaster to discover the real causes, and until such a time as it is published there are many elements that will remain unknown. Theresa May has promised that no stone will be left unturned, and police may seek manslaughter charges for the deaths at Grenfell, now having reached 80 people, where it is thought to stay. After the controversial appointment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick, Jayesh Kunwardia worries that ‘It gives the green light for councils to engage in social cleansing of the poor on a mass scale. Council tenants are being threatened with homelessness unless they agree to uproot themselves from communities they’ve lived in for years’. The reality is, whether the residents of Grenfell tower will get justice or not remains to be seen. As headlines turn their attention elsewhere its hard to imagine we will get the answers we need any time soon.