‘Gren-fail’ – where is the justice?
Online Features Editor Rebecca Wells re-examines the Grenfell Fire and the on-going campaign for justice.
Last week, an unnamed suspect was arrested in Sussex in connection with the Grenfell Fire disaster, and released on the same day. A fire which took the lives of 72 inhabitants began on the 14th of June 2017, yet Scotland Yard have suggested that investigations may not find closure until 2021.
A report by the BBC noted that fire tests had been in progress since 2014, and Grenfell’s cladding had been used when it knowingly did not reach appropriate testing standards.
Grenfell had been cladded with materials sources by the company Arconic, consisting of aluminium sheets with a polyethylene core, known as Reynobond PE. The tests found that the material needed only to be heated to half of the temperature a burning building reaches before the polyethylene melts and combusts.
The material can also be treated to make it less flammable, however this process is costly, and therefore, rare. Grenfell tower was constructed in order to provide council housing for predominantly working-class families in London’s South Kensington suburb in 1974. However, in 2015 the block went under refurbishment.
Whilst there were alternatives to the cladding which was settled upon for the Grenfell block, the Reynobond PE saved the government almost £300,000 in expenses, making it an attractive and economical option.
This cost-effective material became popularised throughout many council refurbishment schemes. The BBC predict that the same type of cladding is currently being used in 52 buildings across London.
Justice4Grenfell asked “how many more must die before there is any tangible change?”
In an open letter to Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, advocacy group Justice4Grenfell asked “how many more must die before there is any tangible change?” But what does tangible mean to the group, survivors and family and friends of victims of the Grenfell Fire?
Last November, the cladding firm Arconic revealed it had spent £30 million on law and advisory expenditures. Victims of Grenfell have been known to receive compensation bail-outs as low as £10,000.
In addition to this, advocacy group Justice4Grenfell this month published an outraged blog post holding up the Conservative government for investing in a new Parliamentary job title; ‘Director General, Building Safety, Grenfell Response and Net Zero’, a title with a £130,000 salary.
Whilst the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, called for an investment into this job role in 2017, in the year following the disaster, the position has only just been made. It comes a little too late for Yvette Williams, Justice4Grenfell campaigner.
For “tangible change” to be made, the government must begin investment in stripping the remaining blocks cladded with Reynobond PE and refurbishing them with materials that reach fire safety standards. However, this would require rehousing thousands, an upheaval the government is likely not to prioritise in our current climate. We can only hope the waiting game does not end catastrophically.