Six years ago, the world watched the horror of the Grenfell Tower inferno. I watched it first hand driving along the Westway and almost crashed the car on the Paddington slipway, coming off the Westway. It is also 72 month since the inferno, and its 72 victims were killed in the fire and still not had any justice of any sort. My strongest recollections with the local community afterwards was the moaning of the families in the subsequent funerals some of most harrowing experiences of my life.
The terrible loss of life at Grenfell Tower was ultimately caused by political decisions made at the highest level. For at least 40 years, policies relating to housing, local government, the fire and rescue service, research and other areas have been driven by the agenda of cuts, deregulation and privatisation. The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) argue well that its this political approach that has weakened and undermined fire policy and the fire and rescue service. Believing that a deep-seated culture of complacency has developed with regard to fire policy and fire safety. Ultimately, politicians at a ministerial level must bear responsibility for the creation of this complacency and its consequences. We have yet to hear from the Grenfell Inquiry on their recommendations on this front at all.
The fire at Grenfell should have changed everything but, in reality, not nearly enough has happened. Of the 12 recommendations made from phase one of the Grenfell Inquiry, a third have yet to be implemented. This delay is inexcusable and dangerous, and we should all be concerned that the country has not taken the action necessary to avoid another tragedy of similar scale. Indeed we had only in the past week had another external cladding fire via balconies in Whitehorse Rd, Croydon. Where thankfully no lives were lost but three flats on top of each were badly affected. So although we have had some progress made in removal of flammable aluminium composite (ACM) on high rise blocks over 18 metres, many of those below 18 metres have been left with the same cladding. So whilst the governments current contract to ensure developers cover the costs of the removal only covers 1,100, there are between 6,000-9,000 unsafe buildings alone. So the government has to do a lot more to counter the fear that “it could happen to me” around the country.
On the night of the fire, 15 of the 37 disabled residents at Grenfell died. So not surprisingly a key recommendation in the Grenfell Inquiry phase I report was the urgent need for personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEP) plans to be in place, yet the government has repeatedly failed to introduce them. This failure has ensured that the safety and dignity of evacuation of people with disabilities forces many vulnerable residents to live in fear in the place they should feel most at home.
Finally, justice delayed is justice denied and the trauma of the local community has been further compounded by now years of silence and equivocation by the authorities. This much evidence and still no justice. The delays in the implementation of the recommendations from the first phase of the report as well as publication of phase two leaves the families and friends of the victims feeling very ignored and thus inexcusable. The least the loved ones want is closure, rather than constantly having to fight.