British Conservatives sabotage fire safety

This video from London, England says about itself:

Grenfell Tower: The desperate search for relatives

19 June 2017

While the emergency services search the building, relatives of those who are missing have been continuing their own frantic searches. The streets surrounding the tower are strewn with posters with some of them showing images of children.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

Ministers ignored school safety fears

Monday 19th June 2017

Fire expert says government stonewalled sprinkler warnings, reports FELICITY COLLIER

A FORMER fire chief accused the government yesterday of ignoring warnings about the need to install life-saving sprinklers in schools.

And Ronnie King, who was appointed honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety after 40 years in the fire service, said that with regard to public housing safety, urgent requests for meetings with ministers — including then housing minister Gavin Barwell — were turned down, and a call for action on safety rules disregarded.

In the wake of this week’s Grenfell Tower tragedy, he warned: “[The government] seem to need a disaster to change regulations rather than evidence and experience.

“It was the same with the King’s Cross fire and the Bradford City Football Club fire. They always seem to need a significant loss of life before things are changed.”

Reports into a fire in south London in 2009 in which six people died and a coroner’s report led to urgent calls for action. But those calls were never acted on and a promised review of building and safety regulations never started. In October Mr Barwell told MPs: “We have not set out any formal plans to review the building regulations as a whole, but we have publicly committed ourselves to reviewing [fire safety regulations] following the [south London] fire.”

But the government was much more active in getting rid of safety “red tape.”

Cpnservative Prime Minister David Cameron said ‘I will kill off safety culture‘.

After a consultation in 2016, the government dropped the requirement for new school buildings to be fitted with sprinklers, failing to take on board recommendations in reports it had commissioned.

The sprinklers policy had been introduced in 2007 by the previous Labour government. It was hailed as “a landmark in improving fire safety in schools,” and pointed out the low cost of fitting sprinklers in a school compared with rebuilding after a fire.

The Tories’ 2016 move was branded retrograde by teachers’ union NUT. And Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack slammed the decision as “irresponsible, dangerous and a false economy,” saying it put teachers’ and children’s lives at risk, as well as those of firefighters.

A spokesman for the Department for Education confirmed that sprinklers are no longer mandatory, but spouted: “All schools, like other public buildings, must adhere to stringent fire-safety legislation.”

Amid the Tory safety shambles, Chancellor Philip Hammond claimed on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that the flammable cladding used on Grenfell Tower is banned in Britain, as it is in the US and Europe. He added that a criminal investigation would examine whether building regulations had been breached when the block was overhauled.

But John Cowley, managing director of CEP Architectural Facades which fabricated the rainscreen panels and windows for Grenfell Tower’s cladding subcontractor Harley Facades Ltd, insisted that the cladding is not banned in Britain.

“Current building regulations allow its use in both low-rise and high-rise structures,” he said.

‘REQUISITION EMPTY FLATS’ – to house Grenfell Tower survivors: here.

Social inequality and the Grenfell Tower inferno: here.

On Friday, thousands joined separate protests in London demanding “Justice for Grenfell,” for the victims of the catastrophic fire that ripped through the apartment block early on Wednesday morning: here.

From the scene of the deadly London fire: “They’re putting money before lives”: here.

33 thoughts on “British Conservatives sabotage fire safety

  1. Sunday 18th June 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Editorial

    JEREMY CORBYN’S determination to see victims of the corporate manslaughter at Grenfell Tower properly rehoused is a contrast to the total absence of leadership shown both by the government and Kensington & Chelsea Council.

    Even in the face of the appalling human tragedy of last week, and despite Conservative MPs now lining up to condemn their Prime Minister’s cowardly response to the disaster, residents are still being let down.

    Desperate women and men trying to find information on missing relatives have complained of a glaring absence of information, without local authorities taking responsibility to assist people or explain who to apply to for information. Rumours of lists of people who died compiled by doctors spread through the community without being verifiable.

    “Where are the government officials, where are the council officials?” one asked the BBC — a further condemnation of a local authority so craven even our state broadcaster can’t prise an interview out of it.

    Theresa May might talk of a £5 million emergency fund, but her government has dismally failed to rehouse the homeless, with many still lacking secure accommodation.

    As Corbyn says, there are a number of ways of dealing with this in a borough with 1,399 vacant houses: “Occupy it, compulsorily purchase it, requisition it…”

    But our government daren’t risk it.

    May and the mutinous MPs giving her 10 days to shape up or ship out are equally terrified of violating a taboo central not just to neoliberalism but capitalism itself: that property rights are sacrosanct. They take precedence over human rights. They take precedence over human beings.

    And if they wobble and acknowledge the right of Grenfell residents to stay in the local area after losing homes and loved ones to a totally preventable catastrophe, even if that means housing them in buildings which owners neither need nor use, where could it lead?

    After all, land-banking by the super-rich helps no-one. It pushes property prices up — one reason why a decent home is a pipe dream for millions of young people in this country.

    In Kensington, astronomical house prices have further undermined what remains of the borough’s social housing. The Conservative government told councils in 2015 they had to fund the extension of right to buy to housing association tenants by selling off housing where property prices were highest.

    Housing charity Shelter found that in Kensington & Chelsea this sell-off policy would hit 97 per cent of council housing stock, the highest proportion anywhere.

    Aside from house prices, land-banking kills off communities, just as second homes do in poor rural areas such as Cornwall. Absentee owners don’t shop or use local services, starving small businesses and creating ghost towns.

    Requisitioning the draughty mansions of Kensington for Grenfell tenants would put the grotesque social consequences of property speculation under the spotlight — paving the way for serious action that would start to address a housing crisis that has been worsening for years.

    Corbyn’s demands are rooted in the immediate humanitarian crisis sparked by the Grenfell fire. But he has been highlighting the disastrous consequences of the degradation of social housing for years, under both Conservative and Labour governments which largely refused to listen.

    This government shows no sign of listening either, too fixated on a still mysterious stitch-up with the DUP and a controversial bid to cancel the 2018 Queen’s Speech, both sticking-plaster solutions designed to keep a Tory in Downing Street whatever the cost to our country and however illegitimate their rule becomes.


  2. Sunday 18th June 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Editorial

    FURY is growing by the hour as the number of people killed in the Grenfell Tower inferno continues to mount.

    Friday’s rally demanding justice for the victims symbolised the outrage felt across the entire country and a determination that more lives should not be lost as a result of callous indifference.

    Theresa May hopes promises of a public inquiry will calm people down. Such an inquiry must go ahead, and as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes clear, legal aid must be made available to Grenfell residents to ensure their questions and demands are at the heart of it.

    But for those whose loved ones have perished this is still not good enough.

    Communities Secretary Sajid Javid now says 4,000 tower blocks around Britain will receive emergency inspections starting this weekend.

    Housing Minister Alok Sharma says the government is “almost ready” to begin a review into fire safety regulations — something it pledged to do four years ago in response to the coroner’s advice following the Lakanal House fire eight years ago.

    How appalling that the Grenfell Action Group’s warning last November — that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord” — proved correct, and that only now are those in authority — reluctantly — acting.

    Even so they cannot be trusted. And the bitter response met by May’s flunkey Andrea Leadsom, sent to speak to residents on her behalf since the Prime Minister neither cares about their suffering nor dares to face their anger, shows that people know they cannot be trusted.

    Even as top Tories pretend to be shocked, we see a suspicious reluctance to reveal the full scale of the horror. People who have spoken to rescuers on the scene have been given figures of hundreds dead, far higher than the slowly rising official count.

    Just a day after a minister promises on air that everyone who lost their home in the blaze will be rehoused in the local area, we find Kensington and Chelsea Council trying to wriggle out of that commitment and saying only that they will be accommodated somewhere in the capital — an unacceptable fudge given the number of properties lying empty in London’s richest borough.

    It’s an added insult from a council whose leader, Nick Paget-Brown, claims sprinkler systems were not installed during the block’s £10 million refurbishment because locals didn’t want the “disturbance.”

    Jeremy Corbyn’s demand that we requisition buildings left vacant by non-dom owners, who see a house as nothing more than a profitable asset on their investment portfolios, and use them to give a home to Grenfell residents must be implemented.

    If the government hasn’t caved by the time Parliament returns next Wednesday it should be forced through then, and if locals act without officials’ say-so they can hardly be blamed.

    Aside from direct action to counter the evasive and dithering response of the government and the council, this moment must mark a sea change in our politics.

    What grime artist Saskilla has called the “mass murder” of the inhabitants of this Kensington tower block cannot be divorced from years of cuts to local authority budgets, fire brigade budgets, health budgets, and the Health and Safety Executive; years of rule by Tories whose aim, in the words of former prime minister David Cameron, was to “kill off health and safety culture for good” since taking basic precautions to save lives was such an unacceptable burden on business.

    This fire exposes a country with the wrong priorities, lorded over by a worthless elite who have nothing to offer. Our government has no moral authority or legitimacy left. It has to go.


  3. Monday 19th June 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    The big media’s need to hold up profits drives them to increasing sensationalism and disregard for the lives of the people they report on, writes TIM GOPSILL

    THE Sun stands accused of trying to get a reporter into the hospital ward of a victim of the London tower block fire by posing as the victim’s friend.

    The accusation, if proved true, would be a return to the worst pre-Leveson days of the popular press, when there were no constraints on their journalists using any means to get the stories they wanted.

    There were cases of reporters and photographers dressing up as doctors to get to celebrities’ bedsides.

    King’s College Hospital is lodging a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) about the behaviour of the unnamed reporter.

    Mario Gomes is a former resident on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower who was hailed as a hero after going back into the building to find his 12-year-old daughter.

    According to the Sun, he agreed by text message to give an interview in hospital to a journalist who had been given his number by another survivor of the disaster.

    The Sun said that a different journalist made the approach to staff at the hospital for the interview, which Gomes then declined because the reporter allegedly claimed to be a friend. It denies the reporter attempted to impersonate a friend.

    The south London hospital said: “We have formally written to The Sun and will be informing the Independent Press Standards Organisation. We are unable to comment on the specifics until our complaint has been investigated.”

    Ipso applies an editors’ code of practice, which includes a rule on how reporters should conduct themselves in hospitals.

    Clause 8 of the code says: “Journalists must identify themselves and obtain permission from a responsible executive before entering non-public areas of hospitals or similar institutions to pursue inquiries.”

    The newspaper said: “The Sun wants to make it clear that no reporter has ‘impersonated’ any family members. The Sun was in contact with one of the people injured in the Grenfell fire, who provided a detailed phone interview for the newspaper. We then visited him in hospital to get a further interview and photos.

    “On arrival the Sun reporter and photographer made hospital staff aware that they were present and had been in touch with the contact. However we were informed the contact had changed his mind on the interview and The Sun promptly left the hospital. We completely refute any accusation that our employees acted inappropriately.”

    There are reasons why the Ipso code — along with other media codes of conduct — has a dedicated clause on hospitals.

    One reason is that a hospital is a fairly public place in which it is easy to walk about unchallenged, where newsworthy patients are vulnerable and accessible.

    But another is that there have been contentious cases of patients’ privacy being violated. The actor Gorden Kaye, who played a cafe owner in a sitcom called ’Allo ’Allo!, was badly injured in 1990 when a huge billboard crashed through the windscreen of his car during a storm.

    A reporter and photographer from a tabloid called the Daily Sport put on white coats, walked to his ward and took photos of him in a distressing state, which were published after a High Court bid for an injunction to prevent publication failed.

    This became a cause celebre because the press was itself on trial at the time. The previous year there had been an inquiry into press standards, rather like the Leveson inquiry 22 years later, as a result of tabloid intrusion, principally snatched photographs of royalty and other celebs.

    This inquiry, by David Calcutt QC, had recommended statutory measures against the press, with the establishment of a tribunal with criminal powers.

    The press was horrified and promised to clean up its act, and the Calcutt proposals were put aside to give them a chance.

    The hospital incident shattered the truce. The Calcutt committee reconvened and again recommended statutory regulation, but the Tory government of John Major caved in to pressure from the press and dropped it.

    The Press Complaints Commission, Ipso’s predecessor, agreed to tighten its code of practice, and the hospital clause appeared.

    From time to time, when the going gets hot, the papers do restrain their reporters, to be able to claim they’ve changed for the better.

    When the pressure is off, things tend to slip back again.

    They had a torrid time again during the Leveson process, when years of intrusive and illegal snooping — and more years of bare-faced denials as the facts slowly came out — caught up with them. For a year or so they played it safe again.

    But like addicts they keep slipping back. Newspapers are losing readers, sales and money, but the owners, bloated on decades of huge profits, need the money to expand their digital operations. Everyone knows who owns The Sun, but the other groups — the Mail, the Mirror and the Express — are just as bad.

    Their need to hold up profits drives them to ever-increasing sensationalism and ever-worse disregard for the lives of the people they report on, whether they are hospital patients, Labour politicians, refugees, trade unionists, football fans or whoever.

    The only way to stop this is to stop the big media corporations, with their insatiable demands for sales, controlling so much of the press.

    No-one wants laws to control what they can publish but we do want media that is responsive to the sensitivities of the people they write about.

    Tim Gopsill is editor of Free Press, magazine of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, and former editor of the Journalist, the magazine of the National Union of Journalists. He was a member of the NUJ national executive during the Wapping dispute.


  4. Sunday 18th
    posted by Morning Star in Features

    Spycops have a long and baneful history of infiltrating health and safety groups. DAVE SMITH reports

    AMID the protests and non-stop press coverage of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there are some big questions that are still to be asked.

    Specifically: were undercover police infiltrating the Grenfell Action Group? Do the names of the residents who warned about the safety deficiencies at Grenfell Tower (or other council housing projects) appear on the Met Police’s domestic extremism database?

    To many, this may seem an odd question, but to community and trade union activists who have campaigned on safety issues for decades, being ignored by those in authority while at the same time being victimised and spied on by them is par for the course.

    Last year the High Court heard how a corporate spy called Rob Moore posed as a journalist to infiltrate various anti-asbestos groups and spy on campaigners, including relatives of those who had died from the deadly fibres.

    Construction workers who raised concerns about safety on building sites have been repeatedly dismissed, kept under surveillance and blacklisted by multinational companies who saw them as a threat to their profits.

    Blacklist files record such activities as workers organising a petition on social housing, participating in the Construction Safety Campaign or complaining about the unsafe electrical equipment and disposal of asbestos.

    But it was not only big business that targeted those who raised safety concerns: the police were implicated too.

    The Special Demonstration Squad, National Public Order Intelligence Unit and the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit all spied on activists who were vocal on health and safety issues.

    The undercover police officer Mark Jenner posed as a carpenter while infiltrating a campaign by building workers to reduce deaths on building sites and targeted the well-respected London Hazards Centre.

    Activists who campaigned on safety issues have found themselves placed on the Met’s domestic extremism database and a “two-way exchange of information” existed between the police and the blacklisting companies.

    Following disclosure at the Pitchford public inquiry, it is now known that around 250 undercover officers have infiltrated more than 1,000 campaign groups since the late 1960s.

    This included not just trade unions but environmental campaigns, anti-racist groups, peace activists and even the grieving parents of murder victims.

    Progressive housing campaigns and squatters’ rights groups have been kept under surveillance by these political policing units too.

    In the overwhelming number of cases, those spied upon have committed no crime. The purpose of the state intrusion into their lives was not to detect criminality but to keep tabs on anyone considered a troublemaker.

    Often that simply meant participating in a perfectly lawful campaign that asked difficult questions — the very same questions about how the rich get rich at the expense of working-class communities that the whole of the country is now asking in the wake of Grenfell.

    In many cases the undercover police are accused of acting as agents provocateurs or deliberately disrupting and destabilising the campaigns they targeted.

    The Grenfell Action Group is part of a wider coalition of community groups called the Radical Housing Network, which has campaigned for many years against gentrification and the underfunding of working-class housing stock.

    Repeated attempts by the Grenfell Action Group to alert those in authority to serious risks fell upon deaf ears.

    But have these housing activists, who have been proved right in such a catastrophic and tragic manner, been targeted by undercover spycops?

    Because of the police refusal to answer any questions about the operation of their political undercover police officers, I do not know the answer to that question. But given what we know about how these anti-democratic units operate, it’s one worth asking.

    If this turns out to be true, then why are the resources of the British state being used to spy on perfectly legal residents’ groups with genuine concerns rather than investigate the real criminals?

    How many lives might have been saved if the police had investigated the legitimate concerns raised by activists rather than continuing to spy on them?

    To answer these questions might pose real difficulties for Theresa May and the entire British secret state apparatus.

    Tottenham MP David Lammy has sensibly called for all the documents relating to the Grenfell Tower refurbishment to be seized by the Met Police to stop potential evidence being destroyed.

    I just hope documents don’t get accidently shredded by the Met themselves.

    Dave Smith is secretary of the Blacklist Support Group.


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