London Grenfell Tower disaster and after

This 9 August 2017 video is about a member of the British Socialist Equality Party addressing a meeting on the London Grenfell Tower fire inferno.

By Paul Mitchell in London, England:

Survivors, SEP member denounce police inaction over Grenfell Tower fire at latest community public meeting

11 August 2017

The fifth Grenfell Tower fire “community public meeting” was held Wednesday evening at Notting Hill Methodist Church.

It was convened by the Grenfell Response Unit, set up by Theresa May’s Conservative government to supposedly keep survivors and local residents informed of the measures being taken by the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) in the aftermath of the inferno.

Instead, the meeting confirmed that, eight weeks after the fire, few of the promised measures have materialised and that survivors and local residents continue to be treated with contempt. One after another, those in attendance spoke of the lack of help given to those with health problems and the failure to provide decent housing.

One survivor described the appalling impact of having seen “dead bodies, people jumping for their lives and children screaming.”

A local resident close to the tower explained, “I’m traumatised, my kids are traumatised. The Red Cross is a disgrace. I’ve emailed for help twice and got my MP [member of parliament] too, but still there is no response.”

Another said, “I live 40 yards from the tower and have been suffering chest problems from the air pollution since. Knowing that there was asbestos and cyanide, why was no one evacuated?”

A survivor said, “Before this fire, I was working, supporting myself, looking after my sick uncle who has mental health problems and physical health problems, as well as working… But since the fire I haven’t been eating properly, I haven’t been sleeping properly. I have mental health problems now.”

Another member of the audience related how so many people had been complaining to local general practitioners about breathing problems that it had become known as the “Grenfell cough.”

A woman stood up to apologise for not coming to previous meetings, explaining that she had been “burying my two dead lost relatives.”

The meeting in Notting Hill Methodist Church

“I was lucky to get my relatives back. But there are many who haven’t got them back. The police one-to-one [sessions] are just not working,” she concluded.

Another resident asked, regarding the “assistance” being offered, “Is Reiki an adequate substitute for having decent housing for children living in hotel rooms? Why is it taking so long to rehouse them? Forget about Reiki! Forget about yoga! Why aren’t the council providing housing and decent, adequate services?

“You talk about a tragedy. It is an avoidable disaster. You have blood on your hands. You’re an absolute disgrace,” she told the panel.

Judy Bolton, a local resident who lost her uncle, told RBKC leader Elizabeth Campbell, “You should be so ashamed of yourself. You have no understanding or respect for these people in this tower and this community.

“Let me explain why: You say it’s a tragedy, it’s a disaster. This is an atrocity and it’s an atrocity that all of these people here today have said ‘We’re not getting help… our children are in one bedroom.’ This is two months on.

“My daughter goes to school and she comes home and says ‘Mum, there are empty desks in my classroom.’ We’re living with this every day. If you’re coming to this meeting, come prepared, come with a strategy, come with answers. Do not fob us off.”

Another speaker described the support provided for young people by the Grenfell Assistance Centre at the local Curve building as “disgraceful.” The Centre, according to the website, is supposed be providing “housing needs, emergency funds, health, social care services, experienced volunteers from the Red Cross and other organisations, food and above all, a kind and sympathetic team of people ready to provide advice on anything.”

The speaker described how young people are “broken, grieving, hurt and want answers.”

Campbell’s condescending and supercilious response to questions about the failure to provide homes—“We’re starting viewings again next week… It’s a slower process than you would have wished for… We’re getting there… We have a timeline… We have a strategy”—were shouted down.

Kensington Conservative leader Elizabeth Campbell

Survivors of the fire replied, “This is a humanitarian crisis and you don’t have any plan;” “You’re not helping anyone and blame the survivors for not accepting the first thing they are given;” “It’s two months and you can’t give a simple answer. You can’t even be prepared for this meeting;” “You keep coming back saying ‘I do not know, I cannot give any guarantees.’”

This reporter addressed the meeting. Introducing myself as a member of the Socialist Equality Party, I noted, “Just like Theresa May’s Public Inquiry these meetings are a cynical damage limit exercise. They are a fraud…

“Those who have attended in good faith have time and again heard representatives of the police insist that nothing can be revealed about the investigation and refuse to explain why no one has yet been questioned under caution, let alone arrested.

“To add insult to injury the Met’s ‘Gold Command’ are joined by representatives of the very organisation they should be investigating!”

I urged those in the meeting, “All the excuses being handed down as to why the guilty have not been arrested, we should reject them. Anyone who reads the national newspapers and watches the news knows that there is a cast-iron case for the prosecution. Indeed, if this level of evidence existed for the likes of us accused of the pettiest crime, we would already be sitting in jail…

“The central lesson of events since the Grenfell fire is that nothing genuine and lasting can be accomplished through the good graces of the Conservative government, the council, the Met … ”

To applause I concluded, “Everything depends on the survivors, local residents and the entire working class taking an independent stand.”

Grenfell Tower: How the warnings of cladding dangers were ignored: here.

Grenfell fire: “It’s like Victorian days, where we have nothing and they have everything”: here.

Four 13-storey blocks in Ledbury estate in Peckham, south-east London, at risk of collapse in the event of a gas explosion. Hundreds of people have been told they will have to leave their homes on an estate of tower blocks in London after safety checks carried out following the Grenfell Tower fire found the buildings had been at risk of collapse for decades: here.

London Grenfell Tower accountability demanded by firefighters

London marchers demand an inquest into the Grenfell fire accusing the inquiry of being a cover-up

From daily News Line in Britain:

Monday, 7 August 2017

‘We want those at the very top in central government held to account’ for Grenfell inferno says FBU

THE FIREFIGHTERS’ union’s submission to the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry demands that cuts to the fire service must be examined to establish the impact that they had on the disaster and whether lives were lost as a result.

The deadline passed at 5pm on Friday for local residents and organisations to submit evidence to the inquiry into the fire which claimed the lives of so many men, women and children. More than 200 people and organisations have submitted responses to the inquiry including the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

The FBU is urging the inquiry team and the government to listen to firefighters, emergency fire control operators and to the FBU itself. The union shares fears of survivors and family members of those who died in the fire that the inquiry will be too narrow.

The firefighters’ union has asked questions about the wider safety regime and how such a devastating incident could even take place. The FBU is urging the government to make the terms of reference for the inquiry as broad as possible, and to focus not just on the London Fire Brigade and Grenfell but on the resources available to all fire and rescue services across the country.

The inquiry also needs to look at available resources in other areas where there is a risk of tower block fires, and at how cuts to the service would impact on any similar incidents. Fire safety checks, building regulations, fire safety legislation, deregulation and national standards are all covered in the FBU’s own submission to the inquiry.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘This inquiry needs to have very broad terms of reference if it is to have a real impact on reducing the likelihood of anything like this ever happening again. It needs to look at, for example, the fact that government-funded fire research has virtually disappeared in recent years, all at the very time when new insulation and cladding systems have been introduced.

‘So many factors contributed to make a perfect storm for this horrific incident to happen, and each of them needs to be examined and investigated in turn. ‘Looking at one aspect of risk but leaving others unexplored will be utterly useless. We also want those at the very top – in central government – held to account.

‘Their actions and decisions over recent years need to be thoroughly scrutinised. We urge those who are leading this inquiry to be thorough, to make the inquiry as wide ranging as possible, and to leave no stone unturned. Anything less would be an injustice to those who died and will do nothing to prevent a second Grenfell.’

The FBU, which has also made an application to be a core participant in the inquiry, hopes that the inquiry will make recommendations following its findings, just as the inquiries into the King’s Cross Station and Bradford City stadium fires did, and to make specific requirements of fire and rescue authorities across the UK and of governments. Meanwhile, after a consultation with members, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said a pay offer from the national employers is ‘inadequate in its current form’.

The national employers offered a 2% increase if the discussions around the work trials continued. A 3% increase would follow (and increases for 2018, 2019 and 2020) but only on the basis that an agreement was concluded on the work trials. There was no guarantee where the funding for the pay increase would come from – particularly problematic given central funding to the service has been cut hugely.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has been severely hit by these cuts and the FBU says that as a result lives are being put at risk. The number of emergency control operators has been cut from 22 to 15. The union says that untrained staff are fielding emergency calls from the public and taking down vital information with pen and paper. The information is then passed onto the only fully trained operator on duty who will mobilise a fire engine. Calls are also being diverted to Cornwall at peak periods.

The union warns that on several occasions, fire crews have been sent to the wrong address or delayed for up to 15 minutes before being mobilised. Additionally, operators are frequently forced to work up to 90 hours a week in order to cover staff shortages, the FBU claiming the situation has reached ‘crisis point’.

Secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, Steve Howley, said: ‘We have now reached crisis point. The FBU warned management and the fire authority of the dangers that the cuts would have on the ability of the control room to function safely and effectively. Unfortunately, no one listened to our concerns. We were accused of scaremongering. But these are the repercussions of such savage cuts.

‘Long hours, stress and isolation – it is becoming common for one trained operator to be on shift alone – have led to an increase in sickness amongst staff which further compounds the workforce shortages. The chief fire officer and the fire authority need to be held to account for these failings and to get a grip of the situation immediately.

‘They are putting the lives of the public at risk by placing staff under intolerable pressure. In a fire, every second counts and a delayed response can be fatal. Managers are making this more likely with their continued cuts to the service. It is completely unacceptable and must stop.’

• The FBU said that government cuts are to blame for a rise in fire-related deaths in England last year, according to the union representing firefighters. Official figures show that 303 people died in fires during 2015/16, up 15% on the previous year.

Response times to all types of serious fires also rose, in some cases by as much as one minute and eight seconds. The Fire Brigades Union said the figures reflect the real impact that cuts have had on the ability of firefighters to do their job in recent years.

Matt Wrack, the union’s general secretary, said: ‘I think fire crews are increasingly angry about how they are being treated by this government. Firefighters are praised when they rescue people, they deal with particularly difficult incidents, but all the time their job is being undermined by cuts. There has been a record number of fire station closures, fire engines being cut and 10,000 firefighter jobs go. So that means people are left running the service on a shoestring.’

• In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, Tory Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, faces angry criticism over the severe cuts and closure to the fire brigade he introduced when he was London Mayor. Johnson presided over the closure of 10 fire stations and the removal of 27 fire engines and 552 firefighters’ jobs, despite previously promising not to remove them.

Johnson repeatedly denied he had any plans to cut fire engines or fire stations, telling the London Assembly in 2010 that there were ‘no plans’ to remove engines. Pressed on the issue, he said in a filmed meeting that: ‘I don’t want to get rid of them. What’s the problem?’

He was confronted by his opponents on the London Assembly about the broken promise in 2013.

Labour Assembly leader Andrew Dismore asked then-Mayor, Boris: ‘How can cutting fire stations, cutting fire engines and cutting firefighters post not be a reduction in fire cover? You’ve lied to the people of London.’ Boris snapped: ‘Get stuffed,’ – but apologised saying: ‘It just popped out.’

The devastating cuts were implemented in 2014.