By Paul Mitchell in London, England:
Council condemned for “disgusting” treatment of Grenfell fire survivors
21 July 2017
Hundreds of protesters demanding justice for those killed in the Grenfell fire, including survivors, protested outside Kensington Town Hall Wednesday evening as representatives of the Kensington and Chelsea Council sat in full session for the first time since the June 14 inferno.
Protesters brought homemade banners with slogans including, “Justice for Grenfell—We Demand the Truth.” A large banner read, in reference to the Conservative-run council, “The Royal Murderers of Kensington and Chelsea” (the area is a royal borough).
A heavy police and security guard presence was mobilised outside and inside the council hall, part of moves by council officials to try to ensure that as few as possible would be able to enter and observe proceedings.
Last month, then Conservative council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown attempted to ban survivors, local residents and the media from attending the first meeting of the council to be held since the fire. Paget-Brown insisted that to allow the public entry would “likely result in disorder” and closed the meeting down within minutes.
The latest attempt to silence growing hostility to the council and police—who continued to drip-feed information about their “criminal investigation”—was opposed by protesters who demanded that more survivors be allowed in.
The public gallery of the council chamber was packed with about 70 survivors and an additional room was set aside for another 150 people from the local community. They spoke of the “disgusting” treatment being meted out to the “forgotten” survivors of the fire.
The meeting saw Elizabeth Campbell formally elected as council leader, following the resignation of Paget-Brown last month. Shouts of “Murderers,” “Shame on you” and “Resign” echoed from the public gallery as councillors raised their hands in support of her appointment. One survivor, Mahad Egal, described the inhumane treatment of survivors by the council since the fire and told Campbell, “You’ve let the dead down. Now you’re going to come for the living … step down and resign.”
Campbell could hardly be heard and had to stop several times as she declared, “We meet at a time of unimaginable grief and sorrow. The Grenfell fire is the biggest civilian disaster in this country for a generation. … I am truly sorry that we did not do more to help you when you needed it the most.”
These are crocodile tears. During her time as Cabinet Member for Family and Children’s Services (May 2013 to May 2017), Campbell oversaw a one-third cut in the department’s budget, which included the axing of after-school and holiday care for the most vulnerable children.
She employed similar insincere, scripted words following the disastrous cost-cutting exercise involving the outsourcing of school transport in 2014, declaring, “It is upsetting that so many have had cause for complaint. We are driving very hard to bring things up to the expected standard and nothing short of that will be acceptable.” She added, “I want to apologise to those service users who have been affected and hope they will recognise that our intentions are honourable.”
Due to the anger and outrage of residents at the council, Labour Party opposition leader Robert Atkinson put on a left face—repeating the call for commissioners to take over the running of the council, which the Labour Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad branded “not fit for purpose.”
Several motions proposed by councillors were due to be discussed, including a petition by more than 1,500 people for the entire leadership of Kensington and Chelsea Council to resign.
Behind Campbell’s handwringing, the council’s contempt for the survivors of Grenfell and local residents is revealed in the fact that only a fifth of the survivors have been temporarily rehoused. Despite Campbell acknowledging that the council, located in the wealthiest area of London, has a spending reserve of £274 million, she said that just 400 social houses will be acquired or built in the borough in the next five years, the equivalent of 80 a year.
Campbell and the other Tory councillors refused to stand down and, under conditions of a local and national crisis, began an extended summer’s vacation with the full council not scheduled to meet again until October 25.
A number of survivors and other local residents were allowed to address the meeting.
An Iranian woman held up the key to her 10th floor Grenfell Tower flat as she declared, “I’m here to represent those who died innocently and they are powder now—the bodies’ powder. And those survivors who are burning inside themselves … nobody hears them and nobody listens to them.
“They say they understand us but the truth of the matter is they don’t. Every time I look at this key I ask, what is the difference between us human beings? Why do you judge people because of what they’ve got—their wealth? Why don’t you care about human beings right here?”
A woman who said her young niece had died in the fire explained that members of her family were unable to speak in public because “their pain is too huge” and that councillors should be “embarrassed” by their “totally inadequate” response.
She was backed up by several Grenfell residents who recounted the terrible treatment they have received since the fire. One said he had been consigned to a hotel room with just one double bed for him, his wife and three children. “I was forgotten about” by the authorities, he explained. “You know who’s done something for us? The residents of north Kensington. Our community. Our neighbours.”
Another said the way the fire victims’ families had been treated was “disgusting,” declaring, “We’ve been swept under the carpet.”
One man said the families of the deceased “are being treated like cattle.”
The ongoing trauma suffered by the local population was evident as the meeting ended abruptly due to a resident, who had just finished speaking, collapsing to the ground. According the Evening Standard, “A female companion said that she had collapsed multiple times since the fire.”
From the World Socialist Web Site in London, England:
Protesters at Kensington and Chelsea council meeting: “This has been a massive crime and they all seem to be getting away with it”
By our reporters
21 July 2017
World Socialist Web Site reporters spoke to a number of those protesting outside the meeting.
Anthony, a local resident who knew several of those who perished in the fire, said that firefighters faced major obstacles that prevented a prompt response and which contributed to the fire getting out of control. He said, “The fire service got there in six minutes. It sounds good, six minutes, but when did they first deploy their hoses? When they got there, also, how many got there?
“What stage was the fire at? When they thought they had put the fire out, they couldn’t get to see the other side of the building was on fire. Why?
“The reason is because of the so-called Academy [school] that was built on the car park. That was the car park for Grenfell Tower. Also, it was the assembly point for the people of Grenfell Tower in case there ever was a fire. Basically they got a call about a fire and got there and realised a school is in the way. There’s all these delays that put them towards their deaths. There was only space for two fire engines in one small corner near the tower. Every second counts in a fire. Then there was also no [tall] ladder.
“When they got to the building did they go upstairs to reassure people that it’s safe and say, ‘We’re going to put the fire out?’ Or did they go on a mission to say ‘Let’s evacuate, let’s evacuate,’ knowing that there are no sprinklers, no adequate fire safety system, no evacuation procedure?”
Asked who he thought should be held responsible, Anthony said, “The TMO [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation—who ran Grenfell Tower on behalf of management] is responsible and no one have been brought to book. Nobody has been arrested at all. This has been a massive crime and they all seem to be getting away with it. We have to make sure they don’t and we will make sure they don’t.”
A resident who managed to escape from Grenfell Tower said, “When we went into the council chambers they locked the door behind us to stop other people coming in. We’ve been in this tower block and a lot of people couldn’t escape and we are suffering trauma from this. And now they are locking us in this room!”
Alan, who lived on the 15th floor of Grenfell Tower, said, “We won’t give up. They need to admit what they have done and give up. We are going to continue doing this until we find the truth. We are going to beat them. We won’t stop. We are one voice and we need justice for people who lost their life.
“We didn’t have any voice in the council meeting. We are speaking here but nothing is happening. I don’t care about accommodation. What I care about is justice for people who lost their lives. I care about people who are going to die tomorrow in another town because of them. What is happening is so wrong.”
Alan said that he had tried to contact Labour Party mayor Sadiq Khan about the campaign for justice for the victims of the Grenfell fire but had received no response. He said “I sent email to Sadiq Khan three weeks ago and called him twice. I was cut off.”
Fire risk in most New Zealand high-rise buildings: here.