By Tommy Sheridan
The Grenfell Tower block fire of 14th June 2017 was not just a human tragedy that claimed the lives of 72 innocent human beings, resulted in injuries to 70 others and left hundreds of family and resident survivors with horrific mental scars and emotional trauma scorched forever into their minds it was also a grotesque monument to social neglect and the deep class divisions which pollute and poison Tory Britain.
The working class residents of that Tower block were treated with indifference and disdain by the leaders of the wealthiest council in the UK and the unsafe and highly flammable cladding chosen to cover the high rise homes was selected for cost and aesthetic reasons. Dearer cladding options were rejected while that chosen was held to be decorative for the benefit of the wealthy neighbours who lived nearby and had to look at it day in and day out.
Austerity Tory Britain was epitomised in the thick black smoke that emerged from the concrete block and the uncontrollable flames that licked the night sky on that horrible night. Years of cruel and unnecessary cuts and deliberate under investment in essential services like the fire service were laid bare in graphic technicolour. Seventy two people died from a fire that should have been contained in the home it started in. Had the cladding attached to this building been the more expensive option no one need have died because the fire which started in a faulty fridge freezer unit would not have spread.
Seventy two working class lives were lost because of malign neglect not benign mistakes. This was not a freak accident that no one could have foresaw this was an entirely predictable tragedy which residents had warned of but were ignored. Almost exactly seven months prior to the fire the Grenfell Action Group published a newsletter which was the culmination of scores of meetings, failed repair commitments and downright lies in relation to the implementation of safety measures by the landlords. Read the full newsletter of November 20th 2016 for yourself https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/. Under the haunting headline ‘Playing with fire’ it read:
“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation), and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the everyday management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) Council is a recipe for a future major disaster”.
The Grenfell Action Group warnings were stark and stern but they were entirely ignored and 72 people were condemned to frightful deaths as a result.
The tragic fire exposed the cheap option cladding attached to the building as both unsafe and dangerous. The decision to use that cladding was taken by the KCTMO in cahoots with the local council.
That council has since complained that it was trying to manage a budget with reduced income from central government and was compelled to make cuts. No matter the exact apportioning of blame the fact remains that Tory government cuts, Tory council implementation of those cuts and the mismanagement of the Tower Block by the KCTMO are the cause of this tragedy. The question of criminal culpability and/or responsibility is still apparently being investigated. Yet the initial findings of the Grenfell Tower Public Enquiry have incredibly highlighted alleged faults by fire fighters and control staff instead of fingering the real culprits.
Released in full today at 10am (Wednesday 30th October) but leaked strategically and in a sinister fashion beforehand in a manner dishonourable to the victims and their families the 935 page Public Enquiry Report is said to contain withering criticism of the fire fighters:
“It found that people died because the “stay put” policy, which recommends that residents are safer in their flats than trying to escape, was not lifted earlier, London Fire Brigade “personnel and systems were overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster”, 999 call handlers sometimes refused to believe desperate victims and the £10m refurbishment of the block between 2014 and 2016 by its owner, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, breached building regulations”…
“Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the inquiry chairman, found the London fire brigade’s readiness was “gravely inadequate” and fewer people would have died if it had been better prepared” https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/oct/29/grenfell-inquiry-accused-of-focusing-on-junior-firefighters.
I am incandescent with rage after reading these leaks from the Report and listening to the treatment of the leaks on the mainstream broadcast media. These fire fighters risked their own lives to try and save others. They entered a building which was in flames and dangerous and issued advice which in every other tower block fire saves lives. In tower blocks of concrete properly clad fires should not spread. They are contained in the area of the fire. It is normally dangerous to leave a flat during a tower block fire because the corridors can become smoke filled but the fire should not spread therefore it is safer to ‘stay put’ in your home.
The men and women who entered Grenfell Tower and tried with all their might to save others trapped in that inferno are now being thrown to the wolves and blamed for the criminal and irresponsible actions of politicians at both a local and UK level. The councillors of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea should be facing public pillorying not men and women employed to risk their own lives to save others. It is disgraceful that they should be publicly criticised for issuing advice which in a safe tower block would have saved lives.
They are also criticised for being “overwhelmed” by the incident and “gravely” unprepared. Whose fault is that? The fucking Prime Minister of Britain that’s whose fault it is. Sure he is a co-conspirator in the crimes of austerity that have affected every council in the UK, including Kensington and Chelsea, but much more critically he is the axeman with hands dripping in blood for the fire service cuts he presided over while Mayor of London.
He oversaw the London Fire Brigade and compelled it to make gross savings of more than £100m, partly as a result of cuts to central government grant. This involved cutting fire appliances by 27, closing 10 fire stations and cutting 552 firefighters and 324 support staff posts. Don’t these eejits understand that such brutal cuts in services leave those services less prepared for disasters like Grenfell?
Not only is Boris Johnson politically culpable along with his rich Tory chums for the Grenfell Tower tragedy he should be in a criminal dock alongside his local Tory councillors for they a criminally negligent after years of cuts that they were warned would cause lives to be put at risk. I have the pleasure of knowing and respecting fire fighters from all across the UK. I have been honoured in the past to address Fire Brigades Union conferences, education schools and strike rallies. These are individuals who deserve support and respect from all of us not ridiculous and pathetic blame for fires that spiral out of control due to inadequate and unsafe building materials.
A retired fire fighter with 30 years’ service contacted me today in a state of rage after reading how his former colleagues were being attacked and besmirched in the press and media. As a mark of respect to him and all the men and women in the fire service I want to publish his comments in full as no other outlets are willing to publish the fire fighter’s side of this tragedy:
“So, some media people have decided that the Grenfell fire was London Fire Brigade’s fault! With an “open mind” they’ve looked at the causes, evidence and outcomes and come up with this utter garbage!
Let me share with you my experience of fighting fires in multi-storey buildings, of which I attended many.
These buildings are built in blocks of concrete cubes, which don’t burn, and can keep a fire trapped inside the compartment for some considerable time. The only weak points in each flat are the doors and windows, but they should also meet a standard of fire resistance.
Therefore, the greatest risk to occupants of other flats in the building would be that of smoke filled corridors leading to escape routes.
Hence the “Stay Put” policy (stay in your flat until the fire service give the “all clear”).
EVERY multi-storey flat fire I attended never spread significantly to any other flat in the building.
So what happened at Grenfell???
Well, it’s not rocket science and it’s not been hidden from anyone who cares to look at the evidence. The building was wrapped in highly flammable materials, because they were the cheapest on the market and that would save the richest council in Europe lots of money.
The Fire Service incident commanders at Grenfell were facing a fire that should never have been possible under British building standards.
However they were and the point came where the ‘stay put’ policy had to be dropped, as there was no way of stopping the fire spread, due to the abundance of highly flammable materials wrapped around the building.
This then led to a further problem.
Grenfell Tower, I believe, had only one escape stairwell and due to poor maintenance of fire doors it had filled with smoke.
Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus had to assist residents through this smoke and out to safety, many of these residents had to be physically carried due to being overcome by the smoke.
These firefighters led /carried people to safety, changed their breathing apparatus and went back into the building time after time to climb the stairs to rescue as many as residents as they could.
1. A straight forward fire in a flat spread to the windows and then to the flammable cladding.
2. London Fire Brigade followed the tried and tested “Stay Put” procedure until it was obvious that the fire was unstoppable due to the highly flammable materials wrapped around the building.
3. The fire escape route had been compromised due to a lack of maintenance by the council or their managing agents.
4. 72 people died as a direct result of Kensington and Chelsea council’s negligence or London Fire Brigades actions? You choose”.
You choose indeed. I choose to blame the Tory MPs and councillors who voted through and implemented the cuts to local authority budgets and in particular Boris Johnson for his implementation of savage cuts to the London Fire Service while he was the Tory Mayor. Don’t let him continue these criminal cuts. Vote him out of office in December.