Anger and grief as Bri­tain marks Gren­fell an­niver­sary

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Joe Jackson

ANGER and im­pa­tience for jus­tice mix with raw grief as Bri­tain pre­pares to mark the first an­niver­sary of the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter – the dead­li­est do­mes­tic fire since World War II.

In a west Lon­don com­mu­nity still trau­ma­tised by the apart­ment block blaze that killed 71 peo­ple, many voiced frus­tra­tion with politicians and the fire brigade ahead of Thurs­day’s com­mem­o­ra­tions.

“I don’t un­der­stand why as a coun­try we’re not in up­roar, why we’re not ab­so­lutely telling the gov­ern­ment that things need to change now,” said Tasha Brade, a lo­cal res­i­dent and cam­paigner with Jus­tice4Gren­fell, a sup­port group for sur­vivors.

Cam­paign­ers want some ar­rests from an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as well as a ban on the cladding that helped spread the blaze.

They have crit­i­cised the fire brigade’s “stay put” pol­icy for tower res­i­dents, which was only lifted af­ter two hours.

The slow ef­fort to re­house peo­ple has added to the anger, with 43 of the 203 house­holds dis­placed still liv­ing in ho­tels.

“Peo­ple who were af­fected did not re­ceive the ser­vices they needed with re­spect to their health and well-be­ing,” saidVas­si­liki Stavrou-Lorraine, who has lived op­po­site the tower for 34 years.

“Un­for­tu­nately one year on we are still hav­ing this sit­u­a­tion,” she added, say­ing peo­ple are suf­fer­ing from “de­pres­sion and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der”.

‘They were left to die’

Rel­a­tives of those who died have re­cently pro­vided heart-rend­ing tes­ti­mony about their loved ones’ fi­nal mo­ments at the be­gin­ning of a pub­lic in­quiry into the fire, re­mind­ing Bri­tons of the shocking scale of the tragedy.

The fire, which broke out in the kitchen of a fourth-floor flat in the 24-storey tower in the early hours of June 14 last year, spread swiftly up the build­ing.

Seventy-one peo­ple died, and a woman in the build­ing later suf­fered a still­birth blamed on the in­ferno.

The concrete block built in 1974 had un­der­gone ren­o­va­tion be­tween 2014 and 2016, when it was wrapped in a new cladding. The ma­te­rial had not been tested in fire con­di­tions and did not com­ply with build­ing-safety guid­ance, ac­cord­ing to an ex­pert’s re­port com­mis­sioned by the in­quiry.

But the Lon­don Fire Brigade told res­i­dents to “stay put” – standard pro­ce­dure in high-rise fires – for nearly two hours, de­spite the fire reach­ing the roof within around half an hour.

The pol­icy has been se­verely crit­i­cised by rel­a­tives of those who died.

“The fact is, our rel­a­tives are be­ing re­mem­bered now be­cause they were left to die,” Karim Mus­silhy, whose de­ceased un­cle lived on the top floor of the Gren­fell Tower, wrote last month in The Guardian.

Kerry O’Hara, a sur­vivor from the sixth floor, said: “I was glad I didn’t fol­low that ad­vice and I just hate to think what would’ve hap­pened if I’d stayed put.”

PM’s apol­ogy

The lo­cal coun­cil in Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea, where Gren­fell Tower is lo­cated, has been in the spotlight for its role in both the run-up to and af­ter­math of the fire. Res­i­dents ar­gue the wealthy bor­ough ne­glected the less af­flu­ent north­ern sec­tion that is home to Gren­fell and sur­round­ing pub­lic hous­ing.

They also ac­cuse it of cost-cut­ting on the re­fur­bish­ment and bungling its over­all re­sponse.

A coun­cil spokesman said it had com­mit­ted £235 mil­lion ($315 mil­lion) to se­cure new homes for peo­ple to choose from.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has also faced crit­i­cism, in­clud­ing over her gov­ern­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion to ban the cladding in­volved, af­ter a re­port said that alone would not stop a re­peat of the tragedy.

She apol­o­gised on Mon­day in a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle for only meet­ing mem­bers of the emer­gency ser­vices and not res­i­dents when vis­it­ing the still-smoul­der­ing tower last June.

‘Re­ally uni­fied us all’

In the face of per­ceived in­ac­tion, the com­mu­nity has banded to­gether, with sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions tak­ing root.

Samia Badani, who lives op­po­site Gren­fell, helped form a new res­i­dents group now operating a drop-in cen­tre of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from health and hous­ing ad­vice to food and drink.

“You sim­ply couldn’t go home and pre­tend it never hap­pened,” she said. “We wit­nessed ter­ror, dev­as­ta­tion, de­struc­tion and what fol­lowed that was a com­plete col­lapse of the sup­port sys­tem from the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.”

Among the many memo­rial events hap­pen­ing across west Lon­don this week, the group will close a lo­cal street and hold a re­mem­brance Wed­nes­day night. They plan to mark the mo­ment the fire broke out by lay­ing 72 white roses nearby and hold­ing a 72-sec­ond pe­riod of si­lence.

“It’s a re­ally bit­ter­sweet thing,” said Brade of Jus­tice4Gren­fell. “Of course this was the most dev­as­tat­ing thing to hap­pen to our com­mu­nity but it’s re­ally uni­fied us all and it’s made us re­alise that we do have a voice.”


Po­lice man a se­cu­rity cor­don as a huge fire en­gulfs the Gren­fell Tower early June 14, 2017, in west Lon­don.

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