You don’t hear the word massacre used to describe deaths by fire. Massacre is a word that conjures up a heavily armed force surrounding and destroying a much smaller force, even large groups of defenceless civilians.
But for the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017 it is appropriate. Time after time, Grenfell residents warned about the dangers of the building. The lighting system, the power surges destroying appliances, the use of cladding to prettify the building, rather than address a variety of safety concerns.
The building management organisation, KCTMO and Kensington & Chelsea borough council, rarely addressed these concerns, didn’t do so in a timely manner, and often tried to shift the blame. They even went so far as to single our particular residents and issue them with solicitors letters to desist their criticism.
This is hardly what Britain expects from its richest borough with some of the worlds most valuable real estate. And that’s without considering the aftermath of rehousing residents, trying to rehouse them elsewhere, even hundreds of miles away, or seeing to the needs of 5 other tower blocks who were DEPENDENT on Grenfell basement boilers for their gas and hot water!
The first scandal is the scale of the fire itself. It shouldn’t have happened. Fire experts are saying this. Yet what happened was that a most flammable kind of insulating cladding was added to the building. This acted both as a chimney and as an accelerant. It also gave off a cyanide-based gas – as if the usual smoke from a house fire which most casualties die of, wasn’t enough. This is why building codes and fire regulations are important – if you get rid of them people die.
The second scandal is the way the numbers of casualties were handled. Residents in the area were outraged that the figures being given were so small. Even now, the official figure of 79 is far off being satisfactory. The impression people are left with is an officialdom and media deliberately playing down the death toll. Some people even suspected an official DA-notice to prevent the media publishing it. The effect is that the final death toll, which may be in the hundreds, and certainly likely to be triple figures, just does not honour those who died or the scale of the tragedy. Or massacre. Sure the police are playing it safe, but there are different more respectful forms of words that you can use rather than the drip-drip approach of only releasing minimum figures and effectively saying, there’s 79 dead bodies we’ve got but it’s going to take the rest of the year to find other remains!
The cladding – this is the number one reason people died. Despite what the chancellor said, this turns out not to have been illegal in Britain, nor apparently even to clad a building in it to the height that Grenfell Tower was. This is unconscionable! But the way it happened, going back to the Blair years, helps tell us how rotten UK politics is at the moment.
Keith Hill, Housing Minister under Tony Blair, in 2005 abolished annual local Fire Service inspections for tower blocks and other public buildings as part of the liberation from red tape and to save landlords money. In addition, many architects now are familiar with NOT having to install alarms in blocks of flats as part of the so-called stay put policy.
Words have no impact as a commentary. The continued assault on regulations, the defeated vote to make homes fit for human habitation, the running down of emergency services capabilities, the lessening of planning requirements, the apparent faking of safety certificates – if organisations were truly able to be held responsible for killing then we would have murder most foul by governments Labour, Lib Dem and Tory, and add in the council and a number of involved contractors too.
The fridge freezer – Hotpoint is in danger of being one of the scapegoats for Grenfell. Fridge freezers have been implicated in fires before, however the model in question has never been previously subject to recall in its 10 years. The articles concerned also DO NOT cover the large number of power surges the building had and the dozens of electrical goods that were wiped out, including exploding, because of these. The power surges often happened late at night. Essentially though, it doesn’t matter much what caused the fire. What is essentially is how what is supposed to be a local fire and compartmentalised
Criminal investigations are ongoing. But it’s likely that the waters are so muddy that , with regulation requirements and planning laws being so lax, there might not even be a fine by the end of it. What should happen of course, is that this cladding product is made illegal and stripped from every building – as councils will be doing now, hopefully everywhere. The trouble is, going back decades, this product would once have been illegal, but the laws were changed, and now likely 150 or so people are dead. And let’s not think this is an assault on industry either. The Fire Resistant equivalent cladding for Grenfell Tower would have cost £5000 – for the whole tower.
Oh, and sprinklers, mandatory in every highrise. You know, in 2017, with a supposed UK hot on health and safety, who would have thought there’d be a highrise without one!?