I’m going to apologise at the start of this blog because it is political. But it is making me so angry that I know it has to be written. If you can’t bear politics and are Brexiteers or devoted Conservatives give it a miss. But if like me you care about truth and justice, this is for you.
In yesterdays Guardian the news on the front page was that ‘Grenfell families tell fire chief to quit over failings’. I cannot criticise them. They are hurt and traumatised and need someone to blame. But I read the full article with mounting anger because it is obvious from what was being said that the report had been skewed and that someone was determined to take the spotlight away from the people who were really responsible for that fire and cast the blame for it on the firefighters who fought with such courage and tenacity and compassion to save as many people as they could. I’ve seen a lot of examples of shifting the blame but this is well and away the worse.
It isn’t as if we don’t know who was really responsible. They were mentioned in the report and it is easy enough to discover them via Google. What caused the fire to spread was the cladding that had been put up by The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council who owned it. It was known at the time that the cladding was made of flammable material and was therefore not fit for purpose so why did these two organisations go ahead and use it? That’s the key question that should have been considered fully by the inquiry.
These two organisations were overseeing a £10m refurbishment of the 24 storey tower which was completed in 2016, when the original concrete facade was replaced by this particular cladding. So why didn’t they use a safer cladding? Well consider this. In July 2014 £300,000 was removed from the cladding budget and according to the Guardian ‘zinc panels were replaced with an aluminium composite material with a plastic core, which the government has now banned from use on high-rise residential blocks.’ BECAUSE IT WAS CHEAPER!
This whole story has been about making money and cost cutting. This is bad enough in itself but when you dig into the story you find it is even worse than you imagined because they can’t pretend not to know how dangerous their actions were. There was an action group in the Grenfell building who were responsibly and frequently active and knew exactly how dangerous their building was. Between 2013 and 2017 they published as many as 10 warnings highlighting numerous security risks affecting the integrity of the tower block and the safety of its residents. Their leader Francis O’Connor (respec’ Francis!) said ‘All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time’
Let me give you a little more information about this action group (taken from the Grenfell Action Group blog).
‘The Grenfell Action Group was formed in 2010 to oppose the Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre development which we considered to be a gross overdevelopment of an inappropriate site involving the destruction of Lancaster Green, one of the few local green spaces available to the residents of Lancaster West Estate, and the only residential amenity space available for the residents of the immediately adjacent Grenfell Tower.
The founder members were Edward Daffarn (Respec’ Edward!) of Grenfell Tower and myself, Francis O’Connor, from the nearby Verity Close. In 2012 we started this blog and worked closely together for a number of years to research, write and publish it as regularly as our combined efforts would allow. The Grenfell Action group and this accompanying blog has operated without funding throughout its existence. From time to time we have been aided in our efforts by a few others who shall remain nameless here.
We were committed to defending the rights of the residents of Lancaster West Estate, a sprawling, inner-city, social housing complex of nearly a thousand dwellings, mostly working class, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. Our community is located in North Kensington in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). The estate is owned by the RBKC and was managed between 1994 and 2017, on the Council’s behalf, by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) which was created specifically and solely for the purpose of managing, on the Council’s behalf, all Council owned properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.’
‘Following the catastrophic but completely avoidable inferno that destroyed Grenfell Tower on 14th June 2017 with the needless loss, in horrific circumstances, of 72 innocent lives, I have devoted most of my energy to investigating in this blog the causes of the fire, including the cultural and political causes that contributed directly or indirectly to the disaster, and to seeking justice for those who lost loved ones on that day and the many survivors who were left homeless and traumatised.’
It is not the beleaguered Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade who should be in TV studios and various newspapers taking the flak for what happened. She and her team did the best they could in appalling circumstances (Respec’ LFB!). It is the men who made the decision to use that cladding.
There’s a warning we ought to take from this. We are at the start of a General Election that is going to be dominated by lies, posturing, false promises and the most skillful use of propaganda since Hitler and Goebbel’s time. To put it bluntly, the Conservative party is led by a man without a conscience who tells lies, is a womaniser and a misogynist and a racist. But he is extremely skilled at presenting the image of a bumbling clown who is friendly and will give you anything you want and can be entirely trusted.
Worse still, he has got his fall-guy all neatly lined up and will cast the blame on him, exactly as the propagandists in the Grenfell case have done to the London Fire Brigade. Please don’t believe him. We have a hard battle on our hands and we need clear sight.