14-06-2022

No Justice for Grenfell

Today marks 5 years since the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people lost their lives.

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I had headed over to Kensington to cover the story for one of King’s College London’s online student newspapers and although the fire had begun just before 1am, parts of the top floors were still ablaze when I arrived at 3pm.

Grenfell Tower, the charred remains are now covered

In the decades that followed building’s construction in 1972, the area of west London surrounding the tower transformed into the most affluent borough in all of London. Grenfell’s appearance, typical of 70’s brutalist council blocks, was a stark contrast to the pristine white town houses quintessential of the modern Kensington and Chelsea. This meant the tower had become perceived as a 24-storey eyesore in desperate need of some ‘rejuvenation’. As way of combatting the building’s ‘unappealing’ aesthetic cladding was installed on the exterior of the tower in May 2017 in a £8.9million refurbishment. It is believed the fire broke out from a fridge freezer malfunctioning in the dead of night at around 12:45am, this small electrical fire rapidly grew to engulf the entire building. Grenfell Tower Inquiry's Phase 1 published on October 30th in 2019 found that the cladding was the ‘principal reason’ behind the fire spreading so far in a short space of time.

In the inquiry, an architect who worked on the refurbishment claimed cladding contractors were focused solely on improving the building’s appearance and cutting costs, fire safety was not discussed. The cladding used on the tower was constructed with polyethylene and aluminium by Arconic, a French architectural company. The cladding material was not up to English building standards and had consistently failed fire tests 12 years before the blaze broke out at Grenfell. In 2007 a marketing manager at Arconic, Gérard Sonntag, distributed an internal memo warning about the potential danger of the product after a meeting with a consultant. The consultant, Fred-Roderich Pohl, claimed that if a fire broke out in a building covered with this material it could lead to the deaths of 60 to 70 people.

On the day of the fire after emergency services had arrived and cordoned off the streets around the base of the tower some of the evacuated residents were sat out on a grassy area still surrounded by the few things they could salvage from the blaze. One man was relieved to have managed to save his favourite guitar. I sat and chatted with Kimberley who had 4 French Bulldogs by her side which she claimed saved her life. She told me how her and a group of friends were chatting late into the night when the dogs she referred to as her ‘babies’ started behaving strangely and making more noise than usual. Their strange behaviour led to her realizing something was not right. 'My friend thought I was just being paranoid, but I could sense something was out of the ordinary’. After she had made it to safety, she watched on cautiously as the residents still trapped inside the inferno desperately attempted to escape, ‘I saw a person throw their baby from a floor or two up to someone below, luckily it was caught safely’. Of course, not everyone was this fortunate, as Kimberley recalled seeing a man ‘jump from the building to escape the flames. He died as soon as he hit the ground’.

Firefighters remember those killed in the Grenfell tower fire

Following the fire, a huge covering was built over the tower. A green heart (green has become the official colour of Grenfell remembrance) sits boldly alongside the message 'GRENFELL TOWER FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS'. Numerous charities were set up in response to the disaster such as, Grenfell United, comprised of ‘a group of survivors and bereaved families from the Grenfell tower fire, working together for our community and campaigning for safe homes, justice and change’ and the Grenfell Foundation who work ‘to ensure families and the community would be supported after the initial wave of emergency response subsided and to ensure a lasting legacy for Grenfell’. There is even a Grenfell Athletic football club set up by Rupert Taylor who manages a local youth centre. Some members of the team are survivors of the fire, and it was created with the intention of deriving something positive from the awful tragedy. Each year on the anniversary of the fire protestors cover themselves in green clothing and march in silent procession through the streets of the area, concluding near the base of the tower, to memorialise and demand justice for the victims. 

72 lives lost and 5 years later, still no justice has been served in one of the worst tragedies in recent British history. 

Contribution

If you would like to help deliver justice to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, please consider donating to their campaign.

grenfellfoundation.org.uk

This article and accompanying photographs were provided by Jared Phanco.

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