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Solidarity Opinions

Grenfell: Lest We Forget

By Henry Needham

The fire at Grenfell tower in June 2017 is one of the most publicised examples of incompetence at the highest level in modern British history. The 72 people who tragically lost their lives in the fire serve as a reminder that there is a long way to go in bridging the socio-economic, and racial, divide in our society. The main lesson to be learned from this is not that the building companies and contractors who put the cladding in place are in the wrong, rather, the issue at the core is that the regulations regarding fire safety in blocks of flats such as Grenfell made it legal for them to do so. The wave of outrage that rightly ensued across Britain in the aftermath has gradually begun to lose its force. But the failures run deep, and will need far more attention than a brief inquisition could ever attest for.

‘You think we just forgot about Grenfell?’ were the words delivered by Stormzy during his performance at the 2018 BRIT Awards. These words ring true now more than ever as the efforts to fight for justice for the lives lost in this disaster have somewhat lost momentum. This is not to say efforts have gone completely dry – as the ‘Justice4Grenfell’ movement headed up by Judy Bolton and Yvette Williams MBE still fights hard to bring this issue back into the ever-shifting spotlight of mass media. However, as is too often the case in modern times, the mainstream British media attention given to this injustice has continuously waned in the last 4 years. What needs to be focused on in the aftermath was the governmental inquiry that took place. A vital piece of information that has seemingly been lost in its coverage, in this inquiry it was revealed that emails, documents, design drawings and calculations relating to the tower had been accidentally lost or purposefully destroyed after being wiped from a laptop.[1] The company stated that the files were not backed up on any other device or email account[2], which bodes suspiciously for a massive contractor, and in this era of technology. Even if we are to assume an accident, it screams of organisational incompetence, as the inquiry did not attempt to acquire the files straight after the incident, for the laptop was reported wiped in 2020, three years after the fire.

Further incompetence is evident in the lack of attention given to resident’s reports, who knew the building was not safe if there was to be a fire. A resident of Grenfell Tower warned its landlords in 2010 that an “inferno” could engulf the building and “trap the residents … with no escape”.[3] Given the consequent reality, this report is harrowing. More had to be done to ensure the safety of the residents, and to make sure authorities did everything in their power to abide by safe and legal building guide. The racial dimension of this atrocity are not to go amiss in the tragic loss of 72 lives. Of the 72 people who died, more than half had immigrated to Britain after 1990 and only 8 victims were White British.[4] The irony of the timing of this article is that on the 31st March 2021, the British government published a report stating that Britain’s system is no longer ‘deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities’.[5] Given what happened at Grenfell, the government’s report doesn’t hold up against the intentional neglect of the health, safety and lives of those disproportionately non-white and immigrant families who were assigned this council estate. 300 towers in the UK today still have the cladding that was the catalyst for the disaster at Grenfell, with roughly 24,000 people living in these buildings whose lives are still at stake.

As the inquiry is not fully complete, there will certainly be more to discuss, challenge and understand about what happened at Grenfell. However, as citizens of this country who could have family or friends living in the buildings that are still at risk, it is our collective duty to fight for the justice of the Grenfell 72. The socio-economic issues here are at the fore, for the Government’s reports supposed findings about the UK not being a system ‘rigged’ against ethnic minorities seems questionable when 1 in 6 ethnic minority families live in houses with a category 1 hazard in the housing, health and safety rating system.[6] Reports from the last 20 years suggest Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic families are more likely to be offered poorer quality homes, flats rather than houses, and housing officers were also seen to be more likely to steer them away from white neighbourhoods based on preconceived judgments about class.[7] The blatant gap in housing equality is a topic that requires and deserves increased attention, but with lives and livelihoods on the line, Grenfell must be remembered and serve as a catalyst for long-lasting, structural change.

This article is dedicated to all those who lost their lives and loved ones in this disaster, if you want to make a change see: https://justice4grenfell.org

IN MEMORY:

Fathia Ali Ahmed Alsanousi

Esra Ibrahim

Fethia Hassan

Hania Hassan

Mohamed Amied Neda

Raymond Bernard

Rania Ibrahim

Hesham Rahman

Gloria Trevisan

Marco Gottardi

Anthony Disson

Mariem Elgwahry

Yaqub Hashim

Hashim Kedir

Nura Jamal

Eslah Elgwahry

Sirria Choucair

Yahya Hashim

Nadia Choucair

Bassem Choukair

Fatima Choucair

Mierna Choucair

Zainab Choucair

Firdaws Hashim

Mehdi El Wahabi 25

Yasin El Wahabi

Logan Gomes

Faouzia El Wahabi

Abdulaziz El Wahabi

Ligaya Moore

Nur Huda El Wahabi

Leena Belkadi

Jessica Urbano Ramirez

Farah Hamdan

Omar Belkadi

Alexandra Atala

Mary Mendy

Malak Belkadi

Victoria King

Khadija Saye

Amal Ahmedin

Maria del Pilar Burton

Amaya Tuccu-Ahmedin

Sakineh Afrasiabi

Vincent Chiejina

Isaac Paulos

Hamid Kani

Berkti Haftom

Biruk Haftom

Komru Miah

Mohammed Hamid

Rabia Begum

Husna Begum

Mohammed Hanif

Khadija Khalloufi

Deborah Lamprell

Marjorie Vital

Ernie Vital

Sheila

Joseph Daniels

Steven Power

Denis Murphy

Zainab Deen

Mohammed al-Haj Ali

Jeremiah Dee

Abdeslam Sebbar

Ali Yawar Jafari

Gary Maunders

Abufras Ibrahim

Mohamednur “Mo” Tuccu

Fatemeh Afrasiabi

Amna Mahmud Idris


[1] https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/grenfell-documents-and-design-drawings-lost-forever-after-being-wiped-from-a-laptop-201735/

[2] https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/grenfell-documents-and-design-drawings-lost-forever-after-being-wiped-from-a-laptop-201735/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/29/council-prioritised-cost-over-safety-grenfell-tower-inquiry-hears

[4] https://immigrationnews.co.uk/grenfell-windrush-and-the-hostile-environment-why-we-must-not-forget/

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-56585538

[6] https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/racial-discrimination-in-housing/

[7] https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/racial-discrimination-in-housing/

Author: Harry Needham

Harry is completing an MA in Contemporary History at the University of Birmingham and holds a Bachelors in Ancient History with History at Swansea University. Predominantly, his research looks at understanding the relationship between Race, Racism and Power whilst also focusing on the impact of popular culture. His undergraduate thesis analysed the relationship between folk music and youth activism in the 1960s and this relationship in the wider context is a vein of study he is continuing to follow.

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