|Moyra Samuels speaking|
By Theo Russell
Warnings of protests at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry were heard this week as anger and frustration mount over the direction of the inquiry at a meeting between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the local community close to the site of the fire, the worst in the UK since the Blitz.
Frustration and anger is mounting at the direction of the inquiry, where the presiding judge initially refused to take any questions from community members.
Moyra Samuels of the Justice4Grenfell campaign received loud applause from survivors and local community members at the meeting last Tuesday when she said: “There should be protests outside the inquiry, to show the judge that people are not happy with it.”
Her call was backed up by Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, who said: “If a total ban on the use of external flammable cladding is not announced, maybe we should start protesting against the inquiry.”
Samuels told the meeting: “We are a tough community but unfortunately we discovered that through the fire at Grenfell. We need truth, accountability, change and justice.”
She dubbed Kensington & Chelsea council, the richest in Britain, “the Royal Borough of Murder and Profit”, and said that “trust between the North Kensington community and the council had broken down long before the fire”.
“We were told by fire experts that the refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower was safe, yet now a QC has told the Inquiry that it was actually a death trap. We have discovered that profit is more important than people.”
Matt Wrack added that a parliamentary committee was warned as far back as 1999 that faulty cladding posed serious fire hazards.
Now the inquiry has heard from Angelo Lucchini, an Italian architectural engineer, that the cladding used at Grenfell was equivalent to dousing the building with 32,000 litres of petrol, “enough to fill approximately 600 cars”.
The FBU is calling for a total ban on flammable cladding, which is used for weather and sound proofing, yet incredibly so far the inquiry has shown no signs of calling for a total ban.
The government has admitted that the cladding used at Grenfell was unlawful, yet instead of calling for a complete ban is carrying out a consultation on the use of combustible materials, in which companies making the cladding will take part.
Matt Wrack told the meeting that “very powerful forces are lobbying against a ban, and they have the ear of the government”. These companies are part of a multi-billion pound building, construction and property industry.
Wrack said that before Grenfell no tests were conducted on combustible cladding, which has also been used on hundreds of blocks across Britain, but since the fire dozens of tests have all failed safety requirements.
He said the FBU is also calling for a thorough review of fire and building regulations, which have been gutted in the last 20 years, and cuts to fire brigades. In 2015–2016 there was a 15 per cent rise in fire deaths in London.
Ten fire stations and 600 firefighter posts were cut during Boris Johnson’s term as London Mayor. On the day of the tragedy firefighters had to call for assistance from neighbouring brigades, yet even then had to work in the tower for 12 hours or more with no chance of being relieved.
The FBU has complained to the inquiry about its choice of expert witnesses, who include the same Chief Fire Officers who supported service cuts and deregulation.
Fifteen months on from the fire many survivors are still in temporary accommodation. The day after the fire a survivor said the tower was an “accident waiting to happen”, adding: “For years they’ve abused our community.”
Concerns about the tower’s safety began years before the fire and in 2013 the council threatened Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn with legal action after he blogged about fire safety concerns, including power surges that caused computers and stereos to blow up filling rooms with smoke.
In a blog in November 2016 Daffam warned: "It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord."
Over 100 people living in the block told an emergency residents’ meeting on the Grenfell refurbishment in 2015 that the council’s Tenant Management Organisation and the contractors were “using cheap materials and cutting corners”.
The day after the tragedy one of the messages on the tribute wall nearby read “Justice for Grenfell. Jail those responsible”. That is still what the community is demanding, and they want the cladding contractors and the senior politicians responsible to be included.