Updated with latest developments 2/10/18
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 and the local community close to the site of the fire.
The community is increasingly concerned at the direction of the inquiry into the UK’s worst fire since the Blitz in WW2, where the presiding judge initially refused to take any questions from community members and survivors.
Moyra Samuels of the Justice 4 Grenfell campaign received loud applause from the meeting on Monday night 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, Fire Brigades Union 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 and 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 said 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 backing a ban.
Initially the British government launched a consultation in which companies making the cladding would take part, despite an official admission that the cladding used at Grenfell was unlawful.
This was viewed by campaigners as an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass and completely unacceptable.
However, under growing pressure from the Labour Party on its policies and in opinion polls, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire is due to announce a ban on combustible cladding is to be banned for all new schools, hospitals, care homes, student accommodation and residential buildings in England above 18m at the Conservative Party conference.
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.
It now seems those companies will be losing out in a clear victory for the FBU and the Justice4Grenfell campaign.
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 fire safety requirements.
He said the FBU is also calling for a thorough review of fire and building regulations, which have been decimated in the past 20 years, and cuts to fire brigade services.
Ten fire stations and 600 firefighter posts were cut in the capital during Boris Johnson’s term as London Mayor, and 2015-2016 saw a 15% rise in fire deaths in London.
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 de-regulation.
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 emerged years before the fire. In 2013 the council threatened Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn with legal action after he blogged about fire safety, including power surges which caused computers and stereos to blow up filling rooms with smoke.
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 Grenfell residents claimed ay an emergency Town Hall meeting in 2015 on the block’s refurbishment 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.