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FOUR years since the Grenfell disaster, that needless loss of the lives of 72 residents, yet we are no closer to accountability nor justice.
Phase two of the Grenfell Tower inquiry commenced in January 2020. It is now hearing Module three evidence for “Events in the lead-up to the fire.” The pandemic delayed panel sittings, then made them “virtual.”
Bereaved families, survivors and residents (BSRs) became armchair spectators, unable to look witnesses in the eye.
They heard excruciating evidence, in search of truth and accountability, from those responsible for the disaster.
So, what have we learned so far from phase two of the inquiry?
It has exposed a wretched building industry culture, in consequence of which thousands of households across the country are living in fear in their homes, waiting for another Grenfell to happen.
Leaseholders with no knowledge of the problems should not have to pay for greedy developers’ errors.
Outsourcing diminishes accountability and scrutiny. Poor regulation compounds the problem.
Add to this the toxicity of profit trumping safety, and then consider that in phase one of the inquiry the firefighters were blamed for their “response” to the fire on the night, “blaming the responders and not the responsible,” blaming a public service subjected to cuts of staff and stations, equipment and pay.
It seems that the construction industry exploits a network of contracts for friends, “free” lunches, faked fire tests, fraudulent certificates, back-handers and a laissez-faire regulatory framework.
The use of flammable cladding was “hidden” in plain sight. Cost-cutting by the local authority and Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation of £126,000 is roughly £1,774 for each of the 72 victims.
Profit is a priority over quality and safety standards. The former tenants were “bullied” and “stigmatised” and not listened to.
Voicelessness is a recurring theme in this inquiry. It seems that lives are cheap.
When phase two of the inquiry began, the corporates sought immunity, so the evidence they give cannot be used for criminal prosecution.
We saw the recent Hillsborough verdict on police officers accused of perverting the course of justice by amending officer statements.
Mr Justice William Davis ruled the Taylor inquiry did not even constitute a “course of public justice” that was capable of being perverted in the way alleged. There’s no legal recourse at a public inquiry.
The Grenfell disaster does not solely indict the building industry. Almost half of those who died in the fire were disabled adults or children. No personal emergency evacuation plans were in place for them.
The truth is we face social inequality every day of our lives, yet the Grenfell inquiry chose to exclude the issues of class and race from its terms of reference.
The inquiry must deliver the truth and accountability, but it should also educate and reform. If not, what can its purpose be?
When governments favour inquiries, they are hugely expensive and often plagued with delays, yet justice delayed is still justice denied.
There is no statutory obligation to act on any inquiry recommendation.
Indeed, if the government had acted on the inquiry findings following the Lakanal House fire in 2009, the fire at Grenfell Tower may have been prevented.
Furthermore, the criminal investigation into what happened at Grenfell will not report until after the inquiry is concluded.
How can bereaved families, survivors and communities have confidence in such a process?
The Labour Party amendment to the Fire Safety Bill seeking implementation of the phase one recommendations was voted down by the Tories.
It is in the gift of the government to grant an inquiry; they pick and choose.
Let us remember that the Orgreave justice campaigners have not yet been given one, although they have been asking since 1984.
If there is no legal force behind inquiry recommendations, what is their purpose and whose interests do they serve?
For Grenfell it seems possible the inquiry will enable those responsible to literally get away with murder.
Thank you to the unions for your continued support for our campaign. Special mention to the FBU.
We all need to stand with them as they return to give evidence at the inquiry later this year.
Sign the petition for the government to be obligated to implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry at mstar.link/GrenfellInquiry.
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