Those responsible for the Grenfell murder are desperately seeking to defer the blame. But we must not let them get away with this.
So far in the inquiry into the Grenfell disaster we have already seen statements from the Fire Brigade Union – which highlighted the faults in the tower’s fire safety – and from survivors, who have had to suffer smears on top of their losses.
On the other side of the parapet, we have had the likes of Celotex – who offered very little in their seven-point opening submission, other than attempts to avoid any involvement – as well as Rydon and CEP Architectural Facades, who offered nothing but obtuse proclamations.
In response, members of the inquiry counsel even went so far as to state that certain companies’ failures to engage with the inquiry are ‘inhumane’.
The inquiry was paused for a week during the anniversary of the tragedy, in order to give way to the memorials taking place, which marked a year since the avoidable deaths of so many.
The biggest and most important moment of the last round of reports was that which took place on day ten of the inquiry, when Behailu Kebede, the occupant of the flat where the fire is believed to have started, was finally given the opportunity to tell his story property.
Kebede lived in Grenfell tower for 25 years. But he was dragged through the mud by the right-wing media in the wake of the fire. The Sun and the Mail, amongst others, hounded him in a vicious, racist onslaught, making up lies in an attempt to use him as a scapegoat – a cover for capitalist crimes.
The gutter press yelled from the rooftops about him ‘packing a bag’ or ‘going on holiday days after the fire’. Some accused Kebede of starting the fire himself. This rabid hysteria of the Tory tabloids was even enough for the police to suggest that Kebede be put in witness protection.
But those in the community have always known that Kebede was innocent. The survivors and victims of the inferno never believed the lies and smears.
Kebede raised the alarm; he knocked on all his neighbours’ doors. And there was no packed bag. He left his flat barefoot, mobile in hand, as he called the emergency services several times. He stood shocked and stranded – just as all the other survivors did as they looked up at the tower in dread.
The Queen’s Counsel (QC) representing Kebede, Rajiv Menon, rightly stated: “He’s a good man. He did nothing wrong…He did the right thing from start to finish.”
Menon even went on to point the finger at the true culprits of this crime against the working class, boldly damning the Tory council.
“It’s no coincidence that this fire occurred in a building owned by a Tory authority that has been at the forefront of promoting austerity, cuts and deregulation as well as prioritising business over health and safety.”
Yet the Kensington and Chelsea council and Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) won’t go down without a fight. They will defend their unscrupulous behaviour until the last breath.
Their counsels, Maxwell-Scott and Ageros, argued on their behalves that somehow wealth and inequality were ‘irrelevant’ to the fire. They somehow believe that having some of the most expensive empty luxury flats in the country visible from cramped and detestable conditions is somehow not pertinent.
They even went as far as to suggest that the choice of cladding was just a matter of ‘energy efficiency’ and nothing more. This speaks volumes about their inability to grasp the situation at hand.
A huge revelation that cuts across the council’s line of argument has come to the inquiry through Martin Booth, a director of PSB, a company that made the ventilation system in the residence. Booth described how – just eight days before the fire – the system failed. It would have only cost £1,800 to fix it, but this was flatly ignored by a council that has £274m in reserves.
This was another factor that turned the tower into a “death trap”, as Danny Friedman QC aptly put it, resulting from “institutional and societal indifference”. (Though we would argue that indifference is too kind a description for the council’s behaviour over the decades.)
The Tory council and TMO continued their line of defence by saying that “it could have happened anywhere”. As if the corruption and scandals across other boroughs are a justification for their own crimes: their slow response to the fire; their callous pocket lining; and their sitting on millions of pounds whilst poverty deepens and former tenants still remain unhoused, sporadically spread around temporary accommodation that is unfit for habitation.
Those responsible are sorely mistaken if they think that we’ll ignore the blood on their hands. Details are piling up as the days pass: details about the ineptitude of privatisation; of how the council was reduced to a husk, selling off its public assets to the lowest bidder.
See, for example, how Stephen Hockman QC, representing Arconic (the cladding manufacturer), added that the material in the panels was “obviously combustible…but the supply was legal”. This only confirms how bourgeois laws, courts, and inquiries – backed up by capitalist politicians – are not capable of preventing such tragedies from happening.
Theresa May tactlessly offered an empty apology, stating that the Grenfell community “may never get closure from this disaster”. But this only serves to sum up how toothless the inquiry is perceived to be by those guilty. They believe that any outcome or report can just be brushed aside and put on a shelf somewhere to gather dust.
But these events have been seared into the collective memory of the working class. This crime – amongst many others – won’t be forgotten.