Grenfell – One Year On

A year ago, Grenfell Tower was still burning, and I woke up to hear the news on the radio. I didn’t know the block, though I’d walked through the area on various occasions. Often very different to now as I made my way to or from Latimer Rd station on my way to or from carnival.

I  lay in bed listening to the terrible news of people trapped, burning to death, some phoning to say goodbye to relatives and friends knowing there was little or no hope of rescue. Thinking of those too who had managed to make their way out, finding their way to the stairs through thick smoke and making their way down the stairs, floor by floor.  Many years before I’d walked down eleven flights from my room, but fortunately it was for a false alarm.

Once I got up I went to my computer and started looking things up about Grenfell. One of the first things I came to was the blog by some of the residents, the Grenfell Action Group. The post KCTMO – Playing with fire! which stated as inevitable that the fire would happen at some time was only the latest in a series of posts raising the residents concerns about fire safety in the black.

There are many other posts on the Grenfell Action Group’s blog worth reading, and which expose the cavalier attitude of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s council – councillors and officers – to those in the housing it owns as well as the council’s TMO to which it delegated management. There is also an excellent recent long interview with Eddie Daffarn from the group published by Channel 4 News last month.

One of the first serious reports on the fire and its physical causes was ‘The Truth about Grenfell Tower: A Report by Architects for Social Housing‘, also available as a PDF, published just five weeks after the fire – and much of what it contains came from a public meeting they organised only 8 days after it, and recorded in edited version in the film ‘The Truth About Grenfell Tower’ which is also on the ASH page.

The official response has of course been much slower, with hearings only recently getting under way and dragging on for many months. Many see the deliberately slow pace of this and other public inquiries as being a deliberate tactic to allow the guilty to escape judgement, and it seems unlikely to unearth much that isn’t already known. Mainly it – and other major inquiries – allow the parties involved to spend huge amounts employing barristers whose task is often more to obfuscate than elucidate. And of course earn large fees in the process.

Probably the least useful document to emerge about Grenfell is the recent publication by the London Review of Books,’The Tower‘ by author Andrew O’Hagan. In ‘O’Hagan And His Ivory Tower‘ the Grenfell Action Group publish a letter of complaint to the LRB by one of the local residents interviewed by O’Hagan who was appalled to see how her input, and that of others, was misrepresented, and how inaccurate much of the essay was.

The LRB also produced a film, ‘Grenfell: The End of an Experiment?‘ by Andrew Wilks, which is considerably better, although still at times attempting to cast the council as the victims rather than the perpetrators. But at least we see some of the evidence, and not just the author’s recasting of it and can make our own conclusions.

Also well worth reading is the long and detailed refutation of O’Hagan’s essay by Simon ELmer of ASH, ‘The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell‘.

Grenfell of course isn’t just about Grenfell and those who died and the survivors who are still suffering – and will continue to feel its effects for the rest of their lives. Grenfell is a symbol of a much wider malaise in our society, and the attitudes of the wealthy towards the poor. It’s perhaps a curious and largely unnoticed coincidence that the first issues of the anarchist magazine Class War were actually produced in Grenfell Tower, Ian Bone’s first London home.

Tonight I’ll be on the silent march marking the anniversary – one of a programme of events. There are also marches taking place in other cities.

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