Posts Tagged ‘firefighters’

Guantanamo, Firefighters, Advocacy, RMT & Lambeth Cuts

Friday, February 25th, 2022

Guantanamo, Firefighters, Advocacy, RMT & Lambeth Cuts. Wednesday 25th February 2015 was a busy day for protests in London, and I photographed five events.


Free Shaker Aamer at Parliament

The Free Shaker Aamer campaign protested for 4 hours at Parliament calling for the urgent release of London resident Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo, where he had been held for over 13 years and regularly tortured. Of course I didn’t stay with them that long – there aren’t really that many ways to photograph a fairly small group in orange jumpsuits – but it meant they were still there when I arrived over three hours after their protest began.

Usually their protests are at lunchtime, but because they had stayed longer I was able to photograph their weekly protest at around 3.30pm on my way to an event outside Downing St. They continued these protests while parliament was sitting until Shaker was released towards the end of 2015.


Striking Firefighters block traffic

Firefighters came out of their rally in Central Hall and blocked the road in front of Parliament. I don’t think the police tried to move their fellow public servants, who had a large black balloon with the message ‘FBU – WE RESCUE PEOPLE, NOT BANKS! STOP THE CUTS’ as well as several banners.

After around ten minutes they marched down to Downing St, blocking much of Whitehall. In front of the gates to Downing St there was a very noisy protest, and police did come and talk with In front of the gates to Downing St there was a very noisy protest, and police did come and talk with FBU leader Matt Wrack and promised to try to get someone to come out and talk with them.

They were still waiting when I left – and I think they would still be waiting now before anyone representing our Tory government came.


Welfare Advocacy not a Crime

A short walk away in Caxton Street people were protesting outside the Dept of Work & Pensions in a nationwide day of action over the arrest of welfare rights activist Tony Cox.

Although by law welfare claimants are allowed to have an adviser present with them at job centre interviews, when a claimant arrived together with Cox his interview was cancelled. And later that day police arrived at Cox’s home, arresting him and charging him with threatening behaviour.

When his case came to court in October the prosecution had to drop the main charges. A month after the first hearing Cox was found guilty of refusing to supply person details to the police and fined £200 and admonished on the charge of hindering the officers.


RMT protest Underground Job Cuts

Despite earlier promises, Transport for London were planning to go ahead with a 50% cut in station staffing, closing ticket offices such as the well-used one at the busy Edgware Road station on the Bakerloo Line.

Things threatened to get nasty with some angry exchanges when police tried to move RMT members handing out leaflets to the public, but the RMT members insisted on their right to do so on the pavement outside the station entrance.


Lambeth against £90m cuts

Another tube journey changing at Oxford Circus from the Bakerloo to the Victoria Line took me south of the river to Brixton where a short distance from the station a lively rally was taking place on the street corner outside Lambeth Town Hall.

Around a hundred trade unionists, pensioners, library and other council staff, social housing tenants and other residents were there to tell councillors arriving for a council meeting to reject library closures and other £90 millon cuts.

It was now around 6pm, and in late February the sun sets around 5.30, so it was getting rather dark. Although I had both flash and LED lighting, neither is much use for lighting larger groups of people, and even on the corner of two major roads the streetlighting a few yards back was pretty poor. Thankfully digital cameras are considerably better than film under such conditions and I was able to get good results at ISO 3200.


More on all these on My London Diary:

Lambeth against £90m cuts
RMT protest Underground Job Cuts
Welfare Advocacy not a Crime
Striking Firefighters block traffic
Free Shaker Aamer at Parliament


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15th June 2019

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Grenfell protest at Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Saturday 15th July was one of those days when my local station has no trains. I don’t think it used to happen, or at least only very rarely, before we privatised the railways, but it seems to be happening on quite a few weekends every year now. At first when these weekends began there was complete chaos, with unmarked rail replacement buses where the only way to find out if they were going the right way for you was to ask the driver, who usually knew, though often didn’t know how to get there and had to send a call out to passengers asking if anyone knew where the station was.

Closed Fire Station in Ashford

One one memorable occasion a passenger directed a double-decker down a road that, although it was the route I might have walked, narrows halfway down to rather less than bus width. After a very tricky and lengthy reverse we got back to the main road and drove on, past the correct turning. I and other passengers jumped out of our seats to tell the driver. He drove on, looking desperately for somewhere to turn the bus in busy narrow streets, finally doing a 3 or 4 point turn where the main road widened a little almost a mile on. This time as we cam back we made sure he turned left at the correct point.

Grenfell – 72 Dead and still no arrests How Come?

After a few such incidents, things did get sorted out more, but still too often the rail replacement bus arrived a couple of minutes late and missed its supposed connection – apparently no one had the authority to hold it for the bus. A journey that usually took 35 minutes often ended up close to two hours (and I’d face similar chaos on the way home.) So unless there was something really important to photograph I often stayed home.

Yvette Williams demanding the Truth and Justice For Grenfell

My alternative was to take a bus to Heathrow or Hatton Cross where I could join the Underground, and this became more viable once I could simply swipe a credit card to pay for the ride. It was still a slow journey, but more reliable than the rail replacement lottery. And on Saturday 15 June I took the bus and made a few pictures on the way from the upper deck.

It was the day after the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died, and Justice For Grenfell had organised a solidarity march, starting and finishing at Downing St. After some speeches at Downing St, we marched to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government offices in the Home Office building to protest there, with a few more speeches before leaving to march back to Downing St for a final rally.

The event was supported by housing and building safety campaigners including Defend Council Housing and by branches of the Fire Brigades Union from around the UK.

As I walked through Parliament Square on my way to take the tube to another protest, I stopped briefly to photograph two events there. One was ‘We are the Love’ for Idlib inspired by the Black Eyed Peas song Where’s the love? to raise awareness about the massacre currently unfolding in the province of Idlib in Syria. Just along from this line of people holding large cards each with a letter of their message, and a drummer and a piper, was a small and quieter protest about the wrongful conviction of Brendan Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach in Wisconsin in 2005. The long and convoluted case which reflects badly on both the local police and the US legal system was the subject of a lenghty TV series.

By now I thought I would be too late to join the Hands Off Sudan march at its start at the UAE Embassy and guessed they might have got as far as the Egyptian Embassy, but when I arrived found just a few there waiting for the march. So I began to walk back on what I thought might be their route. I heard them before I could see them as I walked across Hyde Park corner, and the large and noisy crowd emerged from Grosvenor Cresecent as I turned down Grosvenor Place.

They were protesting after 124 peaceful protesters were massacred by Janjaweed militias (Rapid Support Forces) in Khartoum. Protests had begun in December and appeared to be causing a peaceful transition to democracy, removing corrupt president al-Bashir, until the heads of the ruling military council visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, all countries opposed to a democratic Sudan – and today’s march was going to each of their embassies.

The marchers seemed to be stopping every few yards around Hyde Park Corner and singing and dancing and shouting slogans. Half an hour after I met them they had only moved on a few hundred yards are were slowly making their way up Park Lane. I felt I had taken enough photographs and went back to Hyde Park Corner for the slow journey home via Hatton Cross.

Hands off Sudan march
‘We are the Love’ for Idlib
Grenfell Solidarity March
Staines, Heathrow, Bedfont


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Grenfell Solidarity March

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

Grenfell was very much on our minds in the middle of June, around the second anniversary of the fire in which at least 72 people died, as it is now with the publication of the first part of the Grenfell Inquiry report. As well as the monthly silent march close to the tower on the actual anniversary, there was also a solidarity march the following day in Westminster.

Grenfell tower was built to resist the spread of fire. A fire in any single flat should have been confined to that flat for two hours, with a door designed to resist fire for at least an hour and a half. It had a single staircase that should have remained smoke free for two hours, allowing the safe exit of residents and for firefighters to climb up to fight the fire and rescue those living there.

Had Grenfell been properly maintained and kept as designed there would have been no deaths. The tower was designed so that the ‘Stay Put’ policy was safe, but the building had been altered in various ways – including but not only the addition of highly flammable and incorrectly installed cladding – which made it a death trap. Residents had pointed this out to before the fire, but their complaints had been ignored and those making them threatened.

Had the building been properly inspected these faults would almost certainly have become clear. But we had a government that considered safety regulations as “red tape” and saw inspections as an opportunity for private enterprise rather than public good. And the owners and managers of the building were interested in cutting costs and making it look more attractive to people on the outside rather than any concern about the safety of the residents.

The fire at Grenfell should have been a minor incident, quickly dealt with and causing no injuries of death, rather than the inferno we saw which killed so many. The inquiry suggestion that more could have been saved had the ‘stay put’ policy been abandoned earlier appears unsound. Had there been no such policy in place at the start of the fire more might well have escaped, but it is a general policy in place across all high rise residential buildings designed and built to the same standards as Grenfell and for good reason.

It’s failure at Grenfell was not the fault of the fire brigade, and by the time it was clear to firefighters that the building had failed the staircase, the only means of escape was filled with dense toxic smoke. Firefighters needed breathing apparatus and risked their lives to try and rescue those trapped inside. The inquiry report seems to deliberately contradict the evidence of experts including those who were actually there fighting the fire.

Many firefighters were at this march, including some who had risked their lives to save those inside Grenfell, but many more from around Britain. There are legitimate criticisms in the report about the equipment they had, though these are largely down to cuts made by the government and London Mayor Boris Johnson rather than the fire chiefs. The FBU had certainly warned that the cuts would mean more people dying and this event proved them right. Firefighters going into the building knew they were risking their lives – and as they went in were instructed to write their names on their helmets to make their dead or unconscious bodies recognisable. Thanks to their skill and training – and luck – no firefighters died and they rescued many.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
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Grenfell scapegoat scandal

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

I hadn’t expected much of the official report into the Grenfell fire, but was still shocked when details of it were released that is was so clear and determined an attempt to shift blame onto the London Fire Brigade. Monumental scapegoating is no way to get at the truth, and hindsight is always cheap.

Had the LFB known what people in the TMO and Kensington and Chelsea council responsible for the cladding and the failure to properly maintain the building knew – and that the complaints by residents about fire safety had been ignored – or worse, they could be blamed for incorrect advice. But the council had deliberately hidden the truth about the building.

The Tory government too had played its part, cutting what it described as “red tape” over building regulations and allowing private companies to carry out essential safety inspections at cut price, which at best meant cutting corners and at worst simply not doing the job.

It was Boris Johnson as London Mayor who made sweeping cuts to the LFB, severely diminishing their capability to deal with fires such as this. Despite the number of high rise properties in London the service had to call on Surrey for an engine capable of dealing with a building of this height. Firefighters protested on the streets against the cuts to their capabilities driven by a Tory government and the Mayor.

Protest against closing fire stations in 2013

You can read the comments of an experienced and now retired fire-fighter on the “Stay Put” policy, who states he has attended “dozens upon dozens of fires in high rise residential buildings.” These buildings are designed to contain any fire within one flat, and would normally burn themselves out even without the fire brigade turning up. It didn’t work at Grenfell mainly becuase the building had been covered by cladding which some have described as “like petrol“. But the LFB didn’t know that. SteveDude68’s post includes a telling photograph of a serious high-rise fire he was in command of tackling in Bow in July 2018, “much more serious at the outset (than Grenfell) but extinguished within 20 minutes. ” Flames and a huge plume of black smoke pour out of the windows of the one flat, but nothing from the rest of the tower. Contrast this with the pictures of Grenfell.

It shouldn’t have taken this long to get at the truth about the fire – and of course it didn’t. Architects for Social Housing released their report The Truth about Grenfell Tower around 5 weeks after the disaster, and little has changed since then. After a similar fire in Japan, those responsible were in court just over a month later.

I’ll end with a quote from a comment today from the Facebook group Grenfell – The truth is out there :

Please remember the names of those directly responsible for what happened:
RYDON
ARCONIC
EXOVA
CEP
KCTMO
Please remember that the residents warned the KCTMO for years about their concerns.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.