Posts Tagged ‘Grenfell’

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell.
Protests in London on 14th April 2018 calling for Land Justice, against Turkey’s support of Assad in Syria and ten months after the Grenfell fire.


The Landlords’ Game – Mayfair, Belgravia & Brompton

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell

I photographed a tour of London’s wealthiest areas led by the Land Justice Network which reminded us that land ownership in Britain is one of the most unequal in the world, both in rural areas and in cities.

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell

This unequal ownership of land is the basis of our class system and the aggregation of wealth and inequality that have led to our present crisis levels of homelessness and degradation. Largely beginning with the Norman conquest, the battles over land have continued over the centuries, with the enclosure of common land and the current redevelopment of public land, particularly council estates, as private housing for the wealthy.

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell

The tour began in Mayfair, where the land is largely owned by the Duke of Westminster, along with much more of the London borough, although the family’s Grosvenor Group Limited has diversified and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grosvenor_Group according to Wikipedia also owns properties in other parts of Britain and Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia, the Asia Pacific region and parts of Europe.

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell
British Virgin Islands is an offshore tax haven where 23,000 properties in England and Wales are registered as a tax scam

From a rally at its meeting point in Brown Hart Gardens where there were songs and speeches by the Land Justice Network, the Landworkers Alliance, the tour including activists from Class War and the Revolutionary Communist Group marched to Grosvenor Square where we listed to a surprisingly lucid account of the anti-Vietnam war protest there on 27th October 1968. I think I was there too, but other than a vague recollection of wildly charging police horses and panic can remember little – and in those days I didn’t even have a camera that worked.

We moved off, stopping briefly at a house known to have been left empty for around 15 years, one of many such empty properties in a city with a huge housing shortage to call for councils to be able to levy truly punitive council tax or requisition long-term empty properties.

A short distance along the road we stopped at ‘Grouse House’ owned by Odey Asset Management whose owner Crispin Odey formed ‘You Forgot the Birds’ to oppose RSPB who want to stop the killing of birds for what is wrongly called sport.

There was a speech by Private Eye journalist Richard Brooks who with his colleague Christian Eriksson set about untangling the great offshore corporate web that covers the country – and you can download his report Tax Havens – Selling England By The Offshore Pound from the Private Eye web site.

Kat from the RCG (Revolutionary Communist Group) also spoke, reminding us that the CIty of London is a huge3 tax haven and the money laundering capital of the world.

The tour continue to Park Lane, where there was a short protest outside estate agent Foxtons which sells and rents some of the most expensive property in London, and Class War were prominent in pointing out that both the Tory government and the Labour local authorities have relied on estate agents to direct their housing strategies.

The tour stopped again on Park Lane outside the Grosvenor House Hotel, the venue for the notorious annual Property Developers Awards before crossing into Hyde Park, open to the public since 1637, but where we were reminded of the battles to make many other parks public, and how now many have only been saved by the growth of groups of volunteer ‘Friends’. We also heard a plea for more free public toilets. Many were closed in the 1980s because of a ‘gay scare’ and others such as those at Hyde Park Corner now charge for use – 50p a visit here.

Across Knightsbridge we walked along one of the most expensive streets in Britain, Grosvenor Crescent to a statue of the first Marquess of Westminster on the corner of Belgrave Square, which has a plaque stating the family came here with William the Conqueror. He divided out the conquered land and many great estates date from then, though the Grosvenor Estate holdings in London came to them when 3rd Baronet Sir Thomas Grosvenor married Mary Davies, the heiress to the 500 acre Manor of Ebury in 1677. He was 21 at the time, but she was only 12. The estate, then largely swamps later became Mayfair, Park Lane and Belgravia.

A left the tour here for a few minutes to photograph the Hizb Ut-Tahrir protest outside the Turkish Embassy, but rejoined it later at the final rally in Cadogan Square, part of the 93 acres of the Cadogan Estate which includes the wealthiest parts of Kensington & Chelsea. Much of the money which enabled Sir Hans Sloane to buy the Manor of Chelsea came from African slave labour on sugar estates in Jamaica. His daughter Elizabeth Sloane married Charles Cadogan in 1712.


Hizb Ut-Tahrir protest against Turkey – Turkish Embassy, Belgrave Square

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell

Hizb Ut-Tahrir Britain, Sunni Muslims who call for the restoration of the Muslim caliphate which whose armies conquered much of the Middle East in 632-661CE, were protesting against Turkish complicity in handing Syria back to Assad in accordance with colonial interests and calling for Muslims to support the brave people of Palestine who “are raising their voices to speak out and protest against the illegal occupation, as they are mercilessly killed by the Zionist regime.”

Women were strictly segregated from men at the protest and some stewards were unhappy for me to photograph them.

Their criticism of Turkey goes back to the 1922 abolition of the Ottoman state and the Turkish recognition of the Zionist occupation of Palestine in 1949, and they accuse President Erdogan of strengthening Turkish military and economic ties with Israel. They claim the Turkish state is a secular state “whose role is to protect the colonialist’s interests in our lands, defending and strengthening our enemies who murder us in Syria and Palestine” and call on “Muslims to join us to STAND, STRUGGLE AND SACRIFICE FOR PALESTINE.”


Grenfell – 10 months on – Kensington Town Hall

Land Justice, Hizb Ut-Tahrir & Grenfell

A large crowd was assembling at Kensington Town Hall for the monthly silent walk marking 10 months since the disaster. They hold Kensington and Chelsea Council responsible for the tragedy and for failing to deal effectively with is aftermath, with many survivors still not properly rehoused.

Five years later a public inquiry is still proceeding at a snail’s pace, and there have been no prosecutions of those responsible for approving and installing the highly dangerous cladding on the tower block, for cutting costs, for failing to install the cladding properly, for governments cutting out essential safety regulations which their friends in the building industry thought were ‘red tape’ hampering profits and it looks unlikely if there will ever be justice. Instead we have seen politicians trying to blame the residents for not leaving the building and almost entirely unjustified criticism of the fire service.

There were some speeches, poetry and music before the silent march began, and then a very noisy protest by bikers from the Ace Cafe including Muslim bikers Deen Riders and others taking part in a United Ride 4 Grenfell, from the Ace Cafe on the North Circular Rd, riding to Parliament and then coming to Kensington Town Hall.

The long silent walk towards Grenfell Tower began immediately after the bikers left, and I followed it for a short distance before turning away and leaving to make my way home.


More at:
Grenfell silent walk – 10 months on
Bikers for Grenfell
Hizb Ut-Tahrir protest against Turkey
The Landlords’ Game


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Grenfell Six Months On – 2017

Tuesday, December 14th, 2021

Today it is four and a half years after the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower which began early in the morning of 14th June 2017, killing 72 people and injuring over 70 others. And many or all of those who escaped will suffer from both physical and mental effects of the night for the rest of their lives, as too will many of the firefighters and other emergency workers.

The pictures here come from the monthly slow and silent walk to demand justice and remembering those killed at Grenfell Tower six months after the fire on Thursday 14th December 2017.

The fire was an event waiting to happen, and warnings of the danger by residents and neighbours had been ignored by the building managers. The reasons the fire spread as it did were almost immediately obvious and rapidly published including the report by Architects For Social Housing, The Truth about Grenfell Tower which came out around five weeks later.

Rather than take action against those responsible, a public inquiry was set up, and began three months later. It’s main effect has been to delay justice, and its first sessions and report were largely devoted in trying to shift blame on to London Fire Brigade, whose efforts on the night had showed incredible determination and bravery.

Cuts in the London Fire Service made by Boris Johnson when he was London Mayor had left them both understaffed and under-equipped, while earlier privatisation of some of the fire inspection and certification allowed dangerous conditions of buildings including this to go unchecked. The LFB did not have a suitable fire engine for dealing with the high rise fire, and one had to be brought from Surrey.

Governments of both parties over the years had weakened the regulations and inspections in the name of ‘cutting red tape’, responding to lobbying from the building industry, which allowed both highly flammable cladding to be use, and also for it to be incorrectly installed without essential safety gaps.

With tall blocks that meet proper safety standards a fire like this which began with a faulty refrigerator in a single flat would have been contained within that single flat. Many such fires have taken place and been contained, sometimes with most other residents of the building being completely unaware of them. Had Grenfell not been wrongly fitted with unsuitable cladding this would have been the case here, though there were also other problems particularly with the stairways and dry riser that made escape and fighting the fire much more dangerous.

Had the LFB been aware of the problems they were to face things would have been very different (and they would have called for the building to be shut down and the faults rectified.) But they arrived at the fire ignorant of the many defects, and were met with a situation which was for them unprecedented. With hindsight it is possible to say they could have made a decision to go against all their training on fires in tall blocks and try to evacuate the building earlier, but I think it unfair to blame them for not doing so.

The public inquiry continues, and has shed some more light on the details of the crimes that led to those 72 deaths, but seems mainly to have been taken up by those eager to shift responsibility from their actions to others.

Tonight, 14th December 2021, four and a half years later, another silent walk will take place, gathering at Kensington Town Hall at 6pm to start at 6.30pm. This is the first for 18 months due to Covid. The invitation from Grenfell United states:

“We invite you to join us on our Silent Walk in our campaign for Justice.

To show those responsible we are not going anywhere until we have real Change and Justice. So another Grenfell never happens again.”

Grenfell United

More about the walk in 2017: Grenfell Silent Walk – 6 months on


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Fire Risk Tower Blocks

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

Newham 12 August 2017

Ferrier Point, Canning Town

In the now over four years since the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 there has been little change and no reckoning, with a tediously slow inquiry taking place that began by shifting blame unfairly onto the firefighters but is at last making clear some of the deliberate failures by local government, manufacturers and installers of the fatal cladding and others with a complete disregard for the safety of those living in the tower.

Cladding was not of course the only issue, and there were many other failings that led to the terrible loss of life. Most basic was the attitude of governments of both parties towards health and safety issues, describing essential safety regulations as “red tape” and dismantling what were essential checks to increase the profitability of builders and developers and reduce the liabilities of building owners. It was a system that needed reforming and strengthening, perhaps learning from practice in other countries to provide effective control and not abandoning to commercial whim.

Most of what has emerged in the inquiry only reinforces what was already made clear from informed reports – such as that by Architects for Social Housing – within weeks of the fire, adding truly shameful detail to the broader outline. It surely should have come out in courts within months of the fire and some of those responsible might well be behind bars and companies charged with massive fines, and the main point of the inquiry seems to be to prevent the course of justice.

A resident of Tanner Point speaking

Local authorities and building owners have been forced to inspect their high-rise properties, and the government has provided at lest some of the money it promised to replace unsafe cladding in the public sector. But little has been done for those living in private blocks who are still living in fear and now pay increased charges for extra fire safety provisions. A parliamentary briefing paper estimates the total cost of replacement of unsafe cladding at around £15m, and so far government has come up with a third of that. Government policy has changed from the initial promise to fund “remediation of historical safety defects, to a suggestion that leaseholders should be protected from unaffordable costs” and even the provision for a low interest scheme to ensure they would not pay more than £50 a month has failed to materialise despite the promise in the current Building Safety Bill.

In August 2017, a number of tower blocks in the London borough of Newham were found to have unsafe cladding. Housing activists Focus E15 Mothers led a demonstration putting pressure on the council to act urgently to make the blocks safe. The council came to a decision the following month to remove the cladding though work to do so only began in April 2018.

The march began at Ferrier Point in Canning Town, with other groups including East End Sisters Uncut, Movement for Justice, the Socialist Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, One Housing campaigners and Whitechapel Anarchists joining Focus E15 and some tower block residents.

From there they marched to Tanner Point in Plaistow North for a longer rally outside, including some speeches from tower residents. Then came another long march to Stratford and the Carpenters Estate.

The Carpenters Estate was a popular estate, close to Stratford station and the town centre, and was viewed by the council as a prime opportunity for highly profitable redevelopment schemes, wanting to demolish the estate which is well-planned and in good condition. Focus E15 led opposition that in 2013 ended plans for UCL to set up a new campus here and have constantly urged the council to bring back people to the estate where despite a critical housing shortage in the borough, 400 good homes had been kept empty for over 10 years. The march ended with a ‘hands around the Carpenters Estate’ solidarity event against decanting, demolition and social cleansing.

More pictures at Fire Risk Tower Blocks.


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.


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 4 Years On – Still No Justice

Monday, June 14th, 2021

Like many I woke up on the morning of 14th June 2017 to the news of a terrible fire that had engulfed a tower block in North Kensington with horrific stories of the death of so many trapped in the building, particularly on its upper floors. It had begun early in the morning after I had gone to bed and switched off my computer and phone, so I hadn’t got the text from an agency asking if I could go there. Clearly by the time I woke up to the morning news the area was swamped by the media and I decided not to add to the pressure on the survivors and the local residents who were traumatised by what they had seen and heard.

I was shocked by the news, but not surprised. It came after years when the government – particularly the coalition, but others too – had been attacking health and safety measures as ‘red tape’ and making cuts to the fire service, particularly in London, that I’d reported on. And after years of attacks by local and national governments on social housing. Though I was shocked to find that the London Fire Service, thanks to cuts made by the London Mayor Boris Johnson, now longer had an appliance to deal with fires in such high-rise buildings and had to call on the neighbouring suburban Surrey Fire Services for one.

I then knew enough about the design of such towers to understand that this fire should not have been possible. If design and building regulations had been followed it should have been confined to the flat were it started and quickly burned out. Instead the videos clearly showed its rapid spread up the outside of the buildings.

It took only a few weeks for the basic facts behind the fire to be discovered, with Architects for Social Housing in particular producing a straightforward account of the many faults, The Truth about Grenfell Tower on July 21st. Their report not only identified the various faults in the type of cladding and in particular its incorrect installation, but also of the lack of proper oversight in large schemes such as this and the culpability of local councillors and officers.

An unnamed senior architect stated at the end of a lengthy comment to ASH,

‘Since PFI was introduced by Thatcher we have a legacy of hundreds, if not thousands, of sub-standard buildings – schools, hospitals, police stations, etc – that the taxpayer is still paying extortionate rents for under the terms of the 30-year lease-back deal that is PFI. This is her legacy of cosy relationships between local authorities, quangos and their chummy contractors. It is a culture of de-regulation, of private profit before public good. Thomas Dan Smith, the Leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965, went to gaol in 1974 for dodgy dealings with local authorities in property development, albeit from a different motivation; but what the public must demand and get now over the Grenfell Tower fire are criminal convictions, and soon.’

https://architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk/2017/07/21/the-truth-about-grenfell-tower-a-report-by-architects-for-social-housing/

What should have followed in the next few months was the criminal trial of those responsible, after which there could perhaps have been a public inquiry in particular looking at the lessons to be learnt and the changes in laws required. Instead we got the usual empty rhetoric from politicians and and public inquiry that was set up in September 2017 but only began taking evidence in June 2018. Much of its first phase was concerned with trying to transfer responsibility from the faults of the building and those responsible for it onto the London Fire Brigade, who had acted heroically on the night and managed to rescue many, and in particular to demonises LFB’s Dany Cotton, who shortly afterwards took early retirement.

This report by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, selected by Theresa May to lead the enquiry should and hopefully will be seen as an incredible indictment of our public inquiry system, which seems to exist to push issues into the very long grass and allow the guilty to escape any real judgement allowing them to spend millions on barristers to muddy the waters and save their skins. The firefighters and the survivors don’t have that protection.

The enquiry continues with some startling testimonies from those responsible for the defective refurbishment and councillors and officers as well as from residents. So far these broadly repeat and support the conclusions of the July 2017 ASH report – but it has taken almost 4 years longer. It’s hard to read some of the testimonies and not think that person should be in jail. But the chances of any justice for Grenfell still seem remote.

In the days after the fire I went on several protests and four days later made my way to see for myself and, like others pay my respects to the dead. The pictures with this article are from that visit. Since I’ve returned for some of the monthly silent walks and other protests in the area, though these have been suspended for Covid.


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.


Landlords, Turkey in Syria, Grenfell

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

In 2018 I began the day on 14th April with a tour of some of the plushiest areas of London on a tour led by the Land Justice Network. Land ownership in Britain, both in urban and rural areas is among the most unequal across the world.

As I noted on My London Diary:

Unequal ownership of land is the basis of the class system and the aggregation of wealth and inequality that have led to our present crisis levels of homelessness and degradation. Largely beginning with the Norman conquest, the battles over land have continued over the centuries, with the enclosure of common land and the current redevelopment of public land, particularly council estates, as private housing for the wealthy.

The Landlords’ Game

Much of the London Borough of Westminster is owned by the Duke of Westminster, and our tour stopped for informational speeches at various points in Mayfair and Park Lane, part of the Grosvenor Estate, now “an internationally diversified property group” founded in 1677 when Sir Thomas Grosvenor, whose family owned large areas in Cheshire, married the heiress of the manor of Ebury, which included much of what is now Mayfair, Belgravia and Pimlico. Wikipedia has a long list of the other properties around the world the group now own, and the 7th Duke of Westminster and is family fortunes is estimated at £10.1 billion – now 30, he was until his recent birthday the world’s richest person under 30.

The tour ended in another of the huge London estates, the Cadogan estate owned by the Cadogan family, which Wikipedia states covers 93 acres of Kensington & Chelsea and came from the daughter of Sir Hans Sloane who had bought the Manor of Chelsea in 1712 marrying the second Baron Cadogan. The family is said to be worth £6.7 billion.

I left the tour as it was coming to an end to walk back to Belgrave Square, named after one of the Cheshire villages owned by the Grosvenor family, where Hizb Ut-Tahrir Britain were protesting outside the Turkish Embassy against Turkish complicity in handing Syria back to Assad. Their criticisms of Turkey go back to the 1922 abolition of the Ottoman state and the Turkish recognition of the Zionist occupation of Palestine in 1949, and they see the Palestinian struggle for freedom as a part of the fight for an Islamic Caliphate across the Middle East.

But it was the 14th of the month and I was on my way to the monthly protests calling for justice over the fire which killed over 70 people at Grenfell tower. These protests have been silent marches, but the first event on this day at Kensington Town Hall was far from silent as bikers from the Ace Café including Muslim bikers Deen Riders and others taking part in a United Ride 4 Grenfell, from the Café on the North Circular Rd, riding to Parliament and then to Kensington Town Hall roared past the waiting marchers.

Coming up to four years later, we have still to see any justice over Grenfell, where the failures of the Kensington & Chelsea Council to have any real regard for the safety of residents, and by those who recommended unsafe materials and carried out the improper installation, those who gave false safety certificates, the politicians who decided essential safety measures were ‘red tape’ that should be cut, the Mayor who cut the fire service and others have not yet led to any prosecutions.

So far the prolonged enquiry has simply tried to shift blame onto the fire service, with unfair criticism of their incredible efforts to save victims and seems more and more to be a way to ensure that most of those who should bear responsibility escape scot-free. I’m not convinced that these silent walks are the best way to bring pressure to get some action – but at least on this day the bikers made some noise.

I went with the marchers for a short distance as they silently made their way back towards Grenfell, and then left. It had been a long day and I had much work to do to at home, filing my pictures of the events.

Grenfell silent walk – 10 months on
Bikers for Grenfell
Hizb Ut-Tahrir protest against Turkey
The Landlords’ Game


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.


Walk for Grenfell

Monday, December 14th, 2020

Every 14th of each month, my thoughts return to the terrible tragic events of 14th June 2017. It’s now three and a half years ago, and still none of those responsible for some of the worst crimes in our history which led up to the fire has been brought to justice, and with an inquiry that has seemed to be largely concerned with diverting blame it seems less and less likely that any of the criminals will ever be prosecuted and jailed.

I wrote the piece below back in November 2017, but it was never published, so here it is now, exactly as written.


The fire at Grenfell Tower shocked us all.  There was a huge immediate media response, and I felt that there was little point in my going there and adding to this, yet another photographer.  I felt my presence would do nothing to help the people and might well aggravate their distress.

As more emerged about what had led up to the disaster I felt an increasing anger. Although the council hadn’t actually lit a match, they had clearly created a situation in which what should have been a small and insignificant fire could lead to a major catastrophe by a serious of failures and deliberate acts that each increased the risks to those living in the block, compounded by a government who had seen vital safety legislation as red tape and successive administrations that had failed to set proper standards and to properly enforce those that existed.

Then came Kensington and Chelsea Council’s almost complete failure to properly respond to the disaster, a lack of urgency and lack of competence. Part of their failure that led to the deaths was a failure to listen to the community who had pointed out some of the major problems and they still are not listening – and the official inquiry appears to be taking the same route, making many feel it will be just an empty exercise.

Over the months since the fire I realised how many people I knew were in some way involved, some as volunteers, doing the work that councils and other bodies should have done, others in other ways. I still didn’t feel I could commit myself to Grenfell in a way that was truly meaningful, but did feel able to at least do a little on the issues, including covering the monthly ‘Silent Walk for Grenfell’.

I’m wasn’t sure what I felt about the silent walk. Obviously it is important to keep the community together and to keep the memory of Grenfell, but perhaps something more is needed than a event that takes place largely out of sight in the area around the tower, emerging only briefly into the stronger light of Ladbroke Grove.  And a few months later, in February, the walk organisers perhaps agreed, moving the start point to the council offices and beginning the walk along High Street Kensington.

But perhaps it still needs to be more. Their seems to be a great emphasis on the walk not being political – though a number of political groups were taking part. But to be effective I think it has to become much more political and rather more active. Otherwise – as appears to be happening now – Grenfell will soon be largely forgotten, with few if any prosecutions of the guilty parties, little tightening of the regulations, most of the Government promises being history and the safety of other largely working-class communities around the country still at risk. I still hope for something rather more powerful on the anniversary of this terrible event.

Silent Walk for Grenfell Tower

The event was still something of the media circus I had felt it best to stay away from rather than add to, with photographers and TV and video. Most of the march was through dimly lit streets, on the limits of photographic possibility without using my LED light (or flash), with a few areas of strong an contrasty light at crossings. Things got rather easier on Ladbroke Grove and I stayed there until the end of the march passed into the gloom before taking the train home from there rather than go on to the end.

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Stirling (or Sterling?) Prize

Thursday, March 26th, 2020
ASH mocks the champagne celebration inside with Cava on the street

I was pleased to get this picture of what was a very difficult event for me to get any worthwhile photographs. I’m a great admirer of the work of Architects for Social Housing, a small group that punches well above its weight in pointing out the crimes, profiteering and failures of current housing policies pursued by local authorities and national government which amount to an attack on the poor.

A poster from a Class War supporter

Their detailed studies have laid bare the terrible effects of demolition of council estates, driving those on low incomes out of the central areas of London in a huge exercise of social cleansing and making excessive profits for the developers, as well as providing well-paid jobs for some council staff and ex-staff. Most of those London councils are Labour councils, including Southwark, Lambeth and Newham, though Tory councils are following similar shameful practices, and at the root of all this are the housing policies of Thatcher and New Labour.

A man holding his Stirling Prize invite stops to photograph the protest

Their reports have shown the financial incentives that result in demolition and new build schemes with little or no low rent social housing replacing large numbers of council homes, as well as the hugely damaging environmental consequences of such large schemes. Their detailed alternative development plans have shown how estates could be renovated and the number of housing units greatly increased without the huge social costs of destroying existing communities and retaining existing low cost housing, without the need to evict existing tenants and leaseholders.

Following the disaster of the Grenfell fire, they published a report within weeks that clearly identified the problems which had made it inevitable. ASH called for those responsible to be brought to justice, pointing out that similar disasters in other countries such as Japan had led to prosecutions within a few weeks – while we have an inquiry that is still proceeding which seems to have as its major aim the deflection of blame from those responsible for the defects and failures to the actions of the emergency services on the night of the fire. It’s right of course that these should be examined and lessons learnt, but it wasn’t the Fire Service which created a fire trap through cost-cutting , avoidance of proper fire safety measures and a sheer disregard for the safety of the people who lived in Grenfell.

Oliver Wainwright, the Guardian’s architecture and design critic speaks before going into the prize event

ASH were protesting outside the highly prestigious Stirling Awards ceremony condemning architects for social cleansing, council estate demolition and housing privatisation and calling on architects to end wanton environmentally disastrous demolitions and to serve the needs of citizens with socially beneficial, financially viable and environmentally sustainable architecture rather than corporate profits. You can read more on their web site.

In particular they had come to point out that the winning entry, widely lauded in the press as marking a new era in social housing, is actually a  a commercial venture owned by Norwich council and will not be offering secure council tenancies and that council homes were demolished to build it. They were particularly incensed that it was also nominated for (and won) the new Neave Brown Award, set up to honour the recently deceased champion and architect of council housing; they see this as an insult to the memory of our great architect of council housing.

A woman came to shout at Simon Elmer and pushed him

ASH’s approach represents a threat to many architects who rely on the highly lucrative projects of major developers (named for Sir James Stirling (1926-92) whose 1977 major public housing scheme in Runcorn was demolished only 15 years after it was built, it should perhaps be better re-named as the ‘Sterling’ prize) and the protest was not well received by many of them – with one woman going as far as coming to assault Simon Elmer of ASH. But there were also some largely younger architects who expressed support.

It was a small protest and started rather late, when many had already gone inside to enjoy the ‘free’ champagne their very expensive tickets provided. The light was falling fast and it was hard to find an angle which worked to connect the protest and the event. I was pleased when the protesters decided to mock the champagne celebrations inside with a few plastic cups of cheap Cava (and I was holding cup of it myself when I took the picture at the top of this post. I left as it got too dark to photograph without flash, though perhaps I should have stayed, as more people arrived and the protest apparently got livelier later. But I’d been on my feet far too long and needed to get home and eat.

More at Stirling Prize for Architecture


Another Grenfell protest

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

It seems increasingly unlikely that we are ever going to see justice for the victims of Grenfell as the establishment use all the tricks in their book to protect those responsible.

Perhaps in the end after years of purposefully drawn out inquiry by police and judges a few small companies will be found guilty of failing to follow some aspects of building regulations and be given insignificant fines, though I doubt even that. But the real culprits seem almost certain to escape scot-free.

THe RCG have a fine banner by Andrew Cooper

So far we have only seen the first stage of the official  Grenfell Tower Inquiry which appears to have been a travesty, with the judge shifting blame on those responsible for fighting the fire and coming to a conclusion that not only flies in the face of what experienced fire-fighters say, including those who were there on the night, but could well lead to more deaths in other high-rise fires. People are almost certain given the publicity by the report to die in some future fires because they try to escape rather than staying safe in their homes. And quite clearly had the idiotic Jacob Rees Mogg lived in Grenfell he and his family would have died there.

These blocks – Grenfell included – only got approval on the basis that any fire would be contained within a flat and would be expected to be able to burn itself out even if fire-fighters did not attend. Building regulations made sure that this was the case, and the towers were built to enable any firest that did occur to be safely fought from within the building. The flats were essentially small self-contained concrete units, isolated from each other, with dry risers to supply water on the landings when needed and smoke traps.

Simon Elmer of ASH who produced a report on Grenfell

The blame for Grenfell lies squarely with the government ministers who altered the regulations and allowed building owners to make their own fire inspections, with owners who saved money by arranging inadequate inspections and employing contractors to add unsuitable cladding and otherwise compromise the building safety. Contractors too bear some resposiblity for agreeing to install unsafe cladding and for doing so in a way which removed the gaps essential for safety.

Another small left-wing group declined the offer to join the RCG protest

Kensington & Chelsea Council and its TMO must bear the main responsibility for this particular building, with councillors and others taking the decisions which made the building a fire-trap. They were more than incompetent, bullying those who informed them of some of the problems.

The council too failed to properly deal with the survivors, despite some extravagant promises made in the early days after the fire by Theresa May and others. A full year after the fire only 41% of the households from Grenfell Tower and adjoining Grenfell walk had been permanently re-housed. Of those in the wider affected area, 29% had been able to return to their homes and 1% – one family – permanently rehoused. The other 70% (90 families) were still in some form of temporary accomodation. This despite Kensington & Chelsea being one of the wealthiest boroughs in the country.

Many of those most closely involved are still suffering intensely from trauma and both initial relief and counselling were other areas where the council and other official response are felt by many to have been inadequate – and put to shame by the community response. As an outsider I don’t feel entitled to comment, though I’ve certainly heard the pain expressed by some of the community.

People pose on the council steps at the end of the RCG protest

Various groups formed after the fire, some with more support among the victims and wider community than others. Although all have I think taken part in the monthly silent walks which aim to keep the memory of the events alive, there have been arguments with some groups urging a more radical stance is needed to get action.

Two of these groups, both relatively small, had come to protest at the Kensington & Chelsea town hall outside the council meeting. I had gone to photograph the protest by the Revolutionary Communist Group who have run street stalls on Ladbroke Grove close to Grenfell and organised other protests in the area as well as taking part in the silent walks. As well as their own speakers they had invited others to talk, and as main speaker Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing, whose report and film produced within a few weeks of the fire remains the most authorative account of the reasons why Grenfell was a tragedy waiting to happen.

More at No Justice for Grenfell


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.

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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.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.