LONDON – Commemorations and protests across this city marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire of June 14, 2017. Seventy-two people were killed in that blaze and 70 others injured, in a building wrapped in highly flammable cladding. Five years later, hundreds of thousands continue to live in similarly dangerous buildings.
Grenfell Towers had broken fire alarms and no sprinkler system. Residents’ complaints were ignored for years by authorities, who didn’t want to take on the expense of repairs.
Hundreds joined a commemorative silent march led by Grenfell United, the survivors and relatives organization. Protesters carried signs highlighting a mountain of evidence about the culpability of successive governments and those involved in the management and refurbishment of the apartment block. They called for charges to be brought against those responsible. Crowds, including members of the Fire Brigade Union, lined the route.
“As many as 641,000 residents are living in 345,000 properties that remain at risk from a potentially fatal fire,” reported the Times June 12.
Here in London, 1,100 buildings have fire-safety defects so severe they need round-the-clock patrols, known as “waking watches,” according to City Hall.
New building safety measures adopted last Dec. 1 include a ban on the ACM cladding used at Grenfell, but only for future developments, not existing properties. Last year the government announced a nonlegally binding “requirement” that sprinklers be included in future construction of buildings over 11 meters (36 feet) high.
In May the government rejected a proposal from the public inquiry into the fire that building owners be mandated to outline evacuation plans for residents. Current government “stay put” policy asks residents at most buildings to wait inside their apartments for rescue services whenever there is a fire.
“We are enraged at the government, whose sole focus continues to be profit and not public safety,” said Grenfell United in a press statement in response to the decision.
The inquiry, announced by then Prime Minister Theresa May, has dragged on for years. Despite receiving evidence alleging corporate manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter, fraud and health and safety violations, the police have said that no charges will be made until the inquiry is over.
“We know who the guilty people are,” Marlene Anderson, whose father, Ray “Moses” Bernard, died in the fire, told the Telegraph. “Yet they are still walking around free.”
“Workers don’t need the fraud of long inquiries and ‘better’ regulations or ‘feel your pain’ visits by party leaders and the Royals,” said a statement issued by the Communist League in 2017, just days after the fire.
“What’s needed is workers control over construction and maintenance,” CL leader Jonathan Silberman said, June 14. “Housing safety should be placed in the hands of trade unions and residents.”