The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 30th June 2017

Grenfell victims demand justice!

THE GREAT Fire of London in 1666 led to the Rebuilding of London Act 1666, which introduced the first fire safety building regulations for our capital. The Act banned combustible materials from being used in the construction of all buildings, “whether great or small”, as a new London was built using stone and brick.

That Act has defended Londoners well, even through the Blitz, but it started to fail when the implementation and interpretation of these regulations was outsourced to the building industry itself and the introduction of new composite building materials.

Rigorous inspections once carried out regularly by fire safety officers from the fire brigade were replaced by construction entrepreneurs and technical experts sitting round a desk assessing whether they thought a new material was likely to be combustible.

This is how tower blocks throughout the country have come to be clad in composite panels that burn almost as fast as rocket fuel. Older blocks built before the outsourcing of fire safety decisions are relatively safe unless they have been ‘renovated’ to make them look more attractive.

The survivors and bereaved and already presented the Government with a demand that everyone associated with the decision to use the dangerous cladding and everyone who ignored the tenants’ frequent warnings about the danger of fire in the block should be named and held to account.

That list must also include all those who decided to cut fire services in London over the last two decades. In 2014 the then London Mayor Boris Johnson closed 10 fire stations, with the loss of 552 fire-fighters’ jobs. Those extra fire-fighters could have made a big difference to the numbers of survivors at Grenfell Tower.

The full number of dead is still not known. The figure given before the building had been properly searched was 79, but survivors are sure there are many more than that who died and are asking why the full number has not been released. Local MP David Lammy, who lost a close friend in the fire, believes the fear of public rioting and disorder may be behind the failure to release the real number of dead.

The veteran civil rights barrister Michael Mansfield QC called on the survivors to act quickly: “Those who’ve got the strength have got to come together to put in representations about what this inquiry should be doing. Believe you me, if you don’t, they [the Government] will. And if they do, they’ll make sure that you’re excluded.”

He continued: “You need to get it [the inquiry] on your terms — you need to get it to answer the questions you’ve got.”

The veteran barrister, who represented some of the families of the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, told the meeting held in the shadow of Grenfell Tower: “It’s not a matter of ‘do we have an inquiry or do we have an inquest’ — you have both for goodness sake.

“As well as getting to the truth of what happened and ensuring accountability for what happened, you also — for your own benefit and all the other people who occupy towers or buildings of a similar kind — have to get things changed now.”

He urged them to learn from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and to demand that the inquiry also look into the complete failure of the infrastructure to provide relief for the survivors.

We must support all these demands for the terms of the inquiry: The failure of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to protect its tenants; the role of the company to which the role of both landlord and safety inspectors had been outsourced; the role of the company that carried out the cladding; and the total absence of relief provision from both local and central government.

We must also demand: the restoration of fire services in London and throughout the country; the restoration of the health and safety executive (HSE) with full powers to inspect all buildings; the removal of dangerous cladding from all tower blocks and the installation of sprinkler systems; and the total revision and updating of building safety regulations to be monitored jointly by the fire brigade and the HSE; and of course that tenants’ and residents’ health and safety concerns are always heard and acted on.

But at root the real culprit is capitalism — the system that values profits above human lives. This must be replaced by socialism.