Victims remembered as Grenfell inquiry begins

Taken too soon: The Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of 18 children.

What would “Justice4Grenfell” look like? The inquiry into the fire started yesterday with bereaved families remembering the 72 victims. Some desire punishment. Everyone wants the truth.

At around 4am on June 14, 2017, Marcio Gomes, his wife Andreia and their two daughters managed to escape the hellish deathtrap that had been their home.

Andreia was taken to hospital and put into an induced coma. She was pregnant. “He was going to be my superstar,” Marcio said. Andreia survived, but their son was stillborn later that morning, two months before he was due. Logan Gomes was the youngest victim of the Grenfell Tower fire.

With this tragic story, the inquiry into one of post-war Britain’s worst disasters began yesterday. Families used a mixture of words, pictures and videos to remember their loved ones.

In total, 72 people died after a fridge-freezer accidentally caught fire on the fourth floor of the 24-storey West London tower block. The fire was accelerated by the building’s exterior cladding.

The inquiry has been set up to determine three things: what happened, why, and what can be done to prevent something similar happening again.

It will have two phases: the first will examine how the fire developed; the second will look at how the tower became exposed to the risk of a such a large blaze. It is separate from any police investigation.

The fire quickly came to symbolise many of the ills of modern Britain. Kensington, the borough in which the tower is located, is one of the richest and one of the least equal areas in the country. The disaster also shone a light on Britain’s housing crisis.

Writing in The Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens called the blackened tower “a monument to our cheapskate society”. Jonathan Freedland wrote in The Guardian that there should be “no return to the frenzied deregulation, cost-cutting and rampant inequality of the last four decades”.

Labour MP David Lammy, who grew up in a tower block, said that arrests should be made. His desire echoes many of the Justice4Grenfell campaigners. Nearly a year on from the fire, many people have still not been permanently rehoused.

They are desperate for justice. But what would justice be?

Towering shame

This needs to end in convictions, say many. The failure to convict those responsible for the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 caused a resentment that may never go away. This disaster was clearly a result of a number of terrible, negligent mistakes. Those responsible must be identified and imprisoned. Only then will justice be served.

A handful of token, populist convictions will not bring about the systemic changes that are so badly needed, reply others. This disaster was not the result of evil scheming, but a consequence of years of neglect, cost-cutting and indifference to the poorest people in society. The inquiry should find out the truth, and then push for change.

You Decide

  1. Should people go to prison for their role in the Grenfell Tower fire?
  2. Does it always take tragedy to bring about change?

Activities

  1. List three other moments from history that you consider “turning points”.
  2. Design a memorial for the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Some People Say...

“Unintelligent people always look for a scapegoat.”

Ernest Bevin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Grenfell Tower inquiry started yesterday, with the families of six of the victims commemorating their loved ones. The tragedy occurred at a tower block in North Kensington, London, after a fridge caught fire. The whole building was then engulfed in a catastrophic blaze. A retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, was chosen by Theresa May to lead the public inquiry in June 2017.
What do we not know?
Who is most at fault for the fire. Many have been blamed for the tragedy so far, from Theresa May to Kensington and Chelsea Council to the architects practicing in the 1960s and 70s who filled Britain’s cities with Grenfell-style tower blocks. This is part of what the public inquiry will try to determine.

Word Watch

Loved ones
Five other people were remembered yesterday. They were Khadija Saye and her mother Mary Mendy, Denis Murphy, Joseph Daniels and Mohamed Neda.
Cladding
A covering or coating that is wrapped around the outside of a building to improve its appearance, performance and energy efficiency. The cladding in question was fitted to Grenfell Tower as part of a £9 million refurbishment that was completed in May 2017.
Least equal
Grenfell Tower was populated by poorer, mainly ethnic-minority residents. Just a mile away, however, lies Kensington Palace Gardens, the most expensive street in the UK, which has been dubbed “Billionaire’s Row”.
Britain’s housing crisis
The average price of a London house is 14.5 times greater than the average annual salary in the UK.
Still not been permanently rehoused
The leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council said she hopes to find permanent homes for all of the people displaced by the fire by the end of the summer.
Hillsborough disaster
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died of asphyxiation after a football terrace became overcrowded at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.