Thursday, December 14, 2017 | ePaper

Deaths caused by willful negligence: Rehabilitate them urgently

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A WEST London community has been left reeling and searching for answers after an "unprecedented" blaze ripped through a tower block, killing at least a dozen people and injuring scores more. Firefighters were called to the 24-storey block in Latimer Road, near Notting Hill, at 12:54am and arrived to find the blaze spreading, prompting early calls of a major incident, which saw 250 firefighters tackling the flames at the height of the inferno and the rescue of 65 people. While  the Queen, Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan were lauded for visiting the residents, PM Theresa May was roundly criticized for avoiding the residents on so-called security grounds.

Residents of the tower block engulfed by a devastating fire on Wednesday morning are believed to have warned of alleged safety problems as recently as the end of last year. Members of an action group at Grenfell Tower wrote that they believed the building posed a fire risk, and that "only a catastrophic event will expose" the issues after their concerns fell on "deaf ears".

It claimed access to the building was "severely restricted" for emergency services and other vehicles and that residents had been advised to stay in their flats in case of fire. The Grenfell group warned the council and the KCTMO, which manages the borough's housing stock, that the building of a school and gym next to the estate would restrict access for the emergency services, including fire engines.

Meanwhile Kensington's MP has stated that the fire and deaths at Grenfell Tower are directly linked to attempts to regenerate and develop housing. Emma Dent Coad, who was elected only last week, said that attempts to make the block look prettier for the wealthier students had lead to the deaths of its inhabitants.

As part of that £10 million refurbishment work, developers wrapped the building in cladding -- which is a low-cost way of improving the outside of the building and is also incidentally banned in the US. Heavy focus has turned on the cladding ever since the fire, when it seemed to help propel it up the building. The view that the cladding was a result of attempts to prettify the building has been echoed by other local residents.

Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, a barrister by profession, labelled the fire "corporate manslaughter" and called for arrests to be made. There could be questions to answer at the level of central as well as local government after it emerged former Conservative Housing Minister Gavin Barwell delayed a fire safety review following a deadly blaze in Camberwell in 2009 which left six people dead, including three children.

It has also been reported that former Housing Minister Brandon Lewis "sat on" information and resisted making sprinklers a legal requirement because it would "discourage building". John Halford, a public law specialist who has worked among other high-profile cases against public bodies, said there were various ways in which criminal proceedings could be brought against public authorities, if they were found culpable in the catastrophe.

So it seems that a combination of willful negligence and utter apathy on the part of the public authorities for public safety measures led to the incident. We offer our condolences to the survivors and the deceased and note that many families were saved due to Muslims who stayed awake for Sehri as it was Ramzan.


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