Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Grenfell Tower block fire and its aftermath

 Robert Henderson

The fallout from the Grenfell Tower (GT) fire is turning it from a very serious and traumatic physical disaster  into a political vehicle for the Hard Left who have been openly encouraged by  the  leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn  who has called for empty properties owned by the rich in the area to be commandeered and used to house those rendered homeless by the fire , while the shadow Chancellor John McDonnell  designated  the deaths murder by political decisions and called for a  “Day of Rage” on the streets.  The street level response to make this into an anti-Government matter  really took off  when  the revolutionary left became involved.  Mustafa al-Mansua  a  Jeremy Corbyn-supporting political activist  was identified as being the organiser of the  protests in Kensington Town Hall.

The newspapers, blogs and especially the broadcast media are now alive with claims of gross neglect and even murder by those in authority.  The strange thing is those making the noise are not those most intimately connected with the disaster. Media interviews with  people who either lived in the block or  those who knew people who lived in the block who were either dead or missing have not been  paeans of rage against the rich or the government. Most interviewees have been rather quiet, subdued and shocked but not bursting with anger against the authorities.

The response of the Government

The response of the Government has been jerky. To begin with the Government largely left the emergency services to get on with the job. The PM Theresa May turned up eventually  but did not meet  any of those living in the GT, confining her visit  to meeting members of the emergency services. Jeremy Corbyn did meet people who lived in the block. The contrast between May and Corbyn’s was used as the tinder to light the Hard Left’s bonfire of rage.

After days of  dithering the Government released £5 million to defray the immediate costs of  providing support for the surviving residents of the block. A public inquiry was rapidly announced and a retired Appeal Court judge  appointed to head it.  Eventually, people  from outside of the Council were appointed by the Government  to run the  Kensington and Chelsea  housing department.

The judge appointed to head the public inquiry  Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been the subject of an immediate campaign  to remove him from the position.  A black Labour MP and one-time minister David Lammy  led the way by citing Sir Martin’s  disqualifications for the role as  being the fact that he is   a  “white, upper-middle class man”.   The key word here is white. Try to imagine a black  man being appointed to such a role and a campaign immediately starting  up to thwart his appointment because he   is black.  Difficult isn’t it?

Most contentiously   promises were made by  Theresa  May in the Commons  that the immigration status of the GT residents would not be checked:

“I would like to reassure people that we will not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing information to identify victims or those assisting with the criminal investigation.

 “We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need including healthcare and accommodation.”

The Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan gave the same assurance :

 “No action must be taken against anybody in Grenfell Tower who comes forward.

“There may be some people who are sub-letting, breaching their tenancy agreement.

“There may be people who have got friends and family visiting, who they are worried about if they report them because they haven’t got immigration status.

“All of those people should feel confident that if they come forward and speak to the authorities, that no action will be taken.

Making such a blanket promise  is reckless  because it could be used as a precedent for not deporting  many illegal immigrants  on the ground that they had suffered some trauma whether as an individual or as one of a number  in some disaster like the GT fire.  Applying the rule to the GT residents could also lead to difficult situations where a GT resident turned out to be not only an illegal immigrant but someone  guilty of criminal acts either here or abroad. Are we really to believe that British officials will turn a blind eye to such people?

There is a third problem associated with the immigrant status promise.  The Government may already have an idea of  the number of illegal immigrants  involved. It may be embarrassingly large. If so it would be in the interest of the Government and the politically correct left-liberal politicians generally  not to have  to admit that so lax are checks on the legal status  of  immigrants  that many illegal immigrants were not only able to come to this country but somehow jump the huge queue social housing . But even if there was only a small number of such people in the GT it would still raise embarrassing and serious questions about the UK’s immigration control and the checks that Councils make on applicants for social housing.  The problem vanishes if the immigration status of GT survivors is removed from the table.

The Government appears to be having second thoughts about illegals. Today (6th July) it is reported that those here illegally can stay for up to a year  if they help the  Public Inquiry and come forward before the end of August.  The Government has also announced a relaxation of benefit rules such as not paying the “Bedroom Tax” if the flat they  move to is larger than the one they have lost.

The support given to  survivors

Apart from the £5 million from the taxpayer mentioned above  many millions more  have been raised by people making private donations to various funds for the survivors. From these sources those who lost a family member or members will be awarded £20,000 for each family member lost.

This raises two problems. The first is the efficiency and competence  and indeed honesty with which the money  is distributed.  Already one  person Anh Nhu Nguyen has been charged with obtaining money by falsely claiming to have lost his wife and son in the fire.  It is alleged that he got   nearly  £10,000 from the fund set up to disburse the £5million from the taxpayer before the alleged fraud was discovered. Nguyen  is also charged with getting food and various goods from  different charities by making the same allegedly false claims.   If this is true, and it is only an allegation at present,  then it casts grave doubts on the competence of those giving out money or goods, whether they be public servants or private bodies such as charities.  There is also the possibility of corruption by those controlling the money either through straightforward embezzlement or through collusion with claimants. The  Government should make it clear now that a strict audit of the disposal of the money from the taxpayer and from private donations will be made.

The second problem is the question of creating a precedent. The private donations are one thing but does the £5 million given by the taxpayer mean that anyone losing their home through fire from now on  will be treated similarly? Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.  The reality is that the Government response to the GT fire has been wholly exceptional. 303 people died in fires in England in 2015-16. It would be very  interesting to know what Government assistance was given to the survivors and family members not involved in these  fires or indeed to anyone who lost a home and/or family members in other accidents.

The treatment of the GT  survivors  has been exceptional also in the assurances given by the Council of finding new accommodation within or near the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Most dramatically ,    68  newly built permanent homes have been purchased  in Kensington Row,  an upmarket development in the borough, for a reported cost of £10 million.  These  will be offered to the GT residents by the end of July.  (Some of those  who had paid £1 million plus  to live in the non-social housing part of the development greeted the news  with dismay).  Again the question has to be asked would people suffering  the loss  of a  home on an individual basis be treated like this?

The  mainstream media response

The UK media response has been rather odd. Both the GT  itself and the immediate area in which it is set have  many people drawn from  racial and ethnic minorities. Since the fire  many of the GT residents interviewed are,  judged by their accents or by biographical information they have provided,  first generation immigrants. Shocking as the fire was I suspect that there will be quite a few native Britons who have sought and failed to get social housing   who will be  wondering how it is that first generation  immigrants have been able to get such accommodation when tens of thousands of native Britons have failed to do so despite  being on Council housing lists for many years.  Understandably  the allocation of  very scarce social housing  to immigrants  causes a great deal of resentment amongst the native white workingclass and increasingly amongst the native white middle class who struggle to pay ever more extortionate private rents.

All of this leaves the UK  mainstream  media with a dilemma: on the one hand they want to trot out the usual politically correct cant about the joy of diversity, how enriching it is, how the sun would fail to rise were it not for the huge number of immigrant workers in the UK and so forth.  On the other hand the UK media is rather twitchy about publicising the reality of exactly how much social housing goes to ethnic and racial minorities and generally it is reluctant to show parts of London (or parts of other cities such as Leicester) where the number of white faces is  startlingly  small.(Astonishingly  in these supposedly non-discriminating  times there are  a considerable number of housing associations in the UK which restrict tenancies to particular racial and ethnic groups  – needless to say  white British or white English housing associations have the same degree of existence  as unicorns).  This is because the  mainstream UK media  know that the reality of what is happening to the UK is  both dismaying the native population and is at odds with the multicuturalist politically correct happy clappy  internationalist story the media – especially the broadcast media – regularly sell.

The result of the competing desires and concerns of the media  in this particular set of circumstances was a nervous and muted commentary on the heterogeneous nature of the GT and its environs at the beginning gradually expanding to more adventurous praise of the joy of diversity as time passed and mediafolk thought it was safe to bring out the old political correct mantras because  the ghastly nature of the event had  naturally  engendered  sympathy for the victims.

The  serious issue to be addressed

Stripped of  all the political posturing and ineptitude there is a very serious issue  to be addressed.  Something has gone very  wrong. Individual tenants and the  tenants association for the GT  had raised concerns about fire safety before the fire. Not only was no action taken but the block was recently renovated which resulted in the cladding of the exterior of the building with material which was flammable. Apart from burning the cladding may have both intensified the fire because it provided insulation and it could  also have funnelled the flames upwards.

But there is something missing from the Grenfell Tower story. If the type of cladding used  was seriously inflammable it would be reasonable to expect many fires involving such  cladding because it has been widely used not just on residential housing but also places of work, hospitals, sporting venues and other places of entertainment.  Yet the type of fire seen in the GT  – a very rapid movement over most of the block – seems to have been unique in the UK, certainly in its intensity and tragic results..  This suggests there is something novel about the GT case which acted as an accelerant, that is,  something which drove and intensified the fire. I would suggest the  novelty was  the communal gas supply system which was put in recently which  had reservoirs of gas on each floor. . Eye witnesses to the fire described how as the fire reached a new floor explosions were heard. This presumably was gas exploding. If so that gas may well have been the accelerant energising the fire upwards.  None of this is to suggest the potential dangers of cladding should be ignored. However, it is important to understand exactly how the fire got out of control so rapidly and to make a rational assessment of the dangers of fire other blocks with cladding present.

Could more have been done to save people during the fire? One thing which might have saved at least some of those who died was not done. It was very simple: get all the tenants to flood their flats by blocking their sinks and plugholes and  turning their taps on at full blast. That would to a degree have obviated the fact that the upper stories could not be reached by fire brigade  hoses.  The fire brigade were in contact with many by phone and could have used a loudhailer system to alert everyone else who was in the building.

Did  Right-to-Buy influence fire safety in the Grenfell Tower?

There is a complication I have not heard raised since the fire, namely, the effect of the policy of Right-To-Buy on Council properties with multiple habitation. Right-To-Buy is a Government scheme which originated under the Thatcher Government in the 1980s. It is a confidence trick whereby public assets (houses and flats)  are sold to individuals  who have been a  tenant  in a Council or housing association property for some years  at a hefty  discount from the market price . Hence, the Government has sold that which belongs to everyone .

The effect of Right-To-Buy on a  tower block such as  GT means that responsibility for the block will no longer be straightforward. Take a concrete example. Suppose a flat which is privately owned is above one which is Council owned and the top flat floods the flat below. The Council will say the owner of the flat which caused the flooding is liable to make good the damage to the Council flat . Easier said than done often enough because many flats bought under Right-To-Buy are sold on to private landlords who are looking for rental property. Such landlords are frequently very difficult to either track down or if they can be contacted, less than willing to make good the damage.  Consequently, the tenant can  be left in limbo while the freeholder and leaseholder fight it out.

The complications caused by  Right-To-Buy may have been behind the extraordinary fact (according to the Council) that Grenfell residents said they did not want  sprinklers fitted  because of the upheaval  this would cause. This could have been the leaseholders of flats whether occupying or renting out a  flat  did not want the sprinkler systems fitted because (1) their leasehold agreements would normally require the leaseholder to make a contribution towards their cost and/or (2)  where the flats are  rented out  at commercial rates the installation of sprinklers might  make renting them out difficult while the installation was proceeding.

But even if the tenants/leaseholders  said they did not want sprinklers or any other fire safety precautions  the Council as the freeholder  should and could have overridden their wishes.

The failure of the authorities to produce a comprehensive list of those who died

The failure of the authorities to produce a list of those who died in the block is unsurprising because  potentially there  are eight classes of people who could have been  living there :

  1. Council tenants and those living with them.
  2. Private tenants and those living with them  in flats purchased under Right-to-Buy  which are still owned by the Right-to-Buy  purchaser.
  3. Private tenants and those living with them in flats owned by people  who bought  a flat originally purchased under Right-to-Buy  from either the Right-to-Buy purchaser or from someone who purchased the flat after it had already been purchased  from the Right-to-Buy purchaser. For  example, the Right-to-Buy purchaser sells it on the free market to someone who then in turn sells it to someone else on the free market.
  4. Leaseholders and those living with them who purchased under Right-to-Buy and live in the flats they purchased.
  5. Leaseholders and those living with them who live in flats which they either  purchased   from someone who obtained the flat under Right-to-Buy or  from leaseholders who purchased  the flat  after it was sold on following the Right-to-Buy purchase.
  6. Those who have obtained control of a flat illegally. For example, someone obtains a legal tenancy then “sells” the tenancy to someone who assumes the identity of the “seller” and takes control of the property and pays the rent. Alternatively the flat might simply be given to a friend or family member without telling the Council. The Council will assume that the person living under a bogus name is the original legal tenant
  7. This who are living illegally in a sublet part of a flat. These are sublettings which have not been authorised by the Council.
  8. Visitors in the GT on the night of the fire.

Of those eight categories the only readily identifiable people will be the Council tenants  and the leaseholders who live in the  flats.  These details would have to be known to the Council because rents have to be collected and leaseholders need legal documents showing  they are the leaseholder and  giving the conditions of the lease.  But  that would only provide one person per flat  whose name would be  known to the Council.

The Council will also have details of leaseholders who were renting out properties.  However, leaseholders who rent out are often difficult to track down because their contact details are not up to date or they use a company to manage their properties.

Even with Council  flats the position is not necessarily simple (see 6 and 7) . Flats may have been taken over by people other than the legal tenant or part of a flat may have been  sublet illegally. The Government has  announced that there  will be an amnesty for illegal sublettings but whether those who have illegally sublet know about the amnesty or trust the promise is another matter.

There is a further fly in the ointment. There may be people from  the block who are  illegal immigrants and consequently are reluctant to come forward to identify themselves. Nonetheless, it is not unreasonable to think that if there are those here illegally they will still be  reluctant to come forward.  As mentioned above  Theresa May and Sadiq Khan’s  have given assurances that no check will be made on the immigration status of any resident of the GT.  However, it is probable that those who are illegally here will like the  illegal subletters  either not have heard the assurances or do not believe them.

Notwithstanding these difficulties the Council  has many sources of information which should allow them to build up a fair picture  of how many people were killed in the fire and who was living there. It is probable that a majority of the flats were  legally occupied Council or leasehold properties.  Even if only 50% of the surviving  residents have  made themselves known to the Council  they would be able to give  not only information about  those living with them  but at   least basic details of their near neighbours.  In fact the situation is much better than that with the Council saying that they have spoken to someone from 106 of the 129 flats in the block.  This should allow  a well founded estimate of the people who lived in the block and  their identities.

In addition the Council will have  Council tax records, the electoral register, social work records .   Internet searches on databases such as the Electoral Register  or even simply putting a tenant or leaseholders name and address into Google  are worth a go.

If it proves  possible to circumvent the privacy  provisions of the Data Protection Act,  what could  be very effective would be  the setting up of a website with all the known names of tenants, leaseholders and any other people already identified as resident in the tower block with an invitation to the public to send in any details of others  they think lived in or  were simply visiting the building on the night of the fire.

To date the death count is 80,  but “Police investigating the Grenfell Tower fire have recovered 87 sets of human remains but cannot confirm they are from 87 individuals.”

What is a plausible number of  residents  for the GT?  Reports say around 600. If that is correct it looks as though quite a few have simply gone AWOL.

The overall impression the aftermath of the   fire has left

The first thing to note is the unpreparedness of the Council.  They were completely out of their depth. The Council’s ineptitude was  made more potent by the leaping on the bandwagon of victimhood and blame by  all shades of the left from hard left activists to leading members of the Labour Party.  The Government , already in a profoundly shaken and demoralised state after the disastrous election result in June,  with a Prime Minister lacking precious little credibility  and the mainstream media making great play with the idea of the callous haves not caring about the have nots, reacted with something close to panic and kept giving away  more and more ground.

But there was another force at work. Many,  probably the large majority of the residents of GT were either first generation immigrants or from  ethnic minorities born in Britain. This  brought political correctness into play. Imagine if the tower block had been overwhelmingly  inhabited by white Britons. Would the response have been so fervid? Would the hard left have been out in such force? Would a black MP like David Lammy have been accusing the authorities of covering up the true death toll? Would millions of public money have  been shelled out or 68expensive  flats  to rehouse those who had lost their homes?  Or would the authorities and the politically active have been much less interested? I will leave those questions to the reader to answer.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: