PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE
EMBARGO: FRIDAY, 16TH JUNE 11.00 PM
Leading Black and minority organisations express their sorrow, shock, horror and outrage at the appalling tragedy of the wholly unnecessary loss of life and suffering at Grenfell Tower.
The organisations are deeply concerned with the failure of the Prime Minister to meet residents or victims and the position of the former Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell that is now untenable. We also call for the urgent assessment of all 4,000 tower blocks in the UK that are in a similar state of design and age as a matter of urgency.
The bravery of fire-fighters and local residents is to be applauded and stands in stark contrast to the failure of leadership in central and local Government who are more concerned with damage limitation with their lawyers.
We urgently make the following demands: -
1. An apology by the Prime Minister, whose Government bears the full responsibility of failing to act since 2013 and the failure to implement the Coroner’s report of 2013 on the Lakanal fire in the London Borough of Southwark;
2. The resignation of the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell, the former Minister of Housing who on 16th October 2016, said, “we have not set out any formal plans to review the buildings regulations as a whole”;
3. The immediate fire safety assessment of all 4,000 similar tower blocks in the UK;
4. An urgent corporate manslaughter investigation by the Metropolitan Police into Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO); Harley Facades, Rydon and all other contractors that bear responsibility for the renovation work;
5. An Independent Public Inquiry called by the Prime Minister, to be chaired by a High Court Judge and address how poverty, austerity, cuts, local private property interests and unlawful discrimination affected the delivery of housing services and safety of people in Grenfell Tower;
6. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the UK’s wealthiest, be directed to rehouse all the affected families and provide emergency disaster relief to those directly affected, including trauma counselling.
7. There be immediate special measures imposed on KCTMO who have had two enforcement notices served on them in recent years, following a fire in a 14 storey block of 78 flats they own in October 2015;
8. The implementation of the Hillsborough Rule (proposed by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester), where families receive legal aid to be represented after such a tragedy in any Inquest or Public Inquiry.
This tragedy appears to be the perfect storm of poor housing, cuts in local authority spending and a complete failure by the Government to implement any of the Coroners recommendations in the tragic case of the blaze in Southwark that resulted in the loss of six lives in 2011. The history of fires in UK tower blocks is nothing new with Ronan Point in May 1968, where four died; Lakanal House, July 2009 where six people died; Shirley Towers, April 2010, where two people died, with other major fires of tower blocks, as recently as last December 2016 in Dubai.
Questions must be asked as to;
1. Why the Government failed to implement the Housing safety review recommended in 2013;
2. Why the former Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell failed again to commence the fire safety review in October 2016;
3. Why RBKC failed to heed the warnings issued by Grenfell Action Group which highlighted the dangers as recently as November 2016 in reviewing the 10.8 million refurbishments to Grenfell Tower;
4. Why the RBKC failed to coordinate the volunteers and charities in the aftermath of the tragedy and solely concentrated on re-housing given their significant resources;
5. Why a disproportionate number of children and babies were allocated the top floors together with BME tenants;
6. Why Coroners Courts do not have the power to bring expedited Judicial Review proceedings to enforce compliance with their recommendations that are not carried out by Government or local authorities and others within 12 months.
These and many other questions need to be answered. Public inquiries often take years to be set up and hear evidence during which time the truth can be obscured and disappear, whilst memories can fade.
Successive Housing Ministers from 2011 onwards failed to prioritise the needs of the poor and needy who occupy social housing. The responsibility for this tragedy lies at the heart of Government in Downing Street, due to the neglect and austerity of successive Housing Ministers.
Lee Jasper, former Race Equality adviser to the Mayor of London commented,
“Whilst we grieve for the families and those missing and injured, we urge the Metropolitan Police to urgently arrest those responsible at the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO) and the relevant contractors for possible manslaughter charges and to seize all available evidence before it is destroyed. This is not only a continuing danger to the public but a crime scene. We remember all too well that when the victims are poor, black and minority people, money is saved, corners cut and investigations fail, as with the Deptford Fire.”
Zita Holbourne, National Chair of BARAC UK stated,
“My thoughts are with all the tenants impacted, particularly those who have lost loved ones, those who have been injured and those who have lost their homes. The effects of austerity and cuts have impacted adversely on the poorest communities, disproportionately black and minority ethnic, with those local authorities officially declared deprived facing the deepest cuts. There also needs to be proper investment in affordable and social housing.”
D Peter Herbert O.B.E., Chair of the SBL, and former Vice Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority commented,
“Our thoughts and prayers are for the victims, and their families of this dreadful tragedy which is down not to terrorism but to the negligence and lack of care by those in power and authority. It is not the families, friends or relatives of Government Ministers who are forced to live in such dangerous property that is generally only found in social housing or the private rented sector. It is remarkable that the Prime Minister hides away from the public in Notting Hill, as she did during the election in a private visit. The SBL & AML will be conducting a series of meetings in the community and interviews with witnesses in the coming months to gather first hand testimony of what occurred”.
Rita Patel commented,
“There are horrific accounts of whole families that have perished, with children separated and lost, parents and the elderly who have tragically disappeared with the old and the vulnerable the least likely to survive. We know that this type of property is simply not tolerated in the private sector, so why should it be acceptable in public housing? This Government has increasingly run down, privatised and neglected public housing over the years with the consequences visited on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”
Ismet Rahat stated,
“We are proud of our Islamic youth and our Mosques who have demonstrated their community support. There has been an abandonment of safety standards for the poor who are forced to occupy the least popular highest floors of properties all over the UK. These are disproportionally families with young children, minorities and those suffering with a disability. No private sector tenant in a buy to let property would tolerate such safety standards, the lack of functioning fire alarms and safety systems. All faith communities have shown the type of commitment not shown by RBKC. No offer of housing has come from any member of the Royal family despite their abundance of accommodation in London.”
For further information please contact:
Viv Ahmun - Blaksox: 07985 395 166
D Peter Herbert OBE – SBL 07973 794 946
Zita Holbourne – BARAC UK 07711 861660
Ismet Rahat- AML -07852 146 056