With the death toll slowly rising but information still largely considered inaccurate, anger is growing. Julie Al-Hinai reports from the ground.
Four days after the raging inferno that criminally took the innocent lives of so many, survivors and friends and families of the missing are still not only without the support from the authorities that they need, but are suffering an unacceptable lack of information and coordination. It is fair to say, that despite the Tory insistence that all is hand and all that can be done is being done, in reality, all that is being done, is being done by community brothers and sisters and a wider volunteer force.
Lacking a central command, people are being fed, clothed and comforted from within the community, organised by those of the community. And while the community has so far largely remained peaceful, united by loss and grief, anger is bubbling. Anger of the women - mothers, daughters, sisters. Anger of the young, the old, the black, the white, the Muslim, the Christian, The Rastafarian, the Sikh, the Jew, for this is a community that takes pride in its diversity. It is also a community that is aware of its fragility, its risk of social and ethnic cleansing, its marginalisation, its lack of voice.
The recent terrorist attacks saw the culprits dead within minutes, their associates tracked down and arrested within hours. These occupants didn’t it seems, even deserve a readily available and comprehensive list of tenancies. Nor did they, at least in the immediate aftermath deserve a police family liaison officer presence as they rushed into the - rapidly and community set-up - reception centres to report their missing.
In one of them they got me, a mere volunteer who had seen early reports of the fire and made her way there to offer solidarity. Little did she know she would be in fact sitting at a tiny table with a few scraps of paper and two equally unprepared people to record details of names and details of the desperate last telephone calls of the lost. Details that should be vital evidence required for a full and comprehensive coroner’s inquest.
Yes I recorded what I could: the fact that many were still alive hours after the start of the fire; the little girl who is still missing was seen leaving her flat with a neighbour who subsequently lost her; the fact that the man with tattoos on his shoulder and two on his ankle told his wife at 1.30am he was being told to stay put, but at 3.30am couldn’t take the heat and smoke anymore; the man in the next door flat was probably away from home as he hadn’t picked up a parcel left on his doorstep (where else would a parcel stay safely for one week); one brother having left with the other but who, lost him on the stairs. As the hours wore on the stories continued, including from nursery workers coming in to report that they couldn’t contact mothers of children from their nurseries.
Eventually we were handed a more comprehensive photocopied (not numbered) recording form, casually put together by the police, but despite my pleas, there was no Liaison officer to sit with us to record what we were hearing. Information that could have been gathered, compared with other centres, checked off (had there been a list of at least the main occupants of the flats, to be checked off from), names, first, father and family name, could have been recorded properly and a better early picture could have emerged. More realistic figures of loss could have been issued; four days on we only have 30 dead. And then we wonder why the anger is rising!
The forms were collected by the police around 8pm that night. The incident hotline was still mostly not responding: under-resourced for the volume of calls it was receiving? Those that had not reported being safe or lost didn’t get any attention at all.
Various volunteers and members of the local community did what they could to establish the last sightings of the occupants of Grenfell Tower but this too was uncoordinated by any part of the authorities. It worked on speculation and hearsay and depended on the recollections of the traumatised. This lack of formal intervention- is it not a crime in itself? How will it be collated for any subsequent enquiry?
I spent almost 10 hours at this desk, hearing these first reports and subsequently seeing the same mourners at the vigil last night. Did anyone take my name, has anyone asked me what I heard or recorded, or even questioned as to whom complied these written reports?
No! a resounding No! Is this the intricate crime investigation we should expect following an event as major as this? I’m not a mathematician but even I could have hazarded a guess at the eventual losses. If we know there are 500-600 occupants, 74 in hospital and x number of people reported safe within hours, by sundown l could have had a realistic idea of the “lost in action”. Action that had seemed to been met with too much with deaf ears from the local and national authorities and left people to be criminally incinerated without even the dignity of accounting for their deaths in a proper fashion.
Yesterday the protests began, non-violent despite the reporting, and no doubt they will continue. This rising level of anger must not be subdued but instead harnessed and directed where it matters most, not at the general media, as intrusive and biased as it may be, not at the police per se in this situation, but directly and intensely at the heart of government, local and national.
If one good thing can come from this it will be that this community will, with continued solidarity and support from comrades, at last, have a voice and this voice will speak for us the People. That is if it is enabled to remain as a community. And for that, we must stand in solidarity and fight hard, alongside our brothers and sisters in other communities who might easily find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time under this corrupt system.