Shadia Edwards-Dashti reports from the silent march marking 5 years since the Grenfell tower fire
For the first time since the fire, the base of Grenfell Tower can be seen. Families haven't gotten so close, physically or mentally, to the tragedy in five years.
But, just like the days that followed the blaze that claimed the lives of 72 on 14 June 2017, the community is still in search of answers, five years on.
Thousands marched through Ladbroke Grove standing shoulder to shoulder to heal and fight for justice. The first 15 minutes felt particularly surreal; “how is it five years already?” - a question I heard numerous times. No one ever answered it, just nodded, or agreed with the sentiment. No doubt everyone was thinking, five years too long, five years no justice.
As more and more people arrived, dressed in green, the collective sorrow heavied the air. The silence became deafening - which later was revealed as deliberate by organisers, “The silence keeps us dignified and keeps the outsiders looking in worried, worried about how we can gather in thousands in silence. It shows courage, mental strength and determination.”
The thousands on the streets showed all the above. Time stopped in Ladbroke Grove. People abandoned their meals in cafes, buses turned off their engines, and people put down their pints. Shops emptied until everyone in the area were on the streets marching for the victims of Grenfell.
On the route, the FBU firefighters’ union set up a guard of honour in a tribute. Many in the public found solace in embracing each and every one of them and thanking them for risking their lives, through a look that only grief could translate.
After the walk, the names of the victims of the fire were read out. The Choucairs always stand out, because we hear the name 6 times in a row. Nabil Choucair lost 6 members of family, from grandmother to granddaughter. Earlier in the day he refused to go into the memorial service at Westminster Abbey in boycott of the handling of the ceremony on the grounds it refused to live stream it and there were limited tickets available. He told me the families were yet again not being respected.
That's been the theme 5 years on, a total lack of respect for victims and bereaved family members. Natasha Elcock chair of Grenfell United told the crowds during speeches at the base of the tower that “the tragedy that didn't need to happen. It happened because of corruption and greed of all those involved. Justice if it comes is still so far off…The community has been failed but on a larger scale, the nation has been failed”
Not a single person has been charged with a criminal offence but it's not for lack of scrutiny or inquisition. The public inquiry costing £150 million, running in two phases and interviewing hundreds of witnesses has exposed numerous failings. Phase 1 looking into the night of the blaze, concluded that the combustible ACM cladding panels were the “principal reason why the fire spread so rapidly.”
While Phase 2 of the inquiry examines the run up to the night and is set to conclude within months. But so far, the inquiry has revealed cheap deals, shoddy jobs and cut corners.
According to internal documents regarding the cladding refurbishment, one employee wrote in 2015, “we will be quid’s in,” while another tapped back, “there is no point in ‘fire stopping’. As we all know; the ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!"
There was a criminal investigation separate to the inquiry with Scotland Yard interviewing 40 people under caution - some on numerous occasions. However, police admit that charges are unlikely to be brought against any suspects until 2024. (If ever…)
It is recent revelations like these that compel speakers at the memorial like rapper Lowkey shout to the crowds; “How dare you call it patience? In your relations with corporations, all I see is subordination. This is a message to the government. Regulate them before we regulate you…. You arrest them or we arrest you.”
And it comes as only six percent of flats with flammable cladding have been made safe five years later. According to official housing data as many as 650,000 residents are living in around 345,000 properties that remain at risk from a potentially fatal fire like Grenfell. So clearly no lessons have been learned and history is at risk of repeating itself.
Big Zuu, a television personality from West London said those that died could have been anyone. The stats I just mentioned back that up. He went on, “if you come from a working-class background or if you come from a low-income family, you don't choose where you live.”
Nobody in Grenfell chose to live in that death trap. 72 people died that night, the vast majority of whom were of ethnic and racial minorities in low-income families. The tragedy of Grenfell exposes the inhumanity of the social housing system and wealth and poverty crisis in London. Even in the same pockets of London like Kensington and Chelsea which have both the richest and poorest wards in the borough. As speakers explained, the government puts corporate greed, institutional neglect and profit over working-class people.
Whilst Tuesday was a specifically silent march to mourn and respect those lives lost, tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow is about shouting as loud as possible.
To demand change from the government, to hold those guilty to account, to put people before profit, and to learn lessons.
Nobody should be living in unsafe homes, and no one should go to bed fearing they could wake to a deadly nightmare like Grenfell.
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