Friday 16 June 2017

Grenfell Tower Disaster - Criminal Negligence and Corporate Manslaughter?

I awoke this morning to hear a distinct change in the tone of coverage of the Grenfell Tower tragedy on BBC Radio London. The shock is subsiding and is being replaced with a very real sense of anger. As I listened to the news, my mind was taken back to 2010 and my council election campaign in Mill Hill and a conversation with a local fireman. Why is this relevant? Read on. I was canvassing for the local Lib Dems and I knocked on a door in Mill Hill East. There was a very pleasant lady who said "You're that blogger, who did Brian Coleman for Standards". I replied "Yes, that's me". She said "Come in, have a cup of tea and a slice of cake, my son wants to shake your hand". How could I possibly turn down such an offer? I was ushered in, the kettle went on and she said "I'll just have to go up and wake Dave (not his real name ) up". As it was 3pm, I assumed Dave was a bit of a lazy sod, but hey ho, I love a nice cuppa and a slice of fruitcake. She came back down, made the tea and we started to chit chat. Then Dave appeared. He looked completely bedraggled, tea shirt, shorts and a dirty face. He also had a strange smell about him. He was also given a cup of tea. I stood up and he said "Sorry about the state I'm in but I really wanted to shake your hand". So we shook hands. Then Dave explained himself. He is a serving fireman. He'd been on nightshift and his team had attended a large housefire. The scene he described was truly horrific. I felt truly humbled to be in his presence. When he'd finally got in, he'd simply crashed out. I felt guilty for waking him up. I said "you didn't need to get up". Then he explained. "You took that B*******d Brian Coleman to the Standards. It was a scandal that he wasn't turfed out on his ear. He is in charge of the London Emergency Fire and Planning Authority and he's running it into the ground". Dave explained about station closures, changes to rules on shifts and a whole host of other changes that he explained would dramatically reduce the capacity of the fire brigade to deal with major incidents. He said "They talk about the fact that a fire engine will still arrive within five minutes, but with a major incident, you need a whole fleet of engines and a large squad of trained men. It isn't the time that the first engine that arrives that matters, it's the time the last one arrives, because it is only then that the team is up to full strength". Dave then said "London has more tower blocks, train stations, football stadiums, airports, museums, colleges and schools than any other place in Western Europe. Every time we shut a fire station, sack a fireman or sell a fire engine, we are reducing the ability to get crews to the scene in time. A disaster will happen and the likes of Coleman will say "The first fire engine was there in five minutes". This will be completely dishonest. The true measure is when was a team capable of dealing with the crisis on scene? Sadly everything Dave told me has come to pass. Just look at this tweet from the architect of the fire service cuts.

However, the Fire Brigade are just one small part of the puzzle. If people had done their job, then they should not have been needed. Next time you hear about "health and safety" and "red tape" being cut to make things more efficient, just remember this. The talk is that the fire started with a faulty fridge. How such an incident, which sadly is not completely unpredictable in a dwelling with hundreds of people could have escalated to such a fire is beyind belief.  A large dwelling such as this should have safety designed in. There should be fire barriers all over the place. It should be a series of boxes that are fire sealed. If one box catches fire, this should not spread. We have building regulations that specify how buildings are put together and what materials are used. Fire doors are installed to stop flames and smoke. Alarm systems are installed and regularly tested. Fire certificates are issued. There should be a whole series of checks in place, from the moment the building is designed. It is clear that the cladding caught fire. How on earth can you clad a large dwelling in a material that is not fireproof? This is beyond belief.The building was recently refrubished in a multi million pound project. There were architects, structural engineers, building contractors, building inspectors and a fire inspection to sign off this work. At which stage did it all go wrong? Was the design compromised, were corners cut, did the inspectors do their job? Did the council demand unrealistic cuts to the budgets for the refurbishment, that resulted in shoddy work?

Who knows. But what is 100% clear is that someone somewhere has been criminally negligent. The death toll may reach three figures. This is a corporate failure on a massive scale. As far as I'm concerned those responsible must face charges of corporate manslaughter. They have failed the ordinary working people who were living in the tower. The whole thing seems to me to be rotten to the core. Politicians lying to protect their back, building contractors etc removing references to Grenfell tower refurbishment work form their sales blurb on their website. It is disgusting beyond belief. It has taken me three days to collect my thoughts to say this. The residents are right to be angry. We need answers and we need prosecutions. That is the only way the greedy will learn

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