The week that was: 24 July – 30 July

During the sixth week after the Grenfell Tower disaster, Sajid Javid created the Grenfell recovery taskforce, which will check the council’s handling of the Grenfell disaster on behalf of the government, and the Metropolitan Police announced that there are reasonable grounds to suspect the council and the KCTMO of corporate manslaughter. It was also revealed that work to shroud the tower in a gigantic protective wrap will begin in the middle of August.

Work on covering the tower will begin in the `Middle of August. Picture courtesy of Malcolm Murdoch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Monday 24 July:

An article in the Guardian about North Kensington Law Centre, which has provided free legal advice to residents in North Kensington since 1970, revealed that the centre’s small team of lawyers so far has advised 150 families affected by the fire. Victoria Vasey, the centre’s director, acknowledged that it has been incredibly difficult: “This is an order of magnitude away from what we usually deal with, but it’s not totally removed. Raw grief has quickly turned into anger – but you can deal with that, because it’s so clear where it comes from. We are lawyers, but we are human beings too.

Tuesday 25 July:

At a meeting at Notting Hill Methodist Church, people in North Kensington were invited to tell the chairman of the Grenfell public inquiry what they think the inquiry should cover. Among the many angry voices calling for immediate prosecution of members of the council and the suppliers of the cladding, and fear that vital evidence was being destroyed by officials or company employees, some asked for specific matters to be included in the inquiry, such as the specifications of the cladding used or the lack of sprinklers or fire drills in the tower, while others asked for a broader approach, looking at the role and management of social housing in the borough since the 1970s and the social composition of its residents.

Wednesday 26 July:

The Department for Communities and Local Government announced the creation of the Grenfell recovery taskforce, consisting of Aftab Chughtai, the chair of West Midlands police independent advisory group and joint secretary general of Muslims for Britain, Javed Khan, the chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, Jane Scott, the leader of Wiltshire county council, and Chris Wood, partner in housing consultancy Altair, former chief executive of Newham council and board member of Red Door Ventures, a commercial residential development company owned by Newham council. The taskforce will basically act as the government’s watchdog, controlling that the RBKC “has the proper arrangements in place to engage with the local community on their long-term recovery plans”, “that all the immediate housing needs resulting from the fires are fully and promptly addressed by RBKC”, “support the council to significantly improve housing management including addressing weaknesses in the tenant management organisation”, and “make sure the council develops, in partnership with the local community, a plan for the Grenfell Tower site; and ensure that the right leadership and governance arrangements are in place across the council.” The taskforce will be based in Kensington Town Hall, and is to deliver an initial report about its findings in October. Depending on what they report, “the remit and composition of the taskforce might need to develop”, according to the government’s press release, which also states that “the taskforce will be in place for as long as the Secretary of State [Sajid Javid] considers necessary.”

At a fourth meeting between residents and the Grenfell response team, the site manager, Michael Lockwood, said that the work to cover the charred remains of Grenfell Tower will begin in August. The operation, which consists of erecting scaffolding and then shroud the scaffolding in a protective wrap, is expected to take 12 weeks. The wrapping is indented to stop dust and ash from spreading over the area, and the scaffolding will also enable a lift to be installed, which will simplify and speed up the removal of recovered material. Michael Lockwood also said: “I think that, to be honest, the building will stay up throughout 2018. Towards the end of 2018, I think we could start to bring it down, if that is what the community wants, and the scaffolding will help us to do that because we can do that within the wrap.

At the same meeting, faith leaders urged the council to invest more in mental health services following the Grenfell Tower fire. According to Sikh leader Bhupinder Singh, at least 20 people have tried to take their lives in north Kensington since the fire. The new council leader, Elizabeth Campbell, and the tri-borough director of commissioning for children’s services, Rachel Turner-Wright, promised to do more for survivors and affected residents and visit anyone who felt they were not being properly supported.

Flowers outside Notting Hill Methodist Church, where so many meetings with the residents are held. Picture taken 16 June. Courtesy ChiralJon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Thursday 27 July:

In a letter to the survivors, Metropolitan Police wrote there are reasonable grounds to suspect the council and the KCTMO of corporate manslaughter. In their letter, the police said: “After an initial assessment of that information, the officer leading the investigation has today notified Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that each organisation may have committed the offence of corporate manslaughter, under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

The punishment for corporate manslaughter is a fine, as a company or organisation is not a physical person who can be sentenced to jail, but the police investigation may lead to senior managers being charged as well, for “gross negligence manslaughter”, where a breach of a duty of care has resulted in a person’s death.

Labour MP David Lammy commented: “I am pleased that justice for Grenfell victims and families is being taken seriously by the Metropolitan police and the CPS. But the punishment for corporate manslaughter is a fine. A fine would not represent justice for the Grenfell victims and their families. Gross negligence causing involuntary manslaughter carries a punishment of prison time and I hope that the police and the CPS are considering involuntary manslaughter caused by gross negligence.

In a press release from the Town Hall, the new council leader, Elizabeth Campbell, commented the the Met’s announcement: “Our residents deserve answers about the Grenfell Tower fire and the police investigation will provide these. We fully support the Metropolitan Police investigation and we will cooperate in every way we can. It would not be appropriate to comment further on matters subject to the police investigation.

Friday 28 July:

New cladding tests have shown that at least 82 residential high-rises in the country have the same deadly combination of insulation and cladding as Grenfell Tower, causing the government to request an independent review of building regulations, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, who will look at the guidelines around design, construction and management of buildings, compliance and their enforcement. An interim report is to be published by the end of this year and a final report no later than next spring.

Saturday 29 July:

In an article in the Guardian, it was revealed that Debbie Lamprell, who worked as fire officer at Opera Holland Park, was one of the victims in the Grenfell Tower inferno. The article also clarified that Opera Holland Park nowadays is independent of the council and hasn’t received any funding from the borough since 2015.

Sunday 30 July:

Lancaster West Resident Association expressed concern that the newly appointed Grenfell recovery taskforce is to be based in the Town Hall. “We insist that for people appointed to be independent, or allowed to be truly independent, the taskforce should not be located in Kensington Town Hall,” said Andrea Newton, vice-chair of the Lancaster West Resident Association to the Guardian. She said that there is available office space near the tower, which could be used by the task force.

Published 2017-08-01