The week that was: 3 July – 9 July

The third full week after the Grenfell Tower fire was dominated by two meetings between the survivors and the authorises, which clearly demonstrated the frustration and anger felt. It was also revealed that the RBKC council more than any other in England place homeless families outside its own borough. More than 900 have been in temporary accommodation outside the borough for over a year.

Monday 3 July:

The Conservative councillors decided to put forward Elizabeth Campbell, councillor for the Royal Hospital ward in Chelsea since 2006, for election as new council leader at the next council meeting on 19 July.

Following the statement by the appointed chair of the upcoming public inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, that his understanding was that the inquiry was to be very limited in scope, a team of lawyers representing the survivors sent a letter to the prime minister, demanding assurances that the residents are properly consulted regarding the reference of the public inquiry, and that someone else is appointed to lead the inquiry, as the residents hadn’t been consulted about his appointment in spite of being promised this by the prime minister.

Tuesday 4 July:

Clearly influenced by the emerging details around the Grenfell Tower fire, the Sentencing Council for England and Wales published draft guidelines for sentencing cases of gross negligence manslaughter. It believes that prison sentences for such cases should be longer than today. Now the maximum sentence is 18 years. “The council is concerned that sentences should be at least as high as those that would be imposed for causing death by dangerous driving,” their report stated. The draft guidelines are to be sent out for consultation by various courts in the country.

The Metropolitan police commander Stuart Cundy and coroner Fiona Wilcox met more than 50 relatives and members of survivors’ families in a very emotional and highly charged meeting, which was closed to the media. According to reports by people attending, relatives of the dead were angry and distressed to be told by the coroner that the recovery process could take months. The Grenfell Response unit, the official London-wide council response team, tweeted from inside the meeting that those seriously injured in the fire will receive payments of £10,000. The next of kin for each of those who lost their lives in the fire will receive an initial £20,000. Those made homeless will receive a “fresh start” grant of £10,000 when they are permanently rehoused.

Wednesday 5 July:

The Metropolitan police commander, Stuart Cundy, announced that the police had recovered the last visible human remains in Grenfell Tower. “In total we have made 87 recoveries, but I must stress that the catastrophic damage inside Grenfell Tower means that is not 87 people,” he said, adding: “Until formal identification has been completed to the coroner’s satisfaction, I cannot say how many people have now been recovered.” Anthropologists have been brought in to advise investigators searching by hand through tonnes of debris recovered from each floor of the 24-storey block. Cundy said: “This will involve us meticulously going through about 15.5 tonnes of debris on each floor to find those human remains that are still within the debris inside Grenfell Tower. We will use all the information we have, especially what we have been told by survivors and families, to prioritise our search where we believe we may find more human remains. This will take us many months, but we will search each and every flat.”

Thursday 6 July:

After numerous cladding panels from across the country failed the fire test, the government on 7 July decided to test whole cladding packages: panel, fire barriers, air cavity and insulation, something many experts had called for all along. Pictures from Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

It was revealed that the fire-retardant panels specified by the architects had been used on the bottom of the building, which may explain why the bottom of the building was untouched by the fire.

In the evening, the appointed chair of the public inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, met residents at a three-hour meeting. There were many angry voices from frustrated residents, but Moore-Bick told the meeting: “I can’t do more than assure you that I know what it is to be impartial. I’ve been a judge for 20 years and I give you my word that I will look into this matter to the very best of my ability and find the facts as I see them from the evidence.” Afterwards, Andrea Newton, vice-chair of Lancaster West Residents Association, said that Moore-Bick had listened to the residents, but called for Theresa May to allow three further weeks for residents to make submissions on the terms of reference.

Friday 7 July:

Greg Hands, minister for London and MP for Chelsea and Fulham (expected to be Conservative candidate for the reinstated constituency of Chelsea and Kensington if the proposed boundary changes go through) proposed to the London mayor Sadiq Khan that the Notting Hill carnival in August should be moved to another location, as “we have to ask ourselves if it is appropriate to stage a carnival in the near proximity of a major national disaster”, and that the GLA should take over organising of the carnival “in conjunction with the current organisers. Khan, however, rejected the suggestion, stating that the carnival ”was born out of the African-Caribbean immigrant community in north Kensington and Notting Hill in the 1950s, and it’s only right that this remains its home. Any attempt to impose a move to another location on the carnival, particularly at a time when the community has little trust in those in positions of authority, would be a mistake.”

It was announced that the government would extend the ongoing cladding testing programme to cover the whole cladding package, instead of focusing on the outer panels, after facing heavy criticism that the method so far used was too simplistic. Many experts had all along stated that even panels with a plastic core can be acceptable if the insulation behind them is fire safe and if there are built-in fire barriers in the system.

Saturday 8 July:

After reports that an areal ladder that could reach the 10th floor was despatched to Grenfell Tower 30 minutes later than the first fire engines, and that tallest areal ladder in the country, which can reach 70 metres (Grenfell Tower is 67 metres high), didn’t arrive from Surrey until several hours later, London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan announced that he had asked Dany Cotton, the commissioner of the London fire service, to carry out an urgent review of what additional equipment London Fire Brigade may need. The same day, London Fire Brigade announced that in the future a minimum of five fire engines, including an aerial ladder, will immediately be dispatched to high-rise fires as a matter of routine. Before Grenfell, the protocol was to tackle high-rise fires from inside the building.

Sunday 9 July:

RBKC is the London borough with the highest proportion of people in temporary accommodation placed outside its own borders: 74%. Picture courtesy of New Policy Institute.

The Observer revealed in a survey that the RBKC council more than any other in England place homeless households in temporary housing outside its borough. As of this spring, RBKC had 1,668 households placed outside the borough. Of those households, 902 had been housed outside Kensington and Chelsea for at least a year. Hundreds have been sent to outer London boroughs such as Barking and Redbridge, or even beyond into Kent and Essex.

These figures match research published on 20 June by the New Policy Institute, which revealed that in the fourth quarter of 2016, 74% of RBKC households in temporary accommodation were placed outside the borough. The London-wide average was 37%. Even in the Inner West of London (where households are most likely to be placed in temporary accommodation outside their borough), the average was 54%. According to the department for local government and communities, 1,360 of the 1,844 RBKC households in temporary accommodation in the fourth quarter of 2016, were placed outside the borough.

Published 2017-07-14