Grenfell is a play brought to Channel 4, but it is a dramatization based on the verbatim record of words spoken in the Grenfell Tower inquiry. It is introduced by Jon Snow, Channel Four’s former news anchor, and it brings home, in a concentrated form, the many cuts and political errors that led to 72 deaths.
It is a two-part drama, giving an account of events that led up to the fire and who was responsible. Jon Snow even commented that he broke down in tears when he discovered that one of the victims was a twelve-year-old who had received a prestigious award for writing a story, a talented young person with a bright future.
The drama recalled the witness statement of a firefighter, who was told that a child was in a flat on the 19th floor. At significant personal risk, he entered the smoke-filled landing and discovered that there was no one in the flat. He had to use touch to locate the correct address. Initially, he located the flat next door with people inside. He broke down in tears because he hadn’t checked the right flat and apologised to the relatives for this failure. In my view, this guy showed bravery. Hindsight is the cheapest form of wisdom.
After the firefighter’s testimony came the various contractors who showed no contrition and tended to put blame on each other for the failure to put fire-resistant cladding around the tower. A revealing aspect of the inquiry was that the cladding used did not meet European standards.
None of the contractors would accept responsibility
The boss of one sub-contractor said that the fire regulations were ambiguous and the cladding was made by a multi-national, so he assumed it to be suitable for high-rise buildings. Some questions were quite technical and not always easy to follow, but none of the various contractors was willing to accept their share of responsibility for the fire. Indeed, their participation in the second half of the Inquiry was only ‘bought’ by offering them immunity from prosecution based on the evidence they offered.
There was one man who did accept some responsibility: the building inspector for Kensington Council. He also broke down in tears and apologised to the relatives of those who died. In my view, he made some telling points in speaking to the Inquiry. As a building inspector of 35 years, he resigned his post after the fire. He told the Inquiry that austerity meant fewer inspections were made to ensure compliance with building regulations.
He also said that this would not have happened if the Greater London Council had still been around because of the technical support given by the GLC. He pointed out that hundreds of buildings had this kind of cladding. He struck me as an honest worker who was at least willing to share some of the responsibility for the fire.
Complaints about the principal contractor's work
Testimony was given by representatives of the body that ran the so-called Tenants’ Management Organisation and its principal contractor, Rydon. They were awarded the contract to refurbish Grenfell because their bid was the cheapest.
Many tenants had complained about the standard of work done by Rydon. It was reported that one resident who had bowel cancer had no toilet for nearly six months. According to the dramatized inquiry, the bosses of the TMO had already given the nod to Rydon before the bidding process had begun. They meet each other at building conferences.
The programme gave an account of a resident who warned that Grenfell would be a fire risk, with poor ventilation, restricted access for escape and no fire alarms or sprinklers installed. His insight was based upon the fact that there had already been a fire in 2010 and in other tower blocks in London.
The absentees from the drama and the Inquiry were the real culprits, the Tories and their big business mates. The ‘Royal’ Borough of Chelsea and Kensington is the wealthiest borough in the UK and could easily have afforded sprinkler and alarm systems for council tenants in high-rise blocks. They should be held to account for what happened at Grenfell.
The provision of social housing at affordable rents is anathema for the Tories, and a solid commitment for a programme of council-house building must come from Labour in any future election. Likewise, implementing all of the recommendations coming out of the Inquiry.
This TV dramatization is based on a stage play at the Tabernacle, Notting Hill Gate, West London; it is well worth watching and is available on Channel 4’s ‘on demand’ service here.