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The Grenfell tragedy has exposed a system that prevents justice and protects those in power

The Grenfell tragedy has exposed a system that prevents justice and protects those in power
4 min read

On the night of the fire that killed 72 people, I was on the streets desperately searching for my uncle who lived on the top floor of Grenfell Tower. There were people everywhere. It was complete chaos.

In the hours after, I waited for someone to come and take control – but no one came. We were completely abandoned. Those who were supposed to help, didn’t. They left us standing in the street, searching for answers.

This went on for days, weeks. We had no choice but to pull things together ourselves. It was the community that helped us through.

Evidence from the Grenfell public inquiry has shown this was always the government’s plan – to suppress unrest and violence at all costs. While we were searching for loved ones, government’s sole focus was preventing an uprising. 

We’ve endured four secretaries of state offering empty promises and no change

Government failed us from day one, and it has continued ever since. It handed peerages to Daniel Moylan, Eric Pickles and Gavin Barwell. Moylan was deputy leader at Kensington and Chelsea council, and at the heart of a culture that seemingly held residents in contempt. Pickles refused to implement vital recommendations arising from the inquest into the Lakanal House tower block fire of 2009. And Barwell ignored multiple warnings issued to him as housing minister.

This was yet another kick in the teeth. How are we supposed to trust government and have faith in its ability to take care of us when those who failed to act have been promoted?

This breakdown of trust between our community and government has plagued the last five years. We’ve endured four secretaries of state offering empty promises and no change.

They told us their plan to demolish the tower through an article in The Times. The tower is a sacred burial site, and to find out the way we did – we should never have had to go through that. We were forced to rally as a community and fight this injustice. 

We’ve been ridiculed by Jacob Rees-Mogg who said it would have been “common sense” to flee and ignore the fire brigade’s advice. This is how the government communicates. 

Government’s appointment of Benita Mehra as the new panel member at the Grenfell inquiry led us to carry out our own due diligence, and we uncovered her links with Arconic [the firm which supplied the block’s cladding]. They failed to carry out those basic checks.

We don’t want our 72 to be remembered for what happened, but for what changed. For five years we’ve been forced to fight; if we hadn’t, we’d be much further from justice and accountability. 

This is a pattern – a system built to prevent justice and protect those in power. While this system exists, we face the same insurmountable challenge as the many before us. From Aberfan to Hillsborough, justice has been denied and Grenfell is no different.

Hours after the fire, a public inquiry was announced. We wanted the criminal investigation to go first, but we had no choice. Today we have no justice, no accountability, and none of the recommendations from phase one of the report issued to the government have been implemented. Just like Lakanal House and the many other inquiries before it.

Had those recommendations been implemented, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now. But it raises the question: what is the point of an inquiry if nothing comes from it? 

Look at the history of inquiries in this country. Are inquiries there to slow down justice? To deny justice? They promised us “no stone unturned,” yet when robust recommendations are issued and left to gather dust we can’t help but ask, why? 

They left us to search for answers, they mocked us publicly, leaked information before we heard it first, and now they stand in the way of justice. We won’t stop fighting this system. They must pave a new way forward. They must hold those responsible to account, and make the necessary changes to ensure what happened to us, never happens again.

 

Karim Mussilhy is vice-chair of Grenfell United and bereaved family member.

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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