The Families Of Grenfell Tower Are Still Waiting For Justice, Five Years On
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to understand what happened on that fateful night.
On June 14, 2017, a fire broke out in a 24-storey residential tower block in North Kensington in London, claiming the lives of 72 people (according to official reports) and leaving survivors and families of the deceased distraught, confused, and searching for answers. As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the fight for justice for its victims still continues. Below is the information needed for those looking to understand what's happening in relation to the Grenfell disaster now, as well as a timeline of events from June 2017 to the present day.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to understand what happened on the night of June 14, and what can be done to support those who were affected.
How You Can Help
Below are just a few ways you can support families affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and ensure the fight for justice continues.
- Donate to The Grenfell Foundation, a charitable organisation providing support for survivors and the families of victims through wellbeing and community projects. You can donate through two fundraising platforms, Virgin Money Giving and JustGiving.
- Donate to community-led Justice4Grenfell, which focuses on obtaining justice for bereaved families, survivors, evacuated residents and the wider local community that were and still are affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower. You can donate directly through their fundraising page here.
- Grenfell United, a support group by and for the survivors and bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, do not accept donations, but ask that those wanting to help sign up to their mailing list where opportunities to take action will be shared.
- Stay up to date with the Grenfell Tower Inquiry by following @grenfellinquiry on Twitter
- Write to your MP to ensure support for the inquiry and ongoing fight for justice continues in Parliament.
The Grenfell Fire Timeline
June 14, 2017: Just before 1 a.m. BST, a fire broke out on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower, North Kensington, London. It quickly grew to set most of the 24-storey building alight. By 2.06 a.m., around 40 fire engines were on their way or already at the scene, and a major search and rescue mission ensued.
June 16, 2017: The following day, May made a second visit to meet some of the survivors of the fire. She also pledges a £5 million fund for the victims.
June 18, 2017: The responsibility for survivor support was handed over from Kensington and Chelsea council to the Grenfell Fire Response Team, which is led by a group of chief execs from London councils. Also on this day, the government announced that each household would receive at least £500 in cash and £5,000 paid into an account as part of a £5 million fund announced on June 16.
June 19, 2017: A nationwide minute of silence is held for Grenfell victims.
September 14, 2017: The inquiry into the fire is opened, led by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick.
November 16, 2017: The final death toll is announced at 71. It was later increased to 72 in February 2018, when Maria Del Pilar Burton, who never left hospital after the fire, passed away. This official death toll is still disputed by local residents, particularly as it is believed that there were a number of undocumented residents in the tower.
November 22, 2017: Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond pledged an additional £28 million to help victims of the Grenfell fire.
Preliminary reports on what caused the fire, as well as the reasoning behind its rapid spread, begin to come out during the Phase One Inquiry. The reports reveal that the fire is thought to have began from a fridge-freezer in a flat on the fourth floor, and that a recent refurbishment to the building fell short of building regulations.
After pressure from Grenfell United to ensure Sir Martin Moore-Bick was not the sole leader of the inquiry and that a more diverse panel was introduced (many feared Moore-Bick alone would cause the investigation to be whitewashed), Theresa May agreed that two additional experts would sit in during Phase Two of the inquiry, which began in January 2020.
Lawyer Imran Khan QC (who had previously represented the family of Stephen Lawrence) said on June 5 that the inquiry should include investigations into whether the council and tenant management association were guilty of institutional racism, and that issues of religion and class should be considered also. The disaster disproportionately affected minority ethnic communities.
After the first phase of the inquiry finishes, Inquest, a charity that provides expertise on state-related deaths and their investigations, produced Family Reflections On Grenfell: No Voice Left Unheard to give feedback on the official inquiry, stating victims of the disaster do not feel their voices are truly being heard, and saying it took a "disrespectful" approach.
Separate to the public inquiry, the police identified suspects for possible Grenfell manslaughter charges. The Met interviewed 13 people under caution, but announced there is no guarantee criminal charges will ever be filed.
The following day, Grenfell survivors and relatives of the deceased opened a U.S. legal battle against cladding maker Arconic and insulation maker Celotex on the grounds that their materials were partially responsible for the fire and its rapid growth. Whirlpool, who made the fridge-freezer that started the fire, also had a claim filed against them.
The initial first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase One report is finally released, after originally being expected in April. Phase One sought to determine what happened on the night. The report found that the London Fire Brigade suffered "significant systemic failings," particularly in relation to the "Stay Put" policy, which was implemented on the night.
The London Fire Brigade Commissioner announces the “Stay Put” policy, which was used during the Grenfell disaster, needs to be reviewed.
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg is criticised over his comments that it would have been "common sense" to leave the burning building, rather than staying put as residents were instructed.
London Fire Chief Dany Cotton resigns after receiving criticism over the fire department's response to the Grenfell disaster.
Jan. 4, 2020: Victims are told it may take up to eight years to get any sort of justice for what happened.
Jan. 21, 2020: The government publishes its response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase One report. In it, they stated that they will be taking "firm and decisive action to address the presence of dangerous cladding on buildings across the country." They also spoke about an upcoming Fire Safety Bill from the Home Office, which aims to address the ways in which fire safety can be improved in multi-storey buildings.
Jan. 27, 2020: Phase Two of the inquiry begins. This time around, Sir Martin Moore-Bick is joined by a panel. Phase Two sets out to determine the underlying causes for the fire and calling on witnesses involved in refurbishing the tower and installing the cladding, as well as members from the Kensington & Chelsea borough council and workers from the private construction companies responsible for Grenfell's design.
Mar. 5, 2020: Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, published his latest update on Grenfell Tower recommendations. He said that progress is underway on all points of action for London Fire Brigade, and called for urgent action on safety to building owners and managers in the city.
The Phase Two hearings of the public inquiry are suspended until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On July 6, Phase Two of the inquiry reopens and builders answer questions about the tragedy and how it could have happened. However, hundreds of witnesses are told they cannot attend the hearing due to social distancing rules.
The inquiry breaks for the whole of August, meaning it’s likely to go on until the end of 2021 and no charges brought until 2022.
The inquiry resumes behind closed doors on Sept. 7. Downing Street is yet to appoint an inquiry panellist with expertise in community matters, as it promised to do in January. The Cabinet Office blamed the pandemic for the delay. Engineer Benita Mehra is forced to resign after Guardian reports on her links to the company that made the cladding blamed for accelerating the fatal fire. On Sept. 14, the inquiry hears that the emails, documents, drawings, and calculations relating to the Grenfell Tower refurbishment had been “lost forever.” Design manager Daniel Anketell-Jones, who worked for cladding specialists Harley Facades up until March 2016, tells the inquiry that he had deleted all files relating to his work during that period after leaving the company, assuming that his email files would be kept on the Harley Facades server. They were not. He denies claims that he had organised for these to be deleted after his departure.
Oct. 7, 2020: The inquiry continues, with more evidence of cost-cutting exercises coming to light. Per the Guardian, Artelia project manager Philip Booth says that "the Grenfell Tower landlord rejected professional help to check that the planned refurbishment met building regulations in order to save £30,000."
Oct. 15, 2020: The inquiry hears that the Grenfell Tower landlord held a "secret" and "offline" meeting with contractor Rydon to cut refurbishment costs by more than £800,000, despite having been told by lawyers that doing so would break procurement law and could void the main contract.
Oct. 25, 2020: Police arrest an unnamed 38-year-old man in Sussex on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. Scotland Yard issues a statement saying the arrest did not relate to events heard at the Grenfell Tower inquiry. Detectives released him the same day under investigation.
Nov. 5, 2020: The inquiry hears that the three companies that manufactured Grenfell Tower’s cladding — Arconic, Celotex, and Kingspan — “abused” testing regimes meant to check fire safety. The three companies have all strongly disputed the claims, but executives from Arconic are currently refusing to appear before the inquiry to give evidence, citing a French law that restricts people from sharing commercial or technical information to establish evidence in foreign courts.
Barwise said bereaved and survivors would "struggle to comprehend" the executives' decision not to attend "given their need to understand Arconic’s role in the disaster."
Nov. 17, 2020: The second phase of the Grenfell inquiry begins and further details about the way in which Celotex concealed certain materials in their cladding are revealed. Jonathan Roper, a former employee of Celotex, admitted to a public inquiry that his actions and the insulation (known as Rs5000) approved for use on high rise buildings were "completely unethical."
Dec. 11, 2020: The Westway Trust, which oversees part of the Portobello Road market and leases community space under the motorway flyover that divides west London, is branded institutionally racist, according to a two-year investigation by the Tutu Foundation UK.
Dec. 17, 2020: Peter Wilson, the director of Kingspan, which made combustible insulation installed on the tower, leaves his role at the plc. He is the only board member to leave the Irish company since the disaster, per the Guardian.
Dec. 23, 2020: A major shareholder in Arconic – the French company refusing to appear at the inquiry – is revealed to have donated nearly £25,000 to Boris Johnson and the Conservative party. Grenfell United calls on the prime minister to return the money and to put pressure on the French authorities to ensure the Arconic witnesses testify.
Jan. 6, 2021: The inquiry is suspended as the rise in COVID infections increases in London, delaying conclusions until well into 2022.
Jan. 22, 2021: After seven months of refusing to participate, Arconic's Claude Schmidt agrees to give evidence to the public inquiry, when it resumes.
Feb. 6, 2021: The inquiry is set to restart with fully remote hearings, despite having previously admitted video conferencing means witnesses “might relax and not feel the same pressure to be candid” or could be surreptitiously coached via text or email, per the Guardian.
Feb. 7, 2021: Debbie French, a former employee of Arconic who sold the cladding used on Grenfell Tower, knew it could burn but did not tell customers, she admitted to the public inquiry. The French firm provided more flammable version of panels by default, as part of marketing strategy she said.
Feb. 9, 2021: Away from the inquiry, UK ministers prepare to announce further funding to address the cladding crisis that has left homeowners bankrupt, distraught, and unable to sell their properties. MPs estimate the total cost of the crisis could run to £15bn.
Feb. 12, 2021: The president of Arconic’s French arm, Claude Schmidt, told the inquiry that they did not tell certifiers about a “disastrous” failed fire test on one of its products despite being “legally obliged” to do so. Though he denied the test results were “deliberately concealed”, he agreed the omission amounted to a “misleading half truth.”
Feb. 22, 2021: Following revelations that two high-rise infernos in the Middle East involving similar materials sparked internal concerns, Schmidt told the inquiry that he is “practically sure” he sent assessment to senior colleague in U.S., bringing Arconic HQ into the spotlight.
Feb. 24, 2021: In Parliament, an amendment to the fire safety bill — which could have spared leaseholders costs of up to £100,000 to make their homes safe – was rejected. The bill is the first piece of primary legislation introduced as a result of the Grenfell disaster.
Also defeated in that same vote, were amendments that would force the government to implement key recommendations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry, including making owners tell fire brigades what materials are in wall systems, inspect fire doors annually, and lifts monthly.
Mar. 10, 2021: As early as June 2011, Arconic warned a Spanish customer against using its PE panels because of their low – and dangerous – performance rating. But in 2014, the company still sold the same panels to the Grenfell project, the inquiry heard.
Mar. 29, 2021: The inquiry phase started, with opening statements made by the lawyers of the bereaved and survivors accusing the council of an “ethos of indifference or hostility [that] came to permeate the non-negotiable matter of fire safety.” Opening statements claimed the fire was “a landmark act of discrimination against disabled and vulnerable people”.
Mar. 31, 2021: Conflict of interest claims emerged after it was revealed that Colin Todd’s son now works for Kensington and Chelsea council. Colin Todd was an expert witness in the inquiry, tasked with looking into how the council landlord handled fire risk.
Apr. 18-21, 2021: Following over 200 days of evidence, seven survivors began their testimony. Grenfell Tower’s “rebel residents,” as they were dubbed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), were "bullied" and "stigmatised" by RBKC and the tenant management organisation (TMO).
Key witnesses include: Edward Daffarn, the 16th-floor resident who predicted the disaster on a blog months earlier and was accused within the TMO of “scaremongering” and Hisam Choucair, whose disabled mother, Sirria, died in the fire.
May 6, 2021: The inquiry was told that the Grenfell Tower landlord didn’t create escape plans for disabled residents, the majority of whom were living on the top floors of the high-rise. Teresa Brown, the director of TMP admitted the landlord had not considered “personal evacuation plans to get the most vulnerable people out”.
Lawyers for the victims said the fire was “a landmark act of discrimination against disabled and vulnerable people.”
May 7, 2021: A fire breaks out at the New Providence Wharf development in Tower Hamlets, which engulfs four floors of the high-rise block at 11.30 a.m. There were no deaths, but more than 40 people required medical treatment.
According to the Evening Standard, approximately 22% of the front of the building consists of the same cladding used in the Grenfell refurbishment. However, property developer Ballymore claimed the cladding “played no part” in causing the fire.
May 12, 2021: The government sends a letter to the Grenfell community that they are considering pulling the tower down due to safety concerns. On May 16, residents voice their concerns about this and instead suggested that the building should become a vertical garden covered in 72 species of plants to honour the lives lost.
May 18, 2021: Rock Feilding-Mellen, the then deputy leader of the RBKC apologies for his part in the incident. “Based on the information I had and given what I considered my roles to be, I really don’t know what I could have done different,” he said during the inquiry. “From the very bottom of my heart I wish things had been done differently so as to have prevented that fire.”
May 19, 2021: It is found that Rita Dexter, the deputy commissioner of the London Fire Brigade told Nicolas Paget-Brown, then council leader in 2015 of “a serious risk to the safety of residents” caused by the addition of the cladding and urged that a “strategy for assessing that risk and taking appropriate remedial action” to be put in place.
May 28, 2021: Following Feilding-Mellen’s apology, he revealed that he was emailed about the potential cladding change but had “no idea” about the differences between the materials being considered.
He was informed of plans to save money by swapping zinc cladding for aluminium in 2014 but initially told police he only knew about this after the fire. “The switch led to the use of combustible cladding that became the main cause of the fire’s spread,” the Guardian reported. The aluminium panelling contained a plastic core that fuelled the fire.
June 14, 2021: The Grenfell Tower Inquiry issued a statement on the fourth anniversary of the fire. “We know that this is a very difficult time for all those who have been affected by the fire which engulfed Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017,” the statement reads. “On this fourth anniversary of the tragedy the Panel and the whole of the Inquiry team offer their deepest sympathy to the bereaved, survivors and other members of the community whose lives were shattered by it.”
“We shall continue to put every effort into uncovering the causes of the fire and remain determined to provide the answers which the community seeks.”
On the same day, survivors accused the government of playing “Russian roulette” by failing to fix other high-rise flats with similar fire defects to Grenfell. The latest figures show that there are 217 high-rise residential buildings in the UK that still have not been completely fixed, 36 of which haven’t been worked on at all.
Structural engineering experts “unambiguously and unanimously” advise the government to demolish Grenfell, a senior Whitehall source tells the Sunday Times. Survivors and bereaved families were shocked by the development, having been “given the promise by the government that no decision would be made on the future of the tower without full consultation with [them].”
“Many of the Grenfell community accept the removal of the tower will always be a case of when, not if, but the timeline needs to be decided by the bereaved, survivors and community, not the government – who have done nothing to make the changes needed to prevent it from happening again,” Grenfell United said in a statement.
Anthony Burd, the first government official to give evidence in the inquiry, reveals that the government knew of the danger related to plastic-filled cladding 15 years before the Grenfell tragedy. According to Burd, who was the principal fire safety professional and later head of technical policy in building regulations division, the government commissioned 14 “large-scale” fire tests on cladding systems. All the tests failed, but the results weren’t made public until the inquiry began.
As for why the results were never published beforehand, Burd says that they had “fallen down between the department and Building Research Establishment”, which carried out the tests.
The Home Office rejects recommendations to scrap the “stay put” advice in high rise buildings. This comes despite evidence given in the inquiry that “many more lives” could have been saved had there been an evacuation plan in place, especially for disabled residents. The Home Office argued these plans would leave owners “no practical choice but to respond by ‘staffing up’ their building with a 24/7 presence,” per the Independent.
Grenfell United called the Home Office’s response “a disgrace,” going on to say that their “sole focus continues to be profit and not public safety.” The group continued: “We’ve fought for years to create a legacy for our 72 loved ones, and to prevent another Grenfell. But, five years on, the government has reverted back to the same policy in place before Grenfell.”
As the fifth anniversary approached, the community-led Justice4Grenfell set up a poignant reminder of the 72 lives lost. Like the rest of the country celebrating the Platinum Jubilee, they organised a street party by setting up a table under the shadow of the destroyed building consisting of 72 empty chairs, plates, and cups for each person killed in the fire. The victims names were printed on every plate, alongside the message: “72 dead, and still no arrests? How come?”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote in the Guardian that “no one has yet to be held truly accountable for the combustible cladding that turned Grenfell into a death trap.” Highlighting the lack of response from the government, Khan notes that “major reforms to fix a broken system are nowhere to be seen, and to it’s shame the government has so far failed to complete a single recommendation directed at ministers from the first phase of the inquiry.”
For the bereaved families and survivors of Grenfell, this is unacceptable. “We know who the guilty people are. Yet they are still walking around free, living their lives, not being held to account,” Marlene Anderson told the Telegraph, whose father died in the blaze. “There are individuals to blame and a system to blame,” she continued. “Both are responsible for the death of my father and the other victims.”
Contributions from Niellah Arboine, Charlie Mock, Rebecca Fearn, Sophie McEvoy & Sam Rogers.
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