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Grenfell: Questions need to be answered

TOGETHERNESS: Through tragedy comes unity, and this has been displayed in abundance

IT SEEMS like I am called to bear witness to a tragedy every week. First the Manchester bombing. Then the London Bridge attack. And now the Grenfell Tower fire.

When I got there, the tower was still on fire. It was sheer horror. The raging inferno overnight had been contained, but the fire crews had not managed to extinguish it. This fire was evil. It looked evil and smelled evil. And its intention was evil. Sheer evil. It had taken residency and refused to be shifted even though all that remained was a charred building and the corpses of those who resided within. Grenfell had become a tomb.

All around me were people who had rushed from the surrounding neighbourhood and from further afield to offer any help they could. I bear witness to this. The solidarity and goodwill and human spirit rose above the acrid smoke in the air.

But there were still too many people unaccounted for and if you looked closely you could see desperation etched on faces as people looked up at the tower in disbelief that their unaccounted loved ones could somehow have managed to get out of that building. Especially those in the top three or four floors.


TRAGIC: Charred remains of the Grenfell Tower's fourth floor

In the midst of all of this I bumped into my old friend Chinudu, who I hadn’t seen for years, and who was waiting for news of several people that he knew in that building. He grew up in the neighbourhood and while we waited for no news, for none was forthcoming, he told me the untold story of the area when the racial divide separated black from white. The black people to the east were not allowed to come west of Grenfell Tower. An unwritten rule enforced by racist white residents who chased Chinudu and any other black youth brave enough or ignorant enough to stray, and beat them. It was one of many racial fault lines in Britain that black youth battled against and, eventually, defeated.

I also bumped into Cheryl Phoenix, who runs the Black Child Agenda advisory service. She had had news that her son’s best friend’s girlfriend had perished in the blaze. And there are others too, who I ran into, who I knew, and who had loved ones in that building. All of us connected by one, two, three or more degrees of separation.

The horror of that fire will never be forgotten by those of us who witnessed it first hand. One can only imagine what those poor souls that were in the building went through when it caught fire.

HEARTS

Our hearts must go out to those who lost family and friends, of course. But also the survivors. I know survivors of the New Cross fire in which 14 young black lives were lost and, I can assure you, that more than 30 years later it still haunts their every waking moment. You don’t ‘survive’ something like that – you ‘embody’ it.


GRIEF: A woman breaks down after the national minute of silence for victims was held last week

But when the horror subsides and the acceptance that this tragedy will be etched on our minds forever replaces it, those caught up in it all and those of us who witnessed it, will simmer with anger and boil up with rage as question by question we try to find answers.

With terrorist attacks there is no reasoning. There is no question ‘why’. Who is there to pose that question to when you are dealing with a death cult? The only real question is whether or not the authorities, with their intelligence, could have prevented it or not. Other than that, we are fatalistic. We turn to God, looking for answers, or we put it down to bad luck. Bad luck that our loved ones were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

With the Grenfell Tower fire, there are a plethora of questions that the authorities (by that I mean the Government, the local council) architects, engineers and others must answer in the public inquiry that was quickly announced by the Prime Minister. No such public scrutiny was offered in the aftermath of the New Cross fire. Only after decades of protests was one finally instigated.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry must be as forensic as the global investigation into the Manchester bomber and his associates and every move before the Ariana Grande concert attack. And we need an inquiry that is without the Captain Hindsights that are usually subpoenaed to tell us what they would have done differently if they could turn back time. They cannot. So that is pointless.


SORROW: A mother and daughter read messages dedicated to the dead or missing

Let’s be honest, many of those closely affected by this tragedy want the inquiry to be a criminal trial. With the Government, local council and architects and engineers in the dock fighting for – potentially – their freedoms.

GRIM

They are not going to get that. But the threat of a criminal procedure is a useful tool to ensure the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

On this final point, I live in a 25-storey council tower block in Salford, very similar to Grenfell Tower. It is grim there, I won’t lie to you. But it does have an overnight watchman. I thought he was there to keep the drug dealing down to a minimum, but I will sleep reassured tonight that if there is a fire he will be an early warning system who can raise the alarm very quickly. Of course, I cannot say whether this would have saved the victims of Grenfell Tower, but if every flat is connected to a central alarm that is triggered by an overnight watchman most of us would stand a better chance of survival, I am sure.

WHAT THE PUBLIC INQUIRY MUST ASK

1. What has poverty got to do with it?

2. What have government cuts got to do with it?

3. What has race/immigration/ multi-culturalism got to do with it?

4. What has gentrification got to do with it?

5. What has pressure on housing in the capital got to do with it?

6. How safe are other council tower block residents in the country?

7. Is it time that every council tower block has an overnight watchman?

Dotun Adebayo is Britain’s most listened-to black radio talk show host. He presents Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 live Thursdays through Sundays on 909/693 MW, The Sunday Night Special on BBC 94.9FM and Reggae Time on BBC London 94.9FM on Saturday evenings. Tune in if you’re ranking!

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