On 27th July, those affected by the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower received a letter from the Metropolitan Police which stated that:
“The officer leading the investigation has notified the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation [KCTMO] that there are reasonable grounds to suspect each organisation to have committed corporate manslaughter.”
This statement will seem blatantly obvious to the surviving victims and local residents from the area who for years have been systematically ignored. Residents are acutely aware that the only reason the people of Grenfell Tower died was because they were poor and that they were killed by a capitalist system that values profit over lives.
The facts are there for all to see. KCTMO got £55 million in rent revenue in 2016 yet only invested £40 million into social housing. Meanwhile, KCTMO paid its top four executives £650,000 between them last year. Furthermore, the management organisation paid its own fire risk assessor £250,000 specifically to challenge London Fire Brigade regulations and to recommend to the council (and KCTMO) that they “bury the fire safety reports”. Furthermore, residents were threatened with legal action if they complained.
The local council was repeatedly warned about the fire risks. But rather than addressing these hazards, they prioritised making the estate look presentable to neighbouring wealthy residents.
The council has a stockpile of £247 million in reserves, yet has continued with its policy of managed decline and social cleansing. They have not only ignored residents’ concerns but ignored the safety recommendations of lawyers who investigated fire safety issues. Instead, the council sent their lawyers to silence residents who complained about fire safety. Mariem Elgwahry and Nadia Choucair, who both died in the blaze, were amongst those threatened by council lawyers for campaigning on fire safety issues.
In response to concerns made before the fire, Tory councillor Rock Feilding-Mellen response was “the village does not dictate to the estate”. This one remark says it all.
In the July dated letter, the Metropolitan Police go on to explain that: “The legislation under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 does not provide a power to arrest any individual.” So much for the importance attached to these “corporate” crimes!
The Justice for Grenfell Campaign is calling for prosecutions to be made under the charge of ‘manslaughter caused by gross negligence’. However, for convictions secured in the past for this crime, there has never been a larger sentence given than 10 years, with the average sentence being just four years.
Under pressure from the local residents and in fear of a social explosion, the recommended sentence level for the worst cases of Gross Negligence Manslaughter has been raised to 18 years. However, many fear that those found guilty of this murder of at least 80 people may just face a fine.
The path to justice will not be an easy one. This fire has implicated the rich and the powerful, and they will do all in their power to avoid justice. This may well start with the coming inquiry.
But how can the government be expected to lead an inquiry into its own failings? We don’t allow robbers or murderers to be their own judges at court. The judge leading the inquiry is Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a clear representative of the establishment: a man who has spent his whole career dealing with corporate matters, not real people; a judge who made an infamous ruling which gave the green light to social cleansing by councils; a judge who has stated he will be conducting a “limited” inquiry, only looking at how the fire started and spread.
This judge will be leading the inquiry, accompanied by with a panel of so-called “experts”, half of whom are linked to a company called BRE Ltd, a former government research body which was privatised in 1997. This company had previously been contracted to look at cladding and fire safety regulation, reporting back that these questions were all fine as recently as 2016. How can these potential suspects be advising the judge?
All the Grenfell campaigners are aware that the struggle for justice will not be easy. Nonetheless, the victims and their families and local residents are working class, militant and determined. They will not give in or give up.
Up and down the country, in every high rise estate, people are being politicised by the Grenfell fire and rightly see what happened as an attack on them all. A unified struggle must lie ahead.
We live in a system that is rigged against the working class, with a local and national government that are culpable for this criminal fire. As one Grenfell activist told me: “What we want is justice, but we might just need a revolution to get it.”