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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:48 pm, 30th October 2019

It is my pleasure to follow Mrs May, who made a very careful and considered speech in response to these matters. It is good to know that the days of establishment cover-ups in the immediate aftermath of tragedies—such as we saw over Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday—are over. Although I find much to disagree with the right hon. Lady about, I know that she has been pivotal in ensuring that there was an inquiry in this case, and that her actions were also pivotal in relation to Hillsborough. That is something about which we can agree.

I welcome on the publication of phase 1 of the reports, but I agree with the Leader of the Opposition when he says that this was an avoidable tragedy, and I will come back to that in a moment.

Before I say anything else, I want, like others, to pay tribute to the resilience of the survivors of this tragedy and the bereaved. Like many other hon. Members, I had the privilege, thanks to you, Mr Speaker, of meeting some of the survivors and bereaved at a reception in your offices. That was of great use to me in understanding their lived experience of this avoidable tragedy, which must be central to how we deal with preventing this sort of thing and ensuring that it never happens again.

As well as paying tribute to the fortitude and dignity of the families—the bereaved—and the survivors, I want, like others, to pay tribute to the bravery of individual firefighters. For most of us, it is really unfathomable that they had the courage to run back and forth in and out of that inferno. I believe that the bereaved families have had very warm words for the coroner, Fiona Wilcox, and tribute should be paid to her, as well as to Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his staff. Of course, tributes should also be paid, as others have said, to Emma Dent Coad, who had to deal with this terrible tragedy on her patch very shortly after she had been elected a Member of Parliament, and has been able to do so, again with great fortitude and resilience, because she knew the area so well.

It is important to remember that this is only phase 1 of the inquiry. Many have argued that perhaps the inquiry was the wrong way round and that phase 1 should have looked at the cause of the fire and phase 2 at the response. There is some force in that, but we are where we are. It is very important to look to the statement that the Fire Brigades Union made, pointing out:

“Before any firefighter arrived that night, Grenfell Tower was” already

“a death trap. Firefighters…acted bravely in impossible circumstances, many of them repeatedly risking their own lives to save others.”

Indeed, that is reflected in the report. The Fire Brigades Union goes on to say:

“The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding.”

It is good that the inquiry has recognised that, and I am sure that phase 2 will spend a lot more time looking at it. Also contributing to this avoidable tragedy were those who gutted the fire safety regime of the United Kingdom, who ignored the warnings from previous fires, and who did not hear the pleas of a community who were worried for their safety.

I cannot help thinking that the story of the avoidable tragedy of Grenfell is a modern tale of two cities. Do we really think that this carnage would have been allowed to happen if the residents of the tower were white, wealthy, middle and upper-class residents such as we find elsewhere in Kensington? Do we really think that the survivors and the bereaved would have waited so long for state support and rehousing if they had been white, wealthy and middle-class? Of course not. This divided city, and our divided society, have developed under the watch of the Conservative party. As others have pointed out, the Prime Minister was Mayor of this great city of London at the time when cuts were made to the fire brigade. There are issues of political responsibility that are properly the province of this House.