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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Emma Dent Coad Emma Dent Coad Labour, Kensington 3:10 pm, 30th October 2019

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to overrun the time limit.

There is one finding in this 1,000 page document that I welcome without hesitation: my former neighbour whose Hotpoint fridge freezer burst into flames, the match lighting a bonfire created by others, is entirely blameless and, indeed, did everything he could and should have done to alert the emergency services and his neighbours. He has been vilified by the gutter press, not by our community, and I would welcome an opportunity to reunite him with the neighbours he was advised—wrongly, I believe—never to speak to again, at huge personal cost to himself. Another point I welcome with some hesitation is that the building was non-compliant at the time of the fire. This finding, although very welcome, is left hanging with no commentary and no resolution.

Much of the rest of this story is, in my opinion, a litany of vested interest protecting itself. How very disappointing it is that the inquiry has to a certain extent gone along with this narrative, as we feared. I do hope people will bear with me, but I did not have the benefit of having the full report on Monday morning, as The Daily Telegraph seems to have done. I will be giving a visceral response, and I will give a more measured response in time to come, when I have absorbed all the details of the report.

For me—and I have spent a mere four hours reading the documents—one of the worst of many disappointments is the naming of some of the firefighters who, as has already been said, risked their lives in a bonfire made by corporate greed and by the disdain and complacency of politicians over many years. To create some balance and to point the finger of blame as I personally see it, I am naming some of those at the top of the pyramid of responsibility.

I am going to start with the chief executive of Arconic, which makes the cladding, Chip Blankenship, who, when he left in 2017, had a going-away present of $17.5 million, which is 500 times the earnings of a firefighter who ran into a bonfire that he was potentially responsible for. The chief executive of Whirlpool now, Marc Bitzer, who manufactured the now banned plastic fridge freezer that burst into flames and lit the bonfire, was on record as earning $11.8 million, which is 300 times as much as firefighters. The chief executive of Celotex, Pierre-André de Chalendar, made a mere £4 million from salary and dividends, and the chief executive of Rydon, Robert Bond, who constructed the bonfire of now banned combustible products—and did a pretty shoddy job of it from what we gather, with gaps creating chimneys, badly fitting windows and dodgy fixings, some fitted upside down which encouraged the fire to spread—earned a mere £2 million, which is a mere 80 times that of firefighters. All these men are responsible to some extent for the events of 14 June 2017, but if they are named at all, it will not be for two years, when their army of lawyers will have created a firewall between them and any degree of accountability.

I also name the Prime Minister who, as Mayor of London, was responsible for the brutal cuts that weakened the fire service and forced it to economise, and who, in his current role, will potentially happily allow further cuts to an already depleted service. I do hope that Ministers will deny that. When, as the Mayor, he was challenged about the cuts—at the time I was fighting, and I fought very hard, for North Ken fire station, which I hope we have managed to save—he, as we have heard, emitted a foul expletive, just to show his disdain for the concerns of his fellow human beings.

I also name the current chair of the Conservative party, James Cleverly, who, as the then chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, presided over those very same cuts and takes no responsibility for the outcome of those cuts. He did nothing in the aftermath of the Lakanal House fire of 2009 in which six people died.