Grenfell Tower fire: not terrorism

A picture of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey housing block, on fire. The outside is charred and there are flames behind many windows. Water is being sprayed at the tower from multiple directions from below.This shouldn’t need to be said, but …

In the wake of the fire in the Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey public housing block in west London, in which at least six people have died (the number is expected to rise as those trapped in the tower are unaccounted for), some people have been posting on social media with the assumption that the blaze must have been started by terrorists. For example, I saw someone claim that local Muslims were trying to “lure victims into mosques” as well as this tweet by someone in Canada whose Twitter bio reads “Grassroots must unite to save #Canada #TrudeauMustGo No #M103 #MCGA #ProLife #Patriot #ISupportIsrael #JesusIsLord Professional” which asked:

R the owners Muslims? Had the fire been planned since this time? London is @ war! Everyone, everywhere is a target 4 these hateful killers

The simple answer is no. The block was part of a public housing complex managed by a private company on behalf of the local authority, Kensington and Chelsea borough council, which owns it. The area is home to thousands of Muslims and is a centre of the Moroccan community in London, but there are people of other origins around there as well. There were Muslims living in the block and although it was Ramadan and this meant they were awake for their pre-dawn meal and prayer at the time, and some of these also helped get others out (yes, that includes non-Muslim neighbours), inevitably some were elderly and/or disabled and would have been unable to make it out as the lift would have been too dangerous to use. Some would have taken the official advice which was posted around the building, which was to stay in their flats until the fire brigade came.

A floor plan of a single storey in the Grenfell Tower which burned down. Of significance is the single stairwell in the centre of the plan.There had been concerns raised about the safety of the block going back at least to 2012, and in particular about the cladding which was applied in a renovation which was completed last year (here is an archived copy of the renovators’ website; they deleted the original), which appears to have helped spread the fire as it was attached to the building with wood; residents raised other concerns such as the locations of boilers and raised petitions, but were ignored. A local campaigning group described the management organisation as an “evil, unprincipled mini-mafia” which ignored residents’ concerns and even threatened them with legal action for defamation. There was a single central stairway for the whole building, which would have provided an easy route for the fire and a crowded and slow one for escapees. Residents reported that they were not awoken by the smoke alarms but by the noise of people and helicopters. This was an accident, albeit probably worsened by human error or negligence. Questions are going to be asked about official attitudes to social and rented housing, not only because of the attitude of the local council and their contractors, but also because the Tories blocked a bill which would improve minimum standards for rented housing last year (though whether it would have prevented this disaster is unclear) and had not acted on a coroner’s report that warned that such blocks were vulnerable to fire, after a fatal fire at a south London tower block, Lakanal Tower, in 2009. (To be fair, both Tory and Labour councils and governments share part of the blame; Lakanal was in Southwark, a traditionally Labour borough.)

Some might say this was the wrong time to make this point, but this is not the first time there has been a fire or explosion that was an accident which outsiders tried to blame on Muslims (the Buncefield oil fire in 2005 was another example). It has been said that ISIS would claim responsibility for anything, even “a turd floating down the Thames”, but they would have had a difficult job finding anyone willing to destroy this building with everyone inside. Terrorists do not usually target housing, in any case.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering what a block like that is doing in a ‘wealthy’ part of London like Kensington and Chelsea: that part is not posh and never has been, and the area to the west of Paddington (Bayswater and Notting Hill) was in the post-war years an impoverished area notorious for slum landlords such as Peter Rachman. That was the era in which the Notting Hill Carnival originated. Today, private housing in that area costs in the upper six figures and into seven, but that was not always the case.

For anyone in my area wishing to donate food, clothing, toiletries and other essential items, the Fulham training ground in Motspur Park has been opened to receive donations.

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