500 Days Since the Grenfell Tower Fire, The Four Fathers Release New Single ‘Grenfell’, Remembering Those Who Died, and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

27.10.18

The cover of 'Grenfell' by The Four Fathers, featuring a photo taken in North Kensington on December 14, 2017 on one of the Silent Walks that take place on the 14th of every month (Photo: Andy Worthington).Listen to the single here on Bandcamp, and please buy it as a download. All takings will be donated to Grenfell charities. The recording was produced by acclaimed musician and producer Charlie Hart, who also plays accordion on it.

Exactly 500 days ago, Britain changed in a way that has haunted me ever since, as 71 people died in an inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower, a tower block in west London (one other survivor died in January this year, taking the death toll to 72).

This was a disaster that should never have happened, and that only occurred because those responsible for the structural integrity of the tower, and the safety of its residents, had decided that cost-cutting and profiteering was more important than people’s lives.

Those responsible include the Tory government, which failed to enforce recommendations after the Lakanal tower fire in Peckham in 2009, and actively worked to cut “red tape” when it came to housing regulations, Kensington and Chelsea Council, which abdicated responsibility for its tenants, handing their safety over to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), an organisation that, although responsible for all of the borough’s social housing (consisting of more than 10,000 homes) repeatedly ignored explicit warnings by tenants’ representatives that they were living in a potential deathtrap.

As I explained in an article I published just after the fire, drawing on the exemplary work of the Grenfell Action Group, run by concerned residents:

On November 20, 2016, under a photo of a tower block on fire and the heading, ‘KCTMO – Playing with fire!’, a representative of the Grenfell Action Group wrote, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

Those responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower also include the many players in the building industry and the ‘regeneration’ industry who accepted that there was any kind of rational explanation for highly flammable cladding to be applied to tower blocks, and whose actions, combined with those of all the other bodies above, conspired to turn a building with structural integrity into an inferno over the course of a few short and deadly hours in the middle of the night on June 14, 2017.

The Grenfell Tower fire changed my life. As a social housing resident, I had seen my existence devalued over the last 20 years, as almost the entire British political establishment prioritised homeowners over those who would rather live in a country that prioritises genuinely low-cost, safe and secure rented accommodation for all who want it. However, it wasn’t until Grenfell that the awful truth dawned: that those in charge of our safety have such contempt for us that our very lives are disposable.

I wrote ‘Grenfell’ last summer, and we have been playing it live on a regular basis ever since, its mournful reggae lament an insistent cry for those whose lives were so “needlessly lost” not to be forgotten, and for “those who only count the profit not the human cost” to be held accountable.

YOU CAN LISTEN TO IT, AND/OR BUY IT BELOW:

A video of three members of the band playing the song with beatboxer The Wiz-RD was made by a visiting German TV crew a year ago, which has been viewed several thousand times, and another video of us playing it at a Summer Solstice party in the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford that I’ve been fighting to save with other campaigners, (and occupying since August to prevent its destruction) is here.

The Grenfell disaster led to me becoming the narrator of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a documentary film about the destruction of council estates, and residents’ resistance to the destruction of their homes, and also to becoming more prominent as a housing activist — hence my involvement in the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign mentioned above.

For the survivors of the Grenfell disaster, however, justice remains elusive. Although an official inquiry is underway, few, if any, expect it to hold anyone accountable, and the ongoing contempt for those in social housing — and, I should add, for anyone but those making money out of housing developments — is such that flammable cladding is still in place on almost all the buildings clad in similar material. As The Construction Index website reports today, “Sixteen months after the Grenfell Tower fire, just 39 of the 457 high-rise buildings around England with similar flammable cladding systems have been made safe.”

The article further explains that, “Of the 457 flammable towers, 157 are social sector residential buildings, managed by local authorities or housing associations; and 291 are private sector buildings – of which 201 are private residential, 28 are hotels, and 62 are student accommodation. Nine are publicly-owned buildings, comprising hospitals and schools.” However, “urgent remediation work has been completed on just 8.5%.”

In addition, many survivors are still waiting to be re-housed. Just three weeks ago, the Independent reported that, although “[n]early £30m has been spent on hotel rooms for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire,” in “59 bed and breakfasts and hostels”, and that a further £4.9m has been spent on temporary housing, “more than 150 households” of survivors “are still waiting to move into a permanent home.”

The North Kensington Law Centre, which has been helping a number of former Grenfell residents, told the Independent that “council officers were pressuring traumatised residents to accept housing that overlooked” the burnt-out tower, adding that one particular woman “was coerced into accepting a property that did not have any flooring”, and “was told she had to accept the offer by 10am the next morning or she would be classified as intentionally homeless.”

This news was followed by further shocking news – that, as the Guardian described it, “Toxins that may have long-term health implications for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, and thousands of people who live and work nearby, have been identified in the preliminary findings of a study led by one of the world’s leading toxicology experts”, Professor Anna Stec, whose findings “prompted her to privately urge Public Health England (PHE), the Department of Health, the police and Kensington and Chelsea Council to organise a range of tests to ensure any potential health risks can be properly assessed.” In briefings to senior health agency staff, Prof. Stec “said she had found ‘huge concentrations’ of potential carcinogens in the dust and soil around the tower in west London, and in burned debris that had fallen from the tower.”

As the long quest for justice continues, I hope you find that the song has some resonance for you, and that you’ll buy it as a download, and share it if you do.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. Since August 2018 he has been part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Yesterday marked 500 days since the Grenfell Tower fire in west London that led to the loss of 72 lives, because those responsible for the tower prioritised cost-cutting and profiteering over the safety of residents, and to mark the occasion my band The Four Fathers released our new single ‘Grenfell’, remembering the 72 people who died, and calling for those responsible – “those who only count the profit not the human cost” – to be held accountable.
    A heartfelt reggae lament, ‘Grenfell’ was recorded over the summer, and produced by the acclaimed musician Charlie Hart, who also plays accordion on it. It’s available as a download via Bandcamp, and all the money received will be donated to Grenfell charities.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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