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

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.

Radio: I Discuss London’s Housing Crisis, the Tidemill Occupation and Guantánamo on Wandsworth Radio, Plus the World Premiere of ‘Grenfell’ by The Four Fathers

The logo of Wandsworth Radio and some Lewisham campaign badges.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Last Saturday, I was on community radio station Wandsworth Radio for two hours, taking part in a freewheeling, wide-ranging political discussion with host Andy Bungay and regular monthly co-host Colin Crilly. 

The show is here, and below I’ve broken it down into various topics, if you’re interested in navigating to various discussions.

From 9:00 to 15:00 we discussed the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, which I’m involved in, and which I’ve written about here and here, the latter linking to my article for Novara Media, The Battle for Deptford and Beyond.

From there, from 15:00 to 23:20, we moved on to discussing ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the documentary film about the destruction of council estates, and residents’ resistance to the destruction of their homes, which I narrate, and we also discussed the Grenfell Tower fire, and the important work of ASH (Architects for Social Housing), including their post-Grenfell public meeting, ‘The Truth About Grenfell Tower’, which was where I met Nikita Woolfe, the director of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, and we also discussed the extent of post-Grenfell cladding issues, and how the government has still failed to address them adequately. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years Since the Global Financial Crash of 2008, We’ve Been Screwed by Austerity, and Now The Predators Want Our Homes

An image summing up the global economic crash of 2008.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Yesterday, September 15, marked the 10th anniversary of the day the new world order that started under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and continued under Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, blew up spectacularly when the banking giant Lehman Brothers went bust, precipitating a global economic crash that was the worst since the Great Depression of 1929.

The crash came about because investment banks like Lehman Brothers had been involved in risky, toxic deals that should never have been legal, primarily involving “sub-prime mortgages” — lending money to buy homes to people who couldn’t afford them, and then packaging those toxic debts up in other complex financial packages.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers, with debts of $613bn, started a domino-like collapse through the entire financial sector, which had previously thought of itself as infallible, and had been supported in this absurd notion by politicians and economists.

In response, governments spent billions bailing out the banks, while everyone else suffered. No senior banking executive faced prosecution for their crimes, but individuals lost money, businesses folded, unemployment was rife, and the easy credit on which so many people depended dried up. Immediately after the crash, it was at least obvious that others were suffering too — building sites across London, for example, lay abandoned, and even the rich felt the squeeze, but salvation, in the UK at least, was soon at hand when the Tories, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, were able to form a government after the general election in May 2010, and immediately set about creating a new narrative — that the problem was government spending, not bankers’ crimes, and that the solution was to cut public spending. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Articles About Guantánamo, My UK Housing Activism, Photography and Music – Part 24, January to June 2018

Andy Worthington marks 6,000 days of Guantanamo on June 15, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

This article is the 24th in an ongoing series of articles listing all my work in chronological order. It’s a project I began in January 2010, when I put together the first chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that doing so would make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to navigate my work — the 3,000+ articles I have published since I first began publishing articles here in May 2007, which, otherwise, are not available in chronological order in any readily accessible form.

I receive no institutional funding for my work, and so, if you appreciate what I do as a reader-funded journalist and activist, please consider making a donation via the Paypal ‘Donate’ button above. Any amount, however large or small, will be very gratefully received — and if you are able to become a regular monthly sustainer, that would be particularly appreciated. To do so, please tick the box marked, “Make this a monthly donation,” and fill in the amount you wish to donate every month.

As I note every time I put together a chronological list of my articles, my mission, as it has been since my research in 2006-07, for my book The Guantánamo Files, first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions. Read the rest of this entry »

Why We’ve Occupied the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford to Prevent Lewisham Council’s Demolition Plans

Join the Tidemill Occupation: an image I put together featuring a photo from the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford on August 28, 2018, the evening the garden was occupied to prevent Lewisham Council from taking it back the day after, prior to its intended destruction.On Tuesday evening (August 28), campaigners occupied the Old Tidemill Garden on Reginald Road in Deptford, London SE8 to prevent Lewisham Council from taking it back on the Wednesday morning (August 29), and boarding it up prior to its planned destruction as part of the proposed re-development of the site of the old Tidemill Primary School.

The garden is a much-loved community space, and was developed by teachers, parents and pupils from the school 20 years ago. When the school closed, to be replaced by a new academy, the garden was leased to the local community, but now the council wants it back, to destroy it, and the 16 council flats of Reginald House next door, in order to build new housing with the housing association Peabody, some of which be for private sale, with the rest a mixture of Sadiq Khan’s London Affordable Rent (63% higher than social rents in Lewisham) and the scam that is shared ownership.

For many years, campaigners have been working to urge Lewisham Council to re-draw its plans to re-develop the old school site, which, astonishingly, were first proposed ten years ago. The campaigners have relentlessly pointed out that increasing the density of the development on the old school site will allow the council and Peabody to save the garden and Reginald House, but they’re simply not interested in engaging with the local community, or with the residents of Reginald House. 80% of residents do not want to lose their homes but have not been offered a ballot, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s promise last autumn that all proposed demolitions should involve ballots, a position since endorsed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Read the rest of this entry »

Year 2, Day 100 of My Photo Project, ‘The State of London’, Recording A City Gutted by Greed Since the Olympics

The latest photos from my photo project, 'The State of London', marking one year and 100 days since I first began posting a photo a day on Facebook.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Yesterday, August 18, marked one year and 100 days since I began posting a photo a day on ‘The State of London’, a Facebook page I established on May 11 last year, marking five years since I first began cycling around London on my bike, taking photos of whatever interested me. You can see all the photos to date here.

In the six years and three months since I began this photo-journalistic project, I have been out on my bike almost every day, cycling many thousands of miles across all of London’s 120 postcodes, and discovering that what interests me are the changing seasons, the changing weather, the River Thames and the capital’s other rivers, its canals, its parks, and my own idiosyncratic take on the built environment, in which I’m drawn to the old, the odd, the idiosyncratic, the run-down, the derelict and the abandoned, and also to social housing — the great post-war estates, currently facing an unprecedented threat from councils across the political spectrum, who, financially squeezed by central government, are entering into deals with property developers to demolish their estates and to build over-priced new developments from which almost all the existing tenants are priced out, an epidemic of social cleansing that is largely unnoticed by those who are not directly affected by it. 

When these homes are destroyed, social rents (generally set at around a third of market rents) are also conveniently wiped out, replaced by properties for private sale, for market rent, for “affordable” rents that aren’t affordable at all, being set at 80% of market rents, and for shared ownership, an alarming scam designed to fool renters into believing that they are property owners. To add to Londoners’ woes, housing associations, which have increasingly taken over councils’ housing role since the Thatcher years, have also been severely squeezed, and many have, in response, also joined the private property development gravy train. Read the rest of this entry »

New Videos by The Four Fathers: ‘Rebel Soldier’, ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Grenfell’ Recorded Live

Screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers playing 'Masters of War' at a street party in June 2018.It’s been some time since I’ve posted an update about the activities of my band The Four Fathers, so I’m hoping to amend that by posting some recent videos — of ‘Rebel Soldier’ and ’Masters of War’, recorded at a street party in Brockley, in south east London, of ‘Grenfell’, recorded at a summer solstice party in the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford, and of another song from that party, ‘Kicking the Poor’, used as a housing campaign song in Lewisham, where I live.

Rebel Soldier’, a driving reggae number, is an old folk song, which I gave a new tune and a reggae groove more years ago than I care to remember, while living in Brixton after I left university. It’s been a live favourite since The Four Fathers first started four years ago, and we generally open our set with it. The studio recording, from our first album, ‘Love and War’, is here, and the live video is also on Facebook here.

Masters of War’ was written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1963, and, sadly, its sentiments remain just as relevant today as they were back then. It’s another live favourite, and another song we’ve been playing regularly since we first got together in 2014. The studio recording isn’t available online, but it is on the CD of ‘Love and War’, which you can buy here. Our second album, How Much Is A Life Worth? is also available on CD or to download, and you can also individually download any of our songs. Prices start at just 60p. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The London Protest Against Donald Trump’s UK Visit, July 13, 2018

Some of my photos from the protest in London against Donald Trump's UK visit on July 13, 2018.Please check out my photo set on Flickr!

And please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

So yesterday a huge protest against Donald Trump, on his first visit to the UK since he became the US president 18 months ago, took place in London. The organisers estimated that almost 250,000 people had turned up, and I was delighted to see so many witty handmade placards, and so many young people showing up to tell Trump that he is not welcome here. Much of the focus, of course, was on his position as the world’s most powerful sexual predator, but there were also numerous placards taking aim at his recent and thoroughly disgraceful immigration clampdown, when he separated children from their parents and imprisoned them.

I was, of course, delighted to see large numbers of people — and particularly women and girls — protesting against Trump, but from the beginning of his presidency, when a visit was first planned, and then called off because of the anticipated scale of protests against him, I have made a point of stating that, while I understand the particular horror of Trump’s role as a sexual predator and people’s opposition to him on that basis, on everything else we should be out on the streets every day protesting against the vile Theresa May and her vile government. In her six years as home secretary, May was persistently racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic, and, of course, was behind the “hostile environment” for immigrants that led to people who were part of the post-war Windrush generation form the Caribbean being forcibly sent back to their countries of origin, despite having lived in the UK for decades.

That said, it is clear that the sheer size of yesterday’s protest ought to give us hope for the future, as it represented, in many ways, a coming together of the many, many different groups of people affected by Donald Trump and what he represents, and if we can do this for Trump then perhaps we can do it again once he’s gone home, and we’re still stuck wth the most ideologically bankrupt government of my lifetime, in which most of the issues that brought people together in such large numbers yesterday are still as relevant — a right-wing, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic government composed mostly of old white people, hopelessly embroiled in a Brexit nightmare of their own making, that, like Trump’s election, needs to be seen as the death rattle of this old white world. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell and the Social Housing Crisis: How Kensington and Chelsea Council Behaved Like “A Property Developer Masquerading as a Local Authority”

Justice for Grenfell: banner on a march in central London on June 16, 2018, just two days after the first anniversary of the fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

In a meeting of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on June 20 to discuss ‘Local Authority Support for Grenfell Tower Survivors’, Ed Daffarn, one of the survivors of last June’s entirely preventable tower block fire, in which 72 people died, reported an exchange with Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Chief Executive, Barry Quirk, who took on that role a week after the fire, which cuts to the heart of the problems facing those living in social housing in Britain today.

Daffarn told MPs that, at a meeting wth survivors’ organisation Grenfell United, Barry Quirk “said that RBKC [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea] were a property developer masquerading as a local authority.”

Daffarn added, “Think about that. They were property developers masquerading as a local authority. They failed to keep us safe because they had higher priorities – getting their hands on the land, this massive goldmine they had.”

The confession by Quirk, who was formerly the Chief Executive of Lewisham Council, is significant because, when every aspect of social housing is made subservient to the money-making opportunities offered by housing development, residents of social housing are no longer actually safe in their homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating 400 Days of My Photo Project ‘The State of London’

A composite image of the latest photos from Andy Worthington's photo project 'The State of London'.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, photographer, commentator and activist. Check out all the photos to date here.

 

Back in March 2011, my life changed when I was hospitalised after a blood clot had turned two of my toes black. Doctors at St. Thomas’s Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament, saved my toes — a mercy for which I am eternally grateful to the NHS — but after I recovered, my life changed again when I began cycling across London on a daily basis — and taking photos everywhere I went — in May 2012.

When I got ill, I had managed to give up smoking, which would otherwise have killed me, but I then started piling on the pounds instead, on a steady diet of biscuits and cakes, and so getting back on my bike on a daily basis seemed like the perfect way to get fit.

I’d been a cyclist since I was about four years old, but like many useful habits, it had become sidelined as I smoked too much, and also as a result of my obsessive sedentary lifestyle as a writer, researcher and commentator and activist on Guantánamo, which had consumed my life since 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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