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.

2,000 Views of The Four Fathers’ Video ‘Grenfell’, Remembering Those Who Died and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Today is 350 days since the defining UK-based horror story of 2017 — the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, in west London, on June 14, 2017, killing 71 people, and leading to the death of a 72nd person this January. You can find profiles of all 72 victims here.

Last summer, I wrote a song about the fire for my band The Four Fathers, lamenting those whose lives were so “needlessly lost”, and calling for those responsible — “those who only count the profit not the human cost” — to be held accountable. We first played it live, at a benefit gig for a housing campaign in Tottenham, in September, recorded it with a German TV crew at the end of October, and released the video in December, and we have continued to play it live across the capital and elsewhere, making a small contribution to the effort to refuse to allow those responsible for the disaster to move on without a serious change in the culture that allowed it to happen. 

That culture — cost-cutting in the search for profits, rather than ensuring the safety of tenants and leaseholders — came from central government, from Kensington and Chelsea Council, from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which had taken over the management of all the borough’s social housing, and from the various contractors involved in the lethal refurbishment of the tower, when its structural integrity was fatally undermined. Read the rest of this entry »

Protest Music Now: My Interview with London Student Magazine Artefact as Lead Singer of The Four Fathers

Mark Quiney, Andy Worthington and Richard Clare of The Four Fathers playing at a protest against the DSEI arms fair in London's Docklands in September 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

A few months ago, I was delighted to be approached by Pavel Troughton, a student at London College of Communication (LCC), part of the University of the Arts London (UAL), who was writing an article about protest music for the student magazine Artefact. I promoted it at the time via social media, but I never got round to commenting on it here, so I thought now would be a good time, as my band The Four Fathers continue to play protest music, and to try to gauge what interest there is, or isn’t, in music that challenges the political realities of modern life, via the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ gigs I’ve been organising, our appearances with bands like the Commie Faggots, who play theatrical singalong protest music, and our recordings, available via Bandcamp.

I met Pavel Troughton at a cafe near my home in Brockley, south east London, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the role of protest music today, which is of great interest to me, as I grew up at a significant time for protest music, as a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s, not only following punk bands, post-punk bands and the Two-Tone movement, but also drawing on protest music from the 60s and early 70s as well. 

In Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, and with the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s so comparatively recent, it was difficult not to be politicised at that time. Some of the punks pretended to be apolitical, but really that was an affectation. Of course, many musicians only pretended to be political to get laid or get rich (or both), as had also been true in the 60s and early 70s (does anyone really think the colossally materialistic hornbag Mick Jagger genuinely had any interest in being a ‘Street Fighting Man’, for example?), but political engagement and counter-cultural impulses were genuine in this period, and elements of that effortlessly survived into the 90s, when, after Margaret Thatcher’s eventual fall from grace, John Major struggled to maintain control of a country in which dissent was widespread, via the iconoclastic hedonism of the rave scene and the extraordinary pagan and anarchic energy of the road protest movement. For more on the above, feel free to check out my books Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, which have chapters on this period in modern British history. Read the rest of this entry »

Protest Music: Forthcoming Gigs by Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers, April to June 2018

The Four Fathers playing at a protest in Walthamstow against the proposed redevelopment of the town square (Photo: Emilie Makin).It’s been some time since I last posted about the activities of my band The Four Fathers, so here’s an update following our most recent appearances — at a protest against the proposed redevelopment of Walthamstow’s main square, on February 24, and as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival, with our friends the Commie Faggots, on March 16, a wonderful and very well attended protest music double bill.

Since I last wrote about the band, people have, we’re glad to note, continued to listen to us on Bandcamp (and we’ve even sold a few CDs!), and our video of ‘Grenfell’, the song I wrote after last June’s entirely preventable fire in west London, in which over 70 people died, has now had nearly 1,650 views on YouTube and Facebook.

We’re planning to record it soon, along with our anti-Brexit anthem, ‘I Want My Country Back (From the People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, and we’ve also been working on new material — new songs about the history of the counter-culture, and about so-called “affordable” housing, and a positive anthem about solidarity and resistance — and some covers, with Aswad’s ‘Not Satisfied’ inching closer to a public outing. I was also recently interviewed for an article about protest music in Artefact Magazine, produced by students at London College of Communications, following up on another protest music interview, for the Icelandic website, Shouts! Read the rest of this entry »

Nine Months After the Entirely Preventable Grenfell Tower Fire, UN Housing Rapporteur Says UK Government May Have Breached Residents’ Human Rights

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Today, survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire last June — and supporters from across London —  are taking part in a Silent Walk that begins outside the offices of Kensington and Chelsea Council and ends by the blackened skeleton of the tower, where over 70 people died. The fire should never have happened, but did so because safety standards have been fatally eroded over many years by those responsible for the safety of tenants and leaseholders — central government, local government, management companies that have taken over the management of swathes of social housing, and contractors.

For me, the fire was the defining moment of 2017, and in summer I wrote a song about it, remembering those whose lives were “so needlessly lost”, and calling for ”those who only count the profit not the human cost” to be held accountable. Three members of my band The Four Fathers — myself, Richard Clare and Mark Quiney, accompanied by my son Tyler beatboxing — were recorded playing the song by a German film crew in autumn. We released it as a video in December, and I’m pleased to note that it currently has nearly 1,500 views on YouTube (posted below) and on Facebook. Please watch it, and share it if you like it. We hope to make a studio recording soon, and would be delighted to hear from anyone in the Grenfell community who would like to be involved, as we would love it to be used to help the survivors.

Read the rest of this entry »

Over 1,200 Views for The Four Fathers’ ‘Grenfell’ Video, Remembering Those Whose Lives Were Lost, and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Last month, at a party of activists in Brooklyn, towards the end of my annual US visit to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening (the 16th anniversary of its opening, on January 11), I played ‘Grenfell’, the song I wrote after an entirely preventable inferno consumed Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in west London last June, killing 71 people.

I wasn’t sure how much the small audience of human rights activists knew about it — how much news of distant disasters spreads around the globe, despite the notion that technology has made us all inter-connected — but I realised when introducing it that it was, for me, the defining moment of 2017, and I’m sure my passionate rendition of it helped one small corner of Brooklyn to understand.

I wrote ‘Grenfell’ last summer, as my response to the disaster, and played it with my band The Four Fathers for the first time in September at a benefit gig for campaigners in Tottenham, as part of their opposition to the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), a deeply unpleasant proposal by Haringey Council to enter into a £2bn deal with the rapacious international property developers Lendlease (the destroyers of Southwark’s Heygate Estate), which would involve the council transferring all its social housing to the HDV, with the ensuing destruction of entire estates, and their replacement with new private housing, from which most of the existing tenants would almost certainly be excluded. Read the rest of this entry »

Shouts Interview: Andy Worthington of The Four Fathers Discusses the Importance of Protest Music with Halldór Bjarnason

The Four Fathers at Lewisham People's Day, July 2017 (Collaged photo by Dot Young).Check out The Four Fathers’ new album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ here.

Last month, I was delighted to be approached by Halldór Bjarnason, an Icelandic journalist and musician, asking if he could interview me for his website, Shouts: Music from the Rooftops!, which features interviews with musicians who make political music, including Andy White, from Belfast, Yuca Brava, “a political rapcore band from Puerto Rico”, War On Women, a feminist punk band from Baltimore, and Keyz, a 20-year old rapper from Sudan. The interview is here, and is cross-posted below.

As I noted when I posted the link to the interview on Facebook last night, the “questions, about my band The Four Fathers, and my songwriting, were very interesting — about how we got together, why we perform protest music, and whether I think there’s an audience for protest music these days.”

Introducing the interview, Halldór, noting that I am both a journalist and am musician, wrote that journalists have a responsibility to be voices for the voiceless, to hold power to account, and to be “courageous in seeking the truth.” He also noted that “[m]usicians do not bear the same responsibility exactly, although it can be argued they have a powerful voice” that often has an international reach. He also noted that, although some musicians do not manifest a “socially conscious message,” because they believe in creating music based on their emotions, “Others are more explicit in their lyrics or performance and send a strong message of protest out into the ethos in every single song,” adding, “The Four Fathers are of the latter type.”

My thanks to Halldór for taking the time to interview me, and I hope you have time to read the interview, and will check out our music if you haven’t already heard it. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell, Six Months On: The Four Fathers’ New Song Remembering Those Who Lost Their Lives and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

A screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers performing 'Grenfell' - with added titles.Before June 14 this year, anyone reflecting on the skyline of London would think about the Shard, the Gherkin, One Canada Square, the ostentatious towers of the face of modern capitalism; on the morning of June 14, however, a new vision of a tower was seared into the nation’s memory — the charred, still-smoking remains of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey residential tower block in North Kensington, in west London, consumed in an overnight inferno with the loss of 71 lives.

The Grenfell Tower fire was entirely preventable. Designed so that each flat would be able to withstand fire until the emergency services arrived, the tower’s structural integrity was destroyed when it was given new cladding — through holes made in the body of the tower, through the use of flammable cladding to save money, and through the gaps behind the cladding that facilitated the extraordinarily swift spread of the fire. At every level, it seems clear — central government, local government, the devolved management responsible for Kensington & Chelsea’s social housing, and the various contractors involved in maintenance and refurbishment — safety standards were eroded or done away with completely,

When I wrote about the fire just two days later, I was deeply shocked to discover that the disaster had been foretold by residents in the Grenfell Action Group, who had stated in a post in November 2016, “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 [Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation], 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.” Read the rest of this entry »

How Much Is A Life Worth? New Album Released Today by The Four Fathers, London Journalist and Activist Andy Worthington’s Band

The cover of The Four Fathers' new album, 'How Much Is A Life Worth?'I’m delighted to announce that today my band The Four Fathers are releasing our second album, How Much Is A Life Worth? via Bandcamp, where you can buy it on CD (which can be sent anywhere in the world), or as a download (either the whole album, or individual tracks). The CD costs £8 (about $10.67), plus postage and packing, while the download of the album costs £5 (about $6.67), with individual tracks available for $1 (about $1.33). These are the minimum prices, but you can always pay more if you want to provide us with extra financial support, to help us recoup the costs of recording and production.

The album features ten original rock and roots reggae songs — eight written by me, as lead singer and rhythm guitarist, and two written by lead guitarist Richard Clare. It follows the release in 2015 of the band’s first album, ‘Love and War,’ and continues to demonstrate a commitment to political issues, with six of the album’s ten songs being protest songs. The band also features Brendan Horstead on drums and percussion, Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica, and Louis Sills-Clare on bass (replaced after the album was recorded by current bassist Mark Quiney).

Followers of the band on Bandcamp — or those who have seen us live — will already know some of these songs, as six of them have previously been released online, although all of them have now been slightly remastered. Those songs are, in order of release, ‘Close Guantánamo’ (used for the ‘Close Guantánamo’ campaign that I run), ‘Dreamers’ (a song about friendship, written for a friend’s 50th birthday), live favourites ’Riot’ (about austerity and the need for social and economic justice) and ‘London’ (a lament for how the capital’s vibrancy in the 80s and 90s has been destroyed by housing greed), ‘She’s Back’ (Richard’s song about Pussy Riot) and ‘Equal Rights And Justice For All’ (my celebration of habeas corpus, which always gets a laugh when I say live that no set is really complete without a song about habeas corpus). Read the rest of this entry »

‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’: After Success of Gig in Deptford on Nov. 12, Campaigners Plan to Stage Events in Other Boroughs

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham! A logo for the campaign made by Lilah Francis of the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

It was hard to move in the legendary music pub The Birds Nest in Deptford on Sunday night. I’d arranged a benefit gig there — also intended as a consciousness-raising event, and an opportunity for all kinds of different campaigners to meet — under the umbrella heading, ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’, and it had proved to be so popular that the place was rammed, with sets from the acclaimed spoken word artist Potent Whisper, my band The Four Fathers, playing punky political rock and roots reggae, the theatrical singalong politics of the Commie Faggots, the talented Southwark-based rapper Asher Baker, Deptford spoken word artist Agman Gora passionately tackling current crises, the massed voices of the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir, and the ukulele-wielding women of Ukadelix, with their wonderful vocal harmonies. Check out all my photos here.

I organised the event because I’d become aware that the plague of modern London — social cleansing by, predominantly, Labour boroughs — was starting to make its baleful presence felt in the borough of Lewisham, where I live, in south east London. This is not to say that Lewisham had previously been impervious to this greedy, class-based curse. The monstrous Lewisham Gateway development in the heart of the borough had begun with the destruction of a council estate, the Sundermead Estate, and the council is also currently involved in the long-running destruction of two estates on the border with Greenwich, Heathside and the wonderfully Brutalist Lethbridge Estate (which I’ll need to write about soon, as I can find absolutely no criticism of the estate’s destruction online, and very few photos), as well as demolishing the extraordinary Excalibur Estate of post-war prefabs high in the back streets of Catford.

The Four Fathers playing at 'No Social Cleansing in Lewisham' at the Birds Nest pub in Deptford on November 12, 2017.However, compared to its rapacious neighbour, Southwark, Lewisham is not yet a fully paid-up member of the Premier League of social cleansers. Lewisham’s biggest imminent project is the redevelopment of Convoys Wharf, a historically significant wharf on Deptford’s shoreline. This insulting effort to recreate Dubai at the end of Deptford High Street on the site of Henry VIII’s great dockyard is profoundly disappointing, but it doesn’t involve the destruction of people’s homes, whereas Southwark Council, at the Heygate Estate, working with the Australian-based international property developer Lendlease, has destroyed an estate of 1,034 socially rented homes, replacing them with 2,704 new homes, but with only 82 for social rent, and is currently undertaking similar destruction on the Aylesbury Estate, one of Europe’s biggest council estates, with Notting Hill Homes, a former social housing provider that has eagerly responded to government cuts by becoming an enthusiastic private developer. 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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