Britain’s 9/11 and Cannibalistic Capitalism: The Grenfell Tower Fire, Seven Years On

Remembering the 72 children, women and men who died in the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017: a graphic produced by Grenfell United and posted on X.

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You might be thinking that’s an outrageous analogy. Apart from the visual similarities between burning towers, how can I compare an attack by a foreign entity on the tallest buildings in New York’s banking centre with an unfortunate accident that befell the inhabitants of a tower block of social housing in a historically deprived area of west London?

The reason I make the analogy is because the Grenfell Tower fire, on June 14, 2017, wasn’t an accident, as such; it was the inevitable result of a system of deliberate neglect, and the deliberate erosion of safety standards, for those living in high-rise housing, which came about because of the deliberate creation of what I believe we’re entitled to call cannibalistic capitalism; or, if you prefer, economic terrorism, knowingly inflicted on civilians by politicians and almost the entire building industry.

Terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians for political or ideological aims, and at Grenfell, seven years ago, 72 people died because, over the previous four decades, a system of providing safe and secure rented housing was eroded and largely erased, replaced with a new ideology that, under Margaret Thatcher, sought to eliminate the state provision of housing, selling it off via the notorious ‘Right to Buy’ policy, demonising those who still lived in social housing, portraying them as shirkers and scroungers and reclassifying them as inferior, or second-class citizens, cutting funding for maintenance and repairs, and transferring as much of the remaining social housing as possible to less accountable, or, seemingly, completely unaccountable public-private entities.

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Grenfell Six Years On: Still Crying Out for Justice

Posters on Bramley Road in North Kensington, close to Grenfell Tower, June 14, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Six years ago today, on June 14, 2017, I watched in horror on the news as an inferno engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey block of council flats in North Kensington, in west London.

London — and the UK as a whole — would never be the same again.

Compelled to visit, as a photo-journalist covering London for my project ‘The State of London’, I cycled from my home in south east London on what was, objectively, a radiant sunny day, through a city that was going about its everyday business as though nothing had happened. It was only as I got closer and the charred, still smouldering skeleton of the tower finally rose up, make me feel slightly queasy and, disturbingly, rather ghoulish, that the enormity of what had occurred struck home.

On the ground, the local community had gone into overdrive to help the survivors, donating vast amounts of food and clothing, and seeking to do all they could to help, but, throughout this heartfelt humanitarian effort, it was clear that they were alone; no one in a position of authority was anywhere to be seen.

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Celebrating 1700 Days of my Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

The latest photos from Andy Worthington’s ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Today marks 1,700 days since I first began posting a photo a day — plus accompanying essays — on ‘The State of London’ Facebook page; photos that were either taken on the day, or were drawn from the photos I’d started taking on bike rides throughout London’s 120 postcodes five years earlier. For anyone keeping count, that means that it’s now 3,526 days since I first set out on my bike to capture the changing face of London.

In the last 1,700 days, my ability to take photos has, I think, improved in general (largely because of the upgrade to my current camera, a Canon PowerShot G7 X Mk. II, in February 2019), and I have also, increasingly, devoted much more time to the essays that accompany each photo. I’m gratified to see that the project has steadily been gaining support, so that I recently welcomed my 5,000th follower.

As I have delved deeper into London’s history on my journeys, and in the research for the photos, I have come to recognize how resilient London is as a city, despite having lost so much in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and in the German bombing raids in World War II. Nevertheless, as I realized as soon as I began the project in May 2012, it has also recently been invaded, not by fire, or by a wartime enemy, but by predatory transnational capital, building huge new towers of offices in the City of London, and high-rise residential towers in Canary Wharf and in numerous former industrial sites across the capital (the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area, for example), all eagerly facilitated by conniving politicians and generally supine architects.

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Four Years After the Grenfell Tower Fire, It’s All About Profit and No Accountability As Millions Still Live in Buildings With Similarly Flammable Cladding

Grenfell Tower illuminated on the morning of June 14, 2021, the fourth anniversary of the fire that engulfed it, leading to the loss of 72 lives (Photo: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard).

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Four years ago, when Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in west London was engulfed in an inferno, leading to the deaths of 72 people, it became apparent that everyone with responsibility for the safety of the block’s residents had failed to fulfil their obligations.

Those with blood on their hands included the Tory government, obsessed with cutting “red tape”, and failing to implement the lessons learned from previous tower block fires, and the local council, Kensington and Chelsea, which, in common with councils across the capital and the country as a whole, have largely neglected the maintenance of their social housing, content to subject it to “managed decline”, despite receiving millions of pounds in rent, in a manner that resembles nothing less than the behaviour of slum landlords.

The process of “managed decline” eventually enables councils to claim that estates need to be demolished, even though they are responsible for their dilapidation in the first place, at which point developers magically appear with proposals to ”regenerate” the estates with a mix of private properties for sale (generally at least half of the new housing), along with other forms of housing described as “social housing” or “affordable housing”, even though, in reality, they tend to be dubious “shared ownership” deals, or rented properties that are much more expensive than those that have been demolished.

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No Justice, No Peace on the Third Anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire

The Grenfell Silent Walk on December 14, 2017, commemorating those who died in the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London six months earlier, on June 14, 2017. The Silent Walks took place every month until the coronavirus lockdown hit.

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Since the very public murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis three weeks ago, there has been a welcome and understandable resurgence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that first surfaced back in 2014, after a spate of police murders of unarmed black men and boys in the US.

Today, as we remember the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, which occurred exactly three years ago, the resurgence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement seems entirely appropriate. 

72 people died in an inferno that engulfed the 1970s tower block they lived in in North Kensington, an inferno that was caused, primarily, because the structural integrity of the building had been lethally compromised by a re-cladding operation designed to make the tower look more “attractive” — not only had existing windows not been repaired or replaced to make sure that they were fireproof, but the re-cladding involved holes being drilled all over the tower that, on the night that the fire broke out, allowed it to consume the entire tower is an alarmingly short amount of time.  

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Two Years On From the Grenfell Tower Fire, A Growing Anger at the Way Those in Social Housing Continue to be Treated as Disposable

A photo of Grenfell Tower, lit up with a green light, and bearing the message ‘Forever in our hearts’, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people on June 14, 2017, for which no one has yet been held accountable (Photo: Tim Downie on Twitter).

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Two years ago, I switched on my TV and watched in horror as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, in west London, leading to the loss of 72 lives.

To anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the safety systems built into concrete tower blocks, it was clear that this was a disaster that should never have happened. Compartmentalisation — involving a requirement that any fire that breaks out in any individual flat should be able to be contained for an hour, allowing the emergency services time to arrive and deal with it — had failed, as had the general ability of the block to prevent the easy spread of fire throughout the building. Instead, Grenfell Tower went up in flames as though it had had petrol poured on it.

It took very little research to establish that what had happened was an entire system failure, caused by long-term neglect and a failure to provide adequate safety measures (in particular, the tower had no sprinkler system fitted), and, more recently, through a refurbishment process that had turned a previously safe tower into a potential inferno. 

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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.

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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 »

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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