Saturday, 22 July 2017

Slow official response to the Grenfell disaster

[UK Column News 19 July 2017]

"So Patrick," says Mike Robinson, "As we were walking around on the way to the [Grenfell] tower we see lots of graffiti on the streets. And you took this image which I thought was the ultimate irony."

Considerate constructors secure everyone`s safety is on a billboard in the shadow of the burnt out Grenfell tower with pictures of the dead from the tower arranged underneath. Patrick Henningsen agrees that "You could not get a more ironic photograph than that."

Mike Robinson continues: "A number of people told us while we were there that the pictures of the missing are already starting to be removed."

"They`re everywhere. From Notting Hill, Portobello area, if you walk towards Latimer Road about a mile and a half, you`ll see these images everywhere. On lamp posts and clustered around under west way near Latimer station especially. And these are memorials more than anything. I think it`s symbolic. I think there`s a kind of cathartic experience for residents... I do think it helps people to remember [those] they`ve lost, friends, family members, in some cases. So I think it is very important and I think it should be up to the residents whether these types of memorials should be removed, and not the council. I think that`s very important but I have a sneaky suspicion it will be the authorities who will want to determine that, rather than the people who actually live in that community."
Mike Robinson: "Well yesterday the BBC published this. Now this is one of their reality check articles. And so they`ve waded into the discussion of what has happened to the donations given by the public following the Grenfell disaster. As I say this is one of the reality check articles which if you remember is the BBC`s so called anti-fake news fact checking service. And so I`m just going to run through a couple of things they say in this because they`ve done the reality check and we`ve got to assume - it`s the BBC - the facts are correct."

"The numbers don`t add up Brian and Pat."

"`Survivors and relatives of those who died in the fire in Grenfell tower last month have so far received only a small fraction of the cash and items donated by members of the public. It was two days after the Grenfell tower fire that mountains of donations sat in car parks and basketball courts and by the side of the road. The now infamous and black high-rise block loomed nearby. From clothes to baby milk, bedding to bottled water, the huge quantity of donations was the enduring positive image in a week of tragedy which shook the country in so many ways`. And they say that a total of more than 170 tonnes of items were donated. Some of those donations through the Red Cross have now been moved to a warehouse in Cheshire, Patrick. ...So this apparently is the Red Cross`s northern sorting office which they say is for the Grenfell appeal. The article says that so far one hundred giant cardboard containers full of donations have been moved there. An estimated 174 tonnes of items were donated. Ten tonnes have, or soon will be, made available to the former residents of Grenfell tower."

Another photograph taken by Patrick Henningsen is shown displaying inside the council support centre.

"Would you say ten tonnes of items are being made available to former residents?"

"No no, it`s kind of a skeleton operation inside the centre... This is run by all the various authorities. When you walk in, it has the atmosphere of a trade show. When you walk in, the first thing you see on the left, the Red Cross have a stand there complete with the pop up banners and a table; and gentlemen and ladies with the lanyards around their necks and branded uniforms and so forth. So you move on to the NHS mental health table for the... mental health literature..."

"What struck me when you walk in the centre, ...there`s a few people in there, maybe a few victims or a few residents, but on the whole it`s empty. Key workers ... or volunteers, or whatever they are, outnumber the actual residents there by, I don`t know, a huge ratio. I don`t know what aid that centre is actually delivering to people on the ground. I would suspect it`s minimal compared to the actual scale of what`s out there. You have to remember we`re talking about not just the people in Grenfell tower who have survived but hundreds, possibly thousands of residents, who have also been affected directly by this event."

"Absolutely," agrees Mike Robinson. "So let`s get back to the BBC article. They say ten tonnes have or soon will be made available. They say 62 tonnes of donations are being sold in British Red Cross shops. So we`ve now got official confirmation from BBC reality check that that`s what`s going on. The proceeds are going apparently to the Grenfell fund. Fifteen tonnes are being sold to textile recycling companies; 87 tonnes are still to be sorted. Now that`s according to the Red Cross. On top of that there have been cash donations of £20million, £5.5million has come through the London Community Foundation/Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund; £5.1million through the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation, £4.7million through the Red Cross; £4million which were individual appeals through various crowdfunding sites, £500,000 from four Muslim charities. So the total collected is £20million."

"And the total given out so far, Patrick, £800,000 and that is £215,000 to Grenfell Muslim Response, £220,000 to the Local Community Foundation, £180,000 to the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation, £158,000 by the London Emergency Trust. The money has got to be the biggest problem we have here because we have already heard residents describing how some people were getting money; other people weren`t. Perhaps this is going to be used as a mechanism for breaking up the solidarity there is within that community."

"That is already happening... There are two reasons why the money wouldn`t get distributed evenly. One is the bureaucracy is inefficient and unable to do that... So you have £20million raised and instead of going directly to the residents and those affected it`s being channelled through other charities. So another layer of bureaucracy with yet more administrative costs...  £800,000 - if you divide that up amongst the number of survivors we`re told from Grenfell tower that might be approximately £36,000 per head and if we go and speak to all these 200 and odd people... from the tower how many of them have received the £36,000 per head?... I would say very few if any have received that. So what are we looking at here?  The charity boondoggle which exists in the 21st century which is a massive industry on its own."

"And while the official response is pretty lacklustre the community response is as good as it could possibly be..."

Police Operation

"And in the meantime the police operation to recover human remains continues; the police saying that officers are moving one flat at a time through the building, on their hands and knees using small trowels and shovels, removing debris and seiving the debris through a mesh 6mm in size. This they say is so that they can pick up any identifiable parts of a human body. All debris is being packaged and labelled and then they move on to the next flat."

"The speed of their operation they say is determined by the fact that they have to pay attention to weather conditions, that they have to go up and down twenty three flights of stairs and what you`re seeing on screen at the moment is a still from a video that the Metropolitan police released where in this shot you see two Met police guys in hazmat suits and breathing apparatus and the guy on the right there - and I really thought this was despicable under the circumstances - he `s standing there breathing heavily and pretending to be out of breath. Now I`m not going to underestimate the effort it takes to move up and down that building. What they`re saying is they have to work in three hour shifts and if it gets too hot and they`re getting dehydrated they`ve got to work in shorter shifts and therefore they`re travelling up and down the stairs a lot. But to my mind, bearing in mind the human tragedy in this whole thing, for them to make a big deal of the fact that they have to walk up and down these stairs - these are supposed to be fit police officers - I thought that was pretty despicable. But they`re using this as an excuse to apologise for the length of time it`s taking to get through this job. As far as I`m concerned, Brian, if you want to do your job in less time, get more people on it."

Brian Gerrish: "Well it is interesting Mike. What I pick up from that is, of course, both these men are wearing professional respirators. So they are filtering the air. We know that there`s been an asbestos risk which I think you`re going to mention.... So at the end of the day those fibres are going to be on the suits they`re wearing themselves. You don`t want it on your skin. There`s something rather odd about this. And the other thing is - no windows. So the moment you get up ... a few storeys there`s going to be quite a breeze blowing through that building."

"That is a very good point and let`s just come on to the air quality then because the government is saying the air quality in the local area is absolutely fine. No problems with it. But as you just said there`s no windows in the building and therefore there is nothing to prevent debris being ejected out of the building by the breeze. "

"So the government has produced its air quality document and statistics and here`s the front page of it showing where they have the various air quality monitoing stations of various types. And Environmental monitoring following the Grenfell Tower fire data update. And Patrick no surprise that what they`re saying is that everything`s green; everything`s fine. No problems. And if we look at the asbestos monitoring no asbestos detected on the streets at all. I find this fairly unlikely."

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