How could this possibly have happened in the richest borough in the country?
It’s been a matter of days since a fire ripped through a 24-storey housing block in West London, and there are still a lot of questions: how it started, who’s to blame and how such a tragedy could have been prevented.
But, as firefighters are still working in the building, and with the death toll continuing to rise, there are very few answers.
What we do know is that people are angry. Angry that residents safety concerns were ignored. Angry that the UK social housing system seems to have failed. And angry that people were living in unsafe conditions next door to multi-million pound luxury blocks.
In an attempt to understand, let’s look at some of the big questions that have come up over the last few days, to work out what we do know about the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.
One of the biggest questions is whether this would ever have happened in a luxury block.
In a TV interview a local pastor said that rising inequality in areas like Kensington was to blame. “The disparity in this country between rich and poor is disgusting. This would never have happened in those £2 million, £5 million flats around the corner,” he said. “Things like this are going to keep happening if the poor are ignored in this city.”
Another is why the building didn't have fire safety measures installed, especially given it had just been redeveloped.
Residents asked for improved fire safety measures in a recent multi million pound redevelopment, on the property, but they didn’t get them.
Those multi million pounds were spent on cladding, placed around the building as a way of improving the way it looks. Since the fire it’s emerged that the same cladding has been linked to other fires which have also accelerated through buildings. The company that fitted the cladding said it met all fire regulations. The Times newspaper reported Friday that it wasn't fire resistant, and that it would have cost a total of £5,000 more to use a fire resistant alternative.
The new MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, said in an interview “The council want to develop this area full of social housing, and in order to enable that they have prettified a building that they felt was ugly ... The idea that that has led to this horrendous tragedy is just unthinkable.”
The Times says the "fire resistant" panels cost £24. The flammable £22. Making the building non-flammable would have cost £5K more. Stunned. https://t.co/ijzs7iRISm
It’s pretty clear that a sprinkler system could have helped in this situation. So why isn’t it law to have one? The current government is pretty wary of regulations – in a parliamentary debate in 2014 a Conservative minister said he believed more regulation would raise the costs for developers and discourage housebuilding. He said it should be the responsibility of the fire industry to ‘market’ or sell safety products to developers, rather than the responsibility of the government to ensure it.
In Kensington, management of social housing was outsourced to a separate organization in the 1990s, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization – according to its website KCTMO is responsible for 10,000 properties in the borough, and while the council still owns the properties, KCTMO is responsible for their management. It’s this organization that tenants had complained to about a lack of fire safety.
Others are asking whether the company involved is to blame, calling it "corporate manslaughter".
A Labour MP for another London borough, David Lammy, said the tragedy is “corporate manslaughter” – or that the behavior of an organisation is to blame for the fire. “People should be held to account,” for allowing people to live in such conditions, he said.
The London Police Service (the Metropolitan police, headquartered at Scotland Yard) announced Friday that it was opening a criminal investigation into the fire.
The London Assembly’s housing committee told the Guardian the committee had called for stronger building regulations, including fire safety measures, in tower blocks after the Lakanal House fire, but it wasn't made law.
And the most important question for the families affected: what now?
Since news of the tragedy broke, there has been a huge outpouring of support for the local community. From people donating shoes and clothes, to online donations.
Lawyers have been offering legal services for free – help with things like compensation claims, for example, and to find out who is responsible. But also helping the people affected deal with things like loss of earnings and employment, and the more complex issues that might come up in the next few weeks and months.