Dateline  Newcastle upon Tyne - Saturday 25th May, 2024 21:07


by Tim Jones, 15th June, 2017

On Wednesday morning at around 0115, I awoke from a scary dream. I saw the house opposite mine, whose roof was flapping in the high wind like a flip-top waste bin, with its household contents flying out. The panicked owner rushed outside, screaming for assistance. Assistance I could not render.

I awoke from this nightmare, turning on the radio for some diversion, to hear the unfolding early moments of the drama that is Grenfell Tower, Notting Hill, London.

I listened in frozen horror as eye witnesses described the blaze spreading up the 24-storey block of flats. One woman, viewing the scene from an adjacent tower block, described the fire as being spread upwards by the new cladding.

Like everyone else, I despaired for the unlucky ones at the top. Could they use the emergency stairs? Did the toxic smoke spell doom? Soon the images and short videos came through on Twitter to add to the dismay.

As the day wore on, more scenes of gut wrenching loss reached our screens. Some lucky survivors, bewildered, some in night attire, had lost everything. One man said that he grabbed his daughter and his passport; his now only remaining possessions. We saw firemen struggling to extinguish the flames; we saw commentators, the Mayor included, speak of the horror. They all said that it was too early to speculate as to the causes of the disaster, yet slipped in a few recriminations for others.

Know it alls spouted from the wings that these people were advancing their despicable points of view by trying to make the fire and its aftermath a political matter.

What is it if not a political matter? Why do we need 'social housing'? Why is there such a divide in society where people with so little can be surrounded by others in £3million houses who cry for the less fortunate ones to be hidden away lest they decrease property values? What's not political about the government demanding that publicly owned rented accommodation be passed over to the private sector, then defeat a motion that would require such landlords to maintain their property as fit for human habitation?

Why was the management of the building and its tenants handed over to a privately run Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) that seemed to care more about chasing rents and collecting parking fines than ensuring safety? Why did the company organising the recent renovation at first say that all works and materials met building regulations as well as fire and safety measures, but later retract the part about fire and safety?

We know that the Fire Brigade arrived eight minutes after being called out, but why, when it needed to get as high as possible, did it have to request a turntable ladder from Surrey? Are there no longer the proper resources in London? Have Boris Johnson's cuts gone so far as to emasculate the response?

The same Boris Johnson who, when questioned at a London Assembly to explain how cuts to the Fire Service would make London safer as he had stated, told the questioner to "Get stuffed!"

Why was there no sprinkler system installed? Why did the fire alarm not work? Why were extinguishers absent or defective?

All large fires start out as little fires. The trick is to contain then put out the smaller fires before they spread. In any multiple occupancy building it should not be possible for a fire in one flat to spread quickly to others. Modern buildings are meant to contain a fire within one section for up to an hour.

Why, when the TMO decided to swap from electric heating to gas, did they allow naked feed pipes to run up the stairwell? If there was a master gas cut-off valve at the base of the building, to be triggered by the fire alarm, why did it not shut off the supply? The Fire Brigade had to call in gas company people to stop the flow because the flames were aided by gas.

So the litany of disaster continues. Those people who escaped with nothing but the singed hair on their heads deserve answers. It's too late for the 120 or so dead people, either burned in the flames or who jumped to their deaths from high windows.

So the government, including "Get stuffed!" Johnson, will call for answers. Answers that it hopes will arrive after many months, sotto voce, when the shock of Wednesday has been overtaken by some new concern.

No doubt, the Evening Standard will cry out for those responsible to be brought to book. The same Evening Standard now edited by the man, who when Chancellor of the Exchequer, promoted the policy of Austerity with its cut, cut, cut, and its clamour to push public services into the hands of grasping, incompetent, big business.

Big fires start out as little fires. Let's hope that this fire, tragic, devastating, unforgettable for those involved, will illuminate the complicity of the Conservatives, leading to their banishment from the scene for ever.

In September, 2013 Boris Johnson told a London Assembly member to "get stuffed" during an increasingly angry exchange over the impact of fire service cuts. The Mayor of London was being questioned when he lost his cool and fired off the remark to Andrew Dismore.

Timothy Pickford-Jones

Timothy is a mature northerner with a background in electronics and public transport, who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.

As well as having a keen eye on the political scene, he is a photographer, with an interest in architecture and history. Timothy has been active on the web since the mid 1990s, having curated the Timmonet site from its inception.

Since retiring from full time work, Timothy has found time for travel, creativity, and maintaining his lifelong interest in the arts.

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