Residential propety

Commemorations held five years after London’s worst residential fire | New

The names of the 72 people who perished in the UK’s worst residential fire since World War II were read out at a church service on Tuesday marking the blaze’s fifth anniversary.

Survivors and families of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire gathered at Westminster Abbey for the first of a day of events to remember the tragedy.

The fire started in a faulty freezer and tore through the 24-storey west London block in an inferno visible across the UK capital.

An official report blamed the highly combustible cladding attached to the exterior of the tower as the “main reason” for the fire spreading.

But despite an ongoing costly public inquiry, the government has been accused of failing to implement urgent security changes to avert a similar tragedy.

Also on Tuesday, participants observed a 72-second silence and laid flowers at the base of the tower, which is still covered with a tarp.

‘Tinder box’

Five years later, emotions remain high over the treatment of survivors and bereaved, some of whom have yet to be permanently relocated.

The local Anglican Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, said in the years leading up to the fire, Grenfell had become a “powder keg” and tragedy was inevitable.

“Today’s memory is really hard for people,” he told Times Radio. “People are still deeply traumatized by it.”

Firefighters who braved the heat and flames to try to rescue residents accused the government of not taking fire safety seriously.

Firefighters’ union general secretary Matt Wrack said the firefighters and the community of Grenfell had a “bond that was forged in tragedy”. But there had been job cuts across the service since 2017.

‘The community faced constant denials from officials that Grenfell was covered in a coating as flammable as petrol,’ he said. “They faced a wait for criminal charges that continues to this day.”

The FBU also highlighted “multiple failures” in the testing and approval of the cladding, insulation and other materials used in Grenfell Tower.

He claimed the tragedy could have been avoided if the building regulator had not been privatized and had not been “dependent on royalty income” from manufacturers.

People observe the memorial, near the remains of Grenfell Tower [Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo]

Grenfell activists say the fire and its aftermath have exposed gaping social inequalities. They argue that the changes would have been implemented sooner if low-income workers and ethnic minority families in public housing had not been the ones affected.

There has also been a wider outcry among homeowners who have been forced to pay for the removal of hazardous coatings in the skyscrapers where they live. Many have been unable to sell their properties or obtain adequate insurance.

The Times newspaper reported that about 640,000 people still lived in buildings with the same type of cladding material.

Government ministers have also been convicted for advising as recently as last month that residents should wait for help before evacuating during a high-rise fire.

“A lot of the people who managed to survive were people who managed to get out early because they ignored advice to ‘stay put’,” said Tiago Alves, 25, who escaped with his mother , his father and younger sister. “I’m stunned that we’re still having this conversation five years later.”

london fire
This handout image received by a local resident shows flames and smoke coming from Grenfell Tower [File: Natalie Oxford via AFP]

London Mayor Sadiq Khan of the main opposition Labor party praised the survivors for their campaign to improve public safety.

The ongoing public inquiry was “painstakingly uncovering the truth” – that profits took priority over public safety and deregulation was weakening building standards, he said.

“The response from the government, developers and landlords has fallen far short of what the families of victims and survivors have come to expect,” he wrote in The Observer on Sunday.

“We still have too many residents in London and across the country who live in high-rise buildings covered in dangerous flammable coating, and we still see designs for buildings that have critical safety flaws.”