Five years later and following a multi-million pound inquiry into the events of the tragic fire, campaigners are still tirelessly fighting for justice for Grenfell.
On 14 June 2017, the country watched in horror as Grenfell Tower, a residential block in west London, was engulfed in flames that led to the deaths of 72 residents, including 18 children.
As horror stories of families trapped in their homes and infants thrown from windows to safety emerged, questions were raised as to how a building in the UK’s richest borough could have become the site of one of the country’s greatest tragedies.
“We need to have an explanation of this, we owe that to the families,” said Theresa May, the prime minister at the time, in the days following the fire. But five years and a £149 million public inquiry later, survivors and tireless campaigners continue to demand justice for the lives that were lost and action over the dangerous residential structures that remain.
“After 5 years, we need justice 4 the 72+. We have 3 demands: truth, accountability and change. It has taken 2 long, with 1 protracted public inquiry and 0 arrests,” read a video released by campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell, highlighting government inaction since the tragedy.
Indeed, flammable cladding panels have been widely blamed for the rapid spread of the fire, yet a report published in early 2022 revealed that 40% of buildings in England with the same type of cladding as Grenfell Tower have not been made safe.
The building’s owner, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its managing agent, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, continue to be investigated for the responsibility they had in preventing the fire. No charges have been brought about to date.
In the wake of the fire, the government has repeatedly been accused of inaction, cover-ups and performative justice. In 2021, Kensington MP Felicity Buchan was criticised for voting against implementing building safety recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry, despite representing the community affected by the tragedy.
Steph Pike, part of the #EndOurCladdingScandal campaign, wrote: “Tonight marks the 5th anniversary of #Grenfell.
No justice has been served.
The culprits get richer.
The government shirks responsibility.
They all knew + did nothing.
1000s of flats remain unsafe.
1000s of people are still trapped.
The #BuildingSafetyCrisis is not over.”
“We all thought this would be it. That this would change everything for housing in the UK. We still feel angry, we still want justice, we want to never see our communities live in fear of fires ripping through their homes,” shared political artist Khadija Said on Instagram.
“My heart hurts and I feel inconsolable knowing that five years on, that same lethal cladding is wrapped across homes in the UK. Those same companies and individuals responsible live with total impunity and have even profited since. That it takes a spark for names we know and love to be read out on lists of remembrance. Grief on grief on grief.
“The Met police have said prosecutions will only happen at the conclusion of the inquiry. The evidence is already so damning. They knew that cladding was flammable. They chose profit over human lives. They let our loved ones burn, blamed them for dying and they will do it again. I only have hope in this community left behind.”
As the government prepares to go ahead with its controversial Rwanda deportation plans this week, some reflected on the landscape of racism in the UK in light of the tragedy.
Of the residents who died in the fire, 85% were from ethnic minorities and it has been suggested within the Grenfell enquiry that the cost-cutting measures that helped spread the fire would have been sanctioned “if the tower block was in an affluent part of the city for an affluent white population”.
“Can’t stop thinking of Khadija Saye who couldn’t call for help that night at Grenfell as the police had taken her phone after a wrongful arrest & as another deportation flight is set to depart from Britain, we reaffirm our determination to tear the whole rotten system down,” wrote author Ilyas Nagdee.
“People died in that tower block simply because they were working class and brown, Black predominantly and the local councils and authorities didn’t think their lives were worth spending the money to get safe insulation, safe cladding for,” added podcaster and director Kelechi Okafor in a video shared to Instagram.
“On the 5th anniversary of the Grenfell fire the UK government prepares to send those who are seeking refuge on these shores, to Rwanda for “processing” which basically means displacing these people. Every violence is interconnected and rather than spending time daydreaming about how you would’ve been part of the change during historical events, be part of the change now,” Okafor explained in her caption.
“This is not normal. The way our world currently operates is not normal, it is not okay.”
“Today, on the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, an act of gross intentional structural violence by a state that has built its wealth on the premise that Black lives do not matter, we fight against proposed deportations to Rwanda. There is a colonial through-line here,” shared writer Leah Cowan.
Community organised memorial services are being held across the city to mark the anniversary, as well as a Grenfell silent walk in honour of those who lost their lives.
“Along with all Londoners I stand with the Grenfell community, today on the fifth anniversary of that terrible tragedy, and always,” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan shared in a statement to Twitter. “Together, we will get the answers, justice and change that we need to protect communities in London and across the rest of our country.”
“While the inquiry continues to reveal the full truth of what occurred in the lead up to that deadly night, what we can say with confidence is that this tragedy was entirely preventable and it should never have happened.”
A first report from the Grenfell inquiry has already been published and a second, definitive report detailing the chain of failure which led to the disaster is expected to follow next year.