I don’t think I am the only one who has been discomforted by the handling and reporting of the Grenfell Tower fire. Until we receive the outcomes of the criminal and judicial investigations into the fire we cannot know or understand all the facts that led to this tragedy. Despite this there are many who are making assumptions about who is to blame and what caused the fire, as well as critics of the management of the fire. It is undoubtedly a tragedy and there were certainly many things that need detailed review to ensure that such a fire does not happen again and that there is adequate emergency support after such an event. But surely we need to be suspicious of verdicts by assumption?
There has been extensive coverage of the anger that this fire has generated. It has become a political football, hijacked for political gain. John McDonnell has accused Conservative Councillors of ‘social cleansing’ and of being ‘murderers’. Within seconds this was reapplied to accuse Theresa May and her Government of being murderers. Conservative MPs have also been threatened. But murder is a serious accusation and would have required someone taking a match and deliberately setting fire to the building. To turn grief and anger into a march of hatred seems to me both cynical and unhelpful, particularly while the detailed police and judicial investigation is in process.
We have a system in this country that demands that we are treated as innocent until proven guilty. Let’s not reverse that to allow trial by the mob, politicians, media interview, or social media. We should not believe something that has yet to be verified. It may be that there has been negligence or, indeed, criminal or corporate negligence, but the police and a judge are the ones to decide this verdict, based on facts and evidence.
The difficulty has been that facts about the fire have been hard to come by and will take months to reveal, including the number and identity of those lost. There are thousands of tons of rubble to sift through, in a fragile building. It is dangerous work and, as with the Didcot Power Station explosion in February 2016, can take many weeks of careful investigation. The last body was not taken out of Didcot until seven months later. It was very painful for the families but there was no conspiracy, as has been hinted at but not proven, in the Grenfell Tower fire.
The commentary about the fire has concerned me. Reports have focused on blame, on assumptions of guilt, on conspiracies and on the negative consequences and bad management of the fire to the extent that I suspect I am not alone in imagining that absolutely nothing had been put in place to support the surviving residents of the block.
For example I only recently discovered that the Westway West London Sports Centre had been set up as a help centre for the Grenfell Tower survivors, with desks available to service questions about lost driving licences, finance, passports and other concerns. Also that a key social worker was allocated to every family and finance made available. That a Government website was published on 15 June, the day after the fire, see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/grenfell-tower-fire-june-2017-support-for-people-affected. Despite regularly reading The Times, Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, occasionally the Telegraph as well as following television, radio and on-line media reports, I had not read about these support centres. Had you? I had got the impression that next-to-nothing was being done. Of course whatever is put in place will never fill the terrible void of losing family, friends, home and possessions and in that context realistically nothing can ever be enough to assuage such grief.