Archive for the ‘grenfell’ Category

Hillsborough and Grenfell

August 28, 2017

On June 14th, 1989, Liverpool were set to play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final, which took place at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Liverpool were allocated less tickets than Nottingham Forest, despite having more supporters. The police rejected a request from the Football Association to allow more tickets to Liverpool fans.

As a result, 24,000  Liverpool fans were squeezed into the Leppings Lane end of the stadium (before all-seater stadia, fans were corralled onto terraces, and pens were employed to keep rival supporters from clashing with each other). Congestion in getting to the ground meant that many Liverpool fans were delayed in arriving. A further request to postpone the start of the match was denied, and instead 2,000 football fans were herded into an already full “pens”. The people there could not leave the pen, as there was only one exit door, which was locked. Before the match started fans were shouting to the police to open the gate, their demands were ignored. The police’s reaction was to assume that there was crowd trouble.

The match was recorded on television by eight BBC cameras, but the resulting footage was considered “too distressing” to broadcast. The game started but lasted just seven minutes before it was halted. The coroner’s report showed that some fans had already succumbed to injuries even before kick off. The Superintendent in charge of the game, David Duckenfield, who was inexperienced in managing such a major football game, tried to claim that ticketless Liverpool supporters had broken into one of the gates and stormed the pitch – this was a lie. A major incident plan should have been put in place immediately, allowing ambulances to enter the pitch. Police officers and stewards should have been giving first aid, instead of forming a cordon to prevent a pitch invasion, as they initially saw it. In the event, only three ambulances were allowed onto the pitch despite dozens of ambulances being parked outside – the first did not arrive until 3.15pm, a quarter an hour after kick-off.

A nearby gymnasium was used as a makeshift holding area, and alcohol tests were carried out on all the bodies at the request of the police, including children, who made up many of those who tragically lost their lives. The purpose of this was to try to pin the blame on Liverpool fans for the disaster. The accusations of the police were later supported by the right-wing tabloid press – The Sun published a disgraceful headline “The Truth”, claiming that police officers were urinated on, that fans pickpocketed victims and attacked a police officer who was giving the kiss of life. In reality, it was fans who were administering first aid, carrying away the injured on makeshift stretchers made from advertising hoardings. The police were determined to try to shift the blame away from themselves and on to “drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters”, for which they “had to find evidence that this was the case”. No proper emergency response ever happened. Those who tried to tell the real truth were ignored, slapped down or browbeaten. One doctor who was in the crowd had his reputation attacked and was accused of publicity seeking, in an attempt to discredit him or shut him up.

Senior police officers also falsified the evidence of their colleagues – police were not told to write down witness statements in the normal way, but to put their recollections of the incident down on plain paper, which was then redacted. The Taylor enquiry was set up, but in such a way that one police force was investigating another, and the South Yorkshire Police Force could take its own officers’ statements. Criticisms of the policing operation, such as, “It might have been better to direct fans into flank areas which were not full” and “Why were the sliding doors at the back of the tunnel not closed when those sections of the ground were full?” were censored, but any criticisms of the fans were left in. Despite these attempts at whitewashing, the Taylor Report still found that the main cause of overcrowding was due to the failure of police control. Margaret Thatcher made a handwritten note: “What do we mean by ‘welcoming the broad thrust of the report’? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome?”

Prosecutions were expected to follow, but then the chauffeur of the Chief Constable and the Law Lord claimed that they were determined to blame the police force. Again, this was a lie, but it ensured that no criminal charges were brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Subsequently, calls for an independent inquiry were raised by families of the 96 victims of the disaster. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair scribbled “Why what is the point?” on a paper requesting a review of the evidence.

Is it a coincidence that it was Liverpool the right tried to blame, in the aftermath of the influence of the 47 Liverpool Councillors who resisted Thatcher’s government and wrested millions of pounds out the Iron Lady for the city, who built 5,000 council houses, leisure centres and nurseries?

The need for public housing leads on to a more recent disaster, also entirely preventable, the Grenfell Tower fire. Cladding was put on the ageing tower block to improve the view of the area for the gentrified parts of Kensington and Chelsea. The tower blocks are home to a very impoverished community, in the middle of one of the richest parts of London, where billionaires buy empty properties as an investment.

The fire began with a faulty fridge on the fourth floor. the advice given was for people to remain in their rooms, but the heat spread the fire to the exterior cladding and rapidly the whole building became engulfed in flames. A tenants’ group had previously warned that the cladding was unfit for purpose and dangerous, yet this warning was ignored.

Thatcher’s right to buy policy, introduced in 1980, allowed tenants to buy their own council homes at a discount. Finance to local authorities for building council homes was cut, the responsibility being passed to housing associations and private landlords. The result has been a return to Dickensian housing standards, overcrowding and slum landlordism. Homebuilding has steadily fallen. 171,000 homes were built in 2015, of which just 2,700 were built by local authorities. As demand has outstripped supply, property prices and rents have soared, along with the problem of homelessness. No-one took the place of local government in providing housing.

Cost-cutting on projects has become the norm, as a direct result of her policies – the combustible cladding used saved just £300,000 from the cost of refurbishing the Grenfell tower, and there was little discussion of the implications for the safety of residents. A sprinkler system would have saved lives; a revision of evacuation procedures following the cladding being installed would have saved lives; retaining three nearby fire stations, which were closed by Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London (out of 10 across the city, with the loss of 600 firefighters’ jobs) would also have saved lives.

A true, official death toll of Grenfell may not be released until 2018. Millions of pounds of working-class people’s money, collected for the residents have still to be distributed to those in need.

We cannot have another cover-up, as happened in the 28 years it took for those responsible for Grenfell to be brought to justice, with David Duckenfield being charged with manslaughter and five others being charged with perverting the course of justice and lying about the incident. Yet there signs that this may already be happening. Firefighters who attended the incident were banned from speaking to the media about the true death toll. We must demand an independent inquiry, led by trade unions and residents, which would look into the causes of the disaster and expose the crimes that were committed in the interests of making cuts and protecting profits.

(Speech given to Leicester Socialist Party branch meeting Saturday 26th August 2017).

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