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A Memorial Service to mark the 5th anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy at Westminster Abbey

Imran Khan QC addressed the commemoration service at Grenfell tower on 14 June 2022:

An Englishman’s home is his castle. It is. That is if you are a white and wealthy man. But for many of the residents of Grenfell Tower, their home was anything but their castle: it was their deathbed. 85% of the residents of Grenfell Tower who lost their lives on the night were people of colour. In 2018 I asked the Public Inquiry into the fire the (rhetorical) question: does the colour of a person’s skin matter in this country? Does it affect your education? Does it affect whether you can get a job? Does it affect where you live? In short, does it affect your life chances? The fact is skin colour is one of the defining facts of life in the UK. If you don't feel compelled to think about it much, chances are you are white. If you think about it often, you probably fit another demographic description. A description which unerringly affects whether you get a decent education, whether you get a job or, in the context of the Grenfell Tower, whether you live or die. The stark reality is that the race, religion, disability and social class of the residents of the Tower determined their destiny. Let us today, of all days, not mince our words: institutional discrimination was alive and kicking on the 14th June 2017 and it played its part in the death of 72 people and loss and suffering to many, many more. Yet, despite this obvious truth, no-one in authority wants to discuss this issue, let alone tackle it. If we don’t recognise, acknowledge and accept what the problem is, how on earth are we going to change it? Which is why many of those here today – bereaved, survivors and residents – have told me that they have little faith in the Public Inquiry, or in the police investigation and, perhaps, most significantly – the Government, in affecting any change. The Public Inquiry has persistently refused to deal with the issue of race, class and disability. And despite five years of investigating, the Metropolitan Police appears no closer to laying any charges, and, in terms of the Government, history, including recent history, tells us that they won’t act upon the Inquiry’s recommendations. Of the 68 public inquiries that have taken place between 1990 and 2017, only six have been fully followed-up by select committees to see what government did as a result of the inquiry. Even as of a few weeks ago, the government, shamefully, rejected the Inquiry’s Phase 1 recommendation for building owners to provide evacuation plans. Instead, the government favoured the very ‘stay put’ policy that the Public Inquiry found contributed to the loss of 72 lives on the 14th of June.

And this is where you, the great and the good and those in power and in powerful institutions come in. You have come here to remember those that died, and comfort those who lost and suffered. Thank you for coming today. Your presence is important to the bereaved, survivors, residents and wider community. But they, through me, do want to ask you this: whilst you are here today, where you before the fire? Because everyone knew that the fire on the 14th June 2017 was going to happen: it was inevitable. The warning signs were everywhere. From the fire at Lakanal House to the blog written by the Grenfell Action Group. Where were you when disabled tenants were placed on the 18th floor of the Tower without an evacuation plan? Where were you when the residents complained about a lack of smoke alarms and fire safety doors not functioning properly? Where were you when the residents raised concerns about the poorly planned and executed refurbishments to the Tower and the buildings’ dangerous living conditions? Where were you when highly combustible cladding was pasted to high-rise buildings across the country? Where were you when those responsible for the refurbishment of the Tower put profit before people?

The reality is that the tragedy of Grenfell was foreseeable and foreseen and you were not there. But you are here today and you might be forgiven – just about – for not knowing about the problems of Grenfell; for not helping the residents to solve their problems; for not stopping the wealthiest borough in the country from ethnic and social segregation. For all of these, you might be forgiven for not doing something then. But you know now. And today, you are here either out of respect or because of shame or because of your duty or because you genuinely want to be here. You may be sitting next to a bereaved, survivor or resident and you will, no doubt, shake their hand and express sorrow and condolences. You will show them a comforting smile, perhaps give them a hug or embrace. You will do some, or all of these things and then you will walk out of the door. And so will they. But whilst you will go back to your office or home, those who lost their homes and loved ones will go back to empty houses – not homes. Their actual homes were lost in the fire. They will go back to houses that are missing family photographs and heirlooms. You will see your family and loved ones. The bereaved will be haunted by the memories of theirs. No longer will they be able to embrace their family members, have a family meal around the dinner table, tuck their children into bed and read them a bed time story. Every morning the bereaved will wake up with an aching heart. They wake up alone, without their partner, knowing that they have to rebuild their future without them. They wake up knowing that their parents or family can’t be there to share and celebrate their life milestones, nor can they seek their support and guidance. They wake up knowing that they won’t be walking their child to school or teaching them how to ride a bike or see the smile on their face when they pass their first exams. And they will be haunted daily with the guilt of what more they could or should have done to save the life of their loved one. This - all of this - has been lost to so many people. And all because of a fire that could - and should - have been avoided. And, if this was not enough, the bereaved, survivors and residents have to suffer the indignity and pain of having to fight for justice – within the Public Inquiry, with the Metropolitan Police and with those who were legally responsible for their loss. And what does this justice look like. The bereaved, survivors and residents that I have spoken to are clear: if nothing changes, those who lost their lives will have died in vain. And they are not prepared to accept that. The tragedy is, of course, that but for the deaths – but for the loss – change might not take place. Those who I have spoken to want wholesale change to the Housing Sector in this country so that there is safe and suitable housing for all, not just the white, able bodied and wealthy. They want meaningful recommendations to come from the Inquiry and they want those recommendations implemented in full and in a timely manner. They want those who are considered criminally culpable to be swiftly prosecuted and properly punished. They want those who are responsible for failures to be forced to accept responsibility at the outset, rather than playing the blame game as almost every party did at the Inquiry. And when tragedies such as this occur – and they will, if nothing changes - when everyone knows what happened and why it happened and who was at fault, they don’t want those who lost loved ones or suffered to have to wait for half a decade as they have had to do here. They also want the 14th of June to become a National Day to memorialise the Grenfell Tower fire so that it is a lasting and permanent legacy of something that is never forgotten. So that it cannot be forgotten.

So, when you do walk out of the door today, remember this: whilst you may be excused for not having done anything before the fire on the 14th June 2017, there are no excuses for not doing something now. Whilst you were welcome here today, if you fail to act; if you fail to assist the bereaved, survivors, residents and the wider community in their fight for justice; if you do nothing in the next 365 days before the next anniversary – you will, I am sorry to say, not be welcome then.


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