Imran Khan QC is quoted in The Guardian newspaper concerning institutional racism and its role in the Grenfell Tower inquiry. Please see below article published by The Guardian.
Photo credit: The Guardian, Victoria Jones/PA
"We can’t breathe”. In a harrowing call made to the fire brigade from her 22nd-floor flat, these were some of the last words of 33-year-old Nadia Choucair, a nursery teacher who died in the Grenfell Tower fire with her three daughters, Zainab, Fatima, Mierna, her husband, Bassem, and her mother, Sirria.
Now three years on, with the country witnessing anti-racism protests triggered by the death of George Floyd and his hauntingly similar plea, the parallels are being highlighted.
With the inquiry into the blaze that killed 72 people set to resume next month, there are growing calls from the bereaved and survivors for the Grenfell inquiry to include institutional racism in its terms of reference, and to scrutinise whether racial stereotyping and unconscious prejudice affected the actions of the local authority and the way firefighters responded to the inferno that night.
Among the campaigners is Nadia’s brother, Nabil Choucair, who called for the inquiry to expand the terms of reference.
“I have fought and tried to get this changed right from the beginning,” he said. “I believe my sister, mother, nieces and brother-in-law were treated and judged differently.
“We are faced with social inequality and racism every day of our lives in this country. You’re treated differently if you’re not white. You can’t have an inquiry without having looked at how those 72 angels were treated.”
Shahrokh Aghlani also lost his mother, Sakina Afrasehabi, and his aunt, Fatima Afrasehabi, to the fire.
“My mother was disabled. On that night, when the neighbour knocked on her door to tell her to flee, she pointed to her knees. She couldn’t move because she had a problem with her knees, but she was housed on the 18th floor. The local authority did that to her.”
Imran Khan QC represented the Lawrence family after the murder of their son Stephen by a gang of white youths in 1993, and now acts for some of the bereaved and survivors of Grenfell. Khan said it would be a “missed opportunity” if lessons were not taken from the inquiry and questions about institutional racism weren’t asked, given at least 34 of the Grenfell victims were of African, Middle Eastern or Asian backgrounds.
“The issue that arose in the Lawrence inquiry was, ‘the fact that Stephen Lawrence was black, did that lead to failures?’ You might want to ask the same question here. Was it a question that the majority of the occupants of Grenfell Tower were from a particular background, did that play any role with either them being placed in the tower in the first place, and the way they were treated during their time there?
Nour-eddine Aboudihaj, the founder of the Grenfell Tower Trust, which provides support for the bereaved and survivors, said residents were condemned to live in a “death trap” when concerns they raised regarding the safety of the building as early as two years before the blaze were ignored.
“There were a lot of complaints about electricity cuts, gas, all these issues but they were not listened to,” Aboudihaj said. “The fact residents were from immigrant or BAME backgrounds means they weren’t listened to and they were treated unfavourably.
“That’s what institutional racism is about,” Khan said. “It’s not some individual deliberately doing something in a racist fashion. It’s whether any policies, procedures, acts or conduct directly or indirectly led to consequences.”
A spokesperson for the Grenfell inquiry said: ‘The inquiry recognises that there are those who feel strongly that factors such as social background and race played a significant role in the Grenfell Tower fire. When the inquiry was being set up there were calls for its terms of reference to include national and local policy on the provision, allocation and funding of social housing, which would no doubt have included an investigation into the influence of race and social background.
“Although the chairman shared the concerns of those who felt these were important questions which required urgent examination, on careful reflection he came to the conclusion when recommending the inquiry’s terms of reference that the inquiry was not the best way to answer them. However, if in the course of its investigations the panel finds that factors of that kind played a part in any of the decisions under consideration, it will make that clear in its report.”