THE FBU (Fire Brigades Union) has said that it ‘remains humbled’ by the suffering of the bereaved, survivors and residents (BSRs) of the Grenfell community, as Module 4 of Phase 2 of the inquiry started on Monday.
Module 4 is dealing with the aftermath of the 2017 disaster in terms of how the bereaved, survivors and residents were treated, and particularly the role of authorities.
The union has reiterated that it remains humbled by the community’s suffering in its opening submission for this module, and that: ‘The resilience and dignity of the displaced residents survivors and bereaved throughout this torrid time is deserving of the highest praise.’
The union also recognises that: ‘Central and local government failed to provide the support they needed’, and ‘Many of the problems in the immediate aftermath of the fire were the result of decades of under-resourcing in social housing and local government,’ with deregulation also being a significant factor.
BSRs, in the union’s view, felt abandoned by authorities in the immediate aftermath, whose efforts were ‘too little and too slow’.
The union further states that anguish was ‘heightened by the lack of information or better communication from those who could access the information they needed about their missing loved ones’.
The union’s opening submission to this module also encourages the inquiry ‘to investigate why bereaved, survivors and residents were denied a simple lump sum emergency payment of £5,000 and were instead paid an initial instalment of £500’. In other parts of the UK similar payments, to those left bereft by incidents such as flooding, have been made as a lump sum.
Meanwhile, Karim Mussilhy, a man who lost his uncle in the Grenfell Tower fire, told the inquiry into the disaster on Monday that authorities were more concerned about a riot than helping him.
Mussilhy said he felt abandoned in the chaotic days following the fire, and had no help to find out what happened to his uncle, Hesham Rahman.
Rahman’s death was only officially confirmed two months later.
The council apologised on Monday for its failings.
Recalling the days after the fire in June 2017, Mussilhy said despite a tense atmosphere in North Kensington, the families were focused on finding their loved ones.
But he said the government and council ‘dug their head into the sand and tried to portray that we were some kind of criminals like we were going to form a mob’.
‘That seemed to be their main interest. They were more concerned about an uprising,’ he said.
‘These crooks, these criminals, the government, the local authorities, they’ve not learnt their lessons.’
Mussilhy said he thought the government was ‘put in place to look after its people, its most vulnerable people and help would come swooping in’.
‘It never happened. They never planned to. They don’t care about us.’
He said as the days went on it became ‘more and more apparent that we were completely left alone’.
Residents had to make their own lists of survivors.
‘We were abandoned in the worst way possible while we were looking for our relatives,’ he said.
Mussilhy recalled seeing smoke and flames coming from his uncle’s flat and convincing himself he wasn’t in there.
‘There’s no way I’m standing here watching my uncle smoking and burning. I just wouldn’t allow myself to believe that,’ he said.
Mussilhy told told the inquiry his only sources of information were people he knew and the media.
He said some journalists were acting like ‘parasites trying to feed and attach themselves to vulnerable people’.
But he also said that out of ‘sheer desperation’ he allowed a Sky News team to follow his search for his uncle, in case they might help him to find more information.
A number of local organisations opened their doors to survivors, providing what the council called ‘rest centres’, but Mussilhy said there was no sign of any official presence at the centres.
The possibility that his uncle had died only started to become apparent when he saw fire brigade T-shirts laid out near the tower with notes written by firefighters.
Missing persons signs, candles and tributes were laid near the tower block in the days after the fire.
In his written statement, he said the notes read ‘to all those on the 21st floor and above, we are sorry we couldn’t get to you’.
Hesham Rahman lived on the 23rd floor.
‘I realised uncle was probably dead and we watched him burn,’ he told the inquiry.
Mussilhy is now a leading member of Grenfell United, which represents many of the bereaved, survivors and residents of the area.
He said it had come together because official sources of help were not available.
‘Grenfell United exists because of their non-existence. They purposefully left people to fend for themselves,’ he said.
The council response in the days after the Grenfell fire was ‘chaotic and disorganised’ and made a terrible situation worse, the inquiry heard on Monday.
Survivors were not treated with dignity or respect and matters would have been ‘very different indeed’ if the fire hadn’t happened in social housing, said lawyer Imran Khan QC.
Khan, who represents some of those affected, told the inquiry: ‘The survivors of a tragedy in one of the richest boroughs in the country should not have had to endure the hardship and indignity that we have described very briefly.
‘They should not have had to fight for support in the way that they were forced to do so.
‘RBKC’s (Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea) and others’ response in the initial aftermath of the fire was chaotic and disorganised to say the least.’
He said the council had ‘exacerbated what was already a dire situation and was severely damaging to the lives of our clients, even until today. Not only that, the response did not respect our clients, it did not treat our clients with the dignity that they deserved’.
‘Had the tragedy not occurred in social housing, the response, we say, would have undoubtedly been very, very different indeed,’ Khan added.
Two other lawyers, representing other bereaved families and survivors, also said the council’s actions had been damaging.
Professor Leslie Thomas QC said it showed ‘stunning insensitivity’ that a disabled couple had been offered accommodation on the 10th floor of a hotel.
Thomas said another man, whose father died in the fire, had ‘many times’ been locked out of hotel rooms provided by the council because it had forgotten to renew the booking.
Statements by people affected by the tragedy showed ‘what it was like to be abandoned by the state in a moment of need of the most basic necessities of life’, added Danny Friedman QC.
He said there were examples of people being treated with ‘bureaucratic distance’, ignored, and told facts ‘they knew to be untrue or contradicted’.