View across North West London, The tower blocks of 'North Kensington' and in the foreground the 'Central Line' underground track, Photograph by BasPhoto, Shutterstock.

After 17 people were killed in Wednesday’s fire at the Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, Theresa May has decided to order a public inquiry. Today, visiting the tower block and the emergency teams working at the scene, she said that “We need to ensure that this terrible tragedy is properly investigated.”

The Mayor of London called for a “full, independent public inquiry” into the disaster and Jeremy Corbyn, who has also visited the scene today, said that the “truth has got to come out and will come out.” The cause of the fire still remains unknown.

An independent inquiry is important to shed light on the reasons such a horrible event happened and what could be done to avoid such an incident happening again. In such occasions, where innocent lives are lost and where complaints about the building’s lack of security, safety and basic sanitation have been voiced by its residents, the only possible way is to call for an independent investigation. 

After the blaze and the loss of lives, it is the feeling of social inequality and working-class marginalisation that hangs in the air, like a thick smoke. People were not only trapped in a blazing inferno, but by those limits that separate the wealthier from the poorer. As one of the residents there said, “Those people were trapped in their rooms, and they will have died thinking ‘they didn’t care, they didn’t listen’.”

Residents complain about lack of accountability

Residents of the tower had demanded an investigation 18 months ago, but their warnings about the dangers in the building were ignored. 

The council dismissed the residents’ complaints about the way the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) conducted themselves and chose to trust the TMO, which had assured them that there weren’t any issues. 

A former resident of the building said that when the horrific news broke out on Wednesday, he felt “appalled,” “angry,” “but I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t surprised.” Since the shocking event, many residents have been asking for accountability and want the government to guarantee that such disasters don’t happen again by making sure resources are available and safety measures are taken.

The former chair of the Grenfell Tower residents’ association, David Collins, has stated that the building’s management should be held accountable, stressing that he had called for an inquiry in January 2016 during a meeting of Kensington council’s housing and planning scrutiny committee. He had also warned about the Tower’s TMO and its contractors who had “harassed or intimidated” residents. He said that managers from the contractors had threatened tenants but the “TMO were not held to account for their poor service levels. They were left to self-regulate, and councillors didn’t listen to us or hold them to account.” Collins described them as “incompetent and inept”: they weren’t “bad people, but the organisation wasn’t true to their values: they said they were resident-led, but did not listen to the residents at all. The lack of accountability for the TMO, the lack of power for the residents, it was a contributing factor in this disaster.”

Collins told the Guardian that everyday people weren’t listened to and wondered whether such a disaster could have been avoided: “I just want people to know that if they’d listened to the residents, and acted upon what was told to them, it could have been different. It’s impossible to know if this could have been avoided. But people lost their lives, and some jumped to their death and will have done so knowing the TMO didn’t listen.”

Flammable cladding 

The unusual rapidity with which the fire at Grenfell Tower spread has raised concerns relating to cladding. It is now believed that the gap between the cladding and the fabric of the building may have helped the rapid spread of the fire on the outside. Forensic architect Chris Miers told Construction Enquirer “I was surprised to see the extent of fire and its rapid spread. The risk is if the void is not adequately subdivided it would act as a chimney.” The building was clad with “Aluminium Composite Material cassette rainscreen. This consists of two thin aluminium sheets sandwiching a core material. The panels are available with polyethylene or less flammable mineral cores. The cladding system employs a void behind the panel to vent moisture. An intumescent strip is designed to be installed at regular intervals to expand in the event of fire to become a cavity barrier.”

“Corporate manslaughter”

Many have touched upon the thorny matter of inequality and how the people living in the tower block were predominantly poor. While the residents on the Grenfell Tower were situated in one of the most deprived areas, they could gaze at Kensington and Chelsea: “one of the wealthiest local authorities in the country.” According to Caelainn Barr, the borough “is among London’s most unequal, with extreme poverty and wealth living side by side. Data shows that the vicinity of the tower was among the top 10% most deprived areas in England in 2015, ranking alongside parts of Bradford and south Tyneside.”

Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, said that the way the residents have been treated and what happened at Grenfell Tower amounts to “corporate manslaughter”: “This is the richest borough in our country treating its citizens in this way and we should call it what it is. It is corporate manslaughter. That’s what it is. And there should be arrests made, frankly. It is an outrage.”

The kindness of strangers

Many people have been left homeless and spent the night at rescue centres. British citizens showed love and support by helping with donations and comforting people. The singers Rita Ora and Adele were seen on Wednesday, helping people and organising the donations. A volunteer said: "It is times like this that the best of our community comes out. This is where you find out how good it is to be a Londoner."

Amongst the charred walls and debris, people left words of hope and compassion, with many messages expressing anger and injustice for being ignored and losing their loved ones.