Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer lead tributes on third anniversary of Grenfell Tower fire

14 June 2020, 10:10

Grenfell Tower set alight on 14 June 2017, killing 72 people
Grenfell Tower set alight on 14 June 2017, killing 72 people. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer have led the tributes on the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Speaking in a video message, the prime minister said the British people were with the Grenfell Tower community "in spirit" while the Labour leader promised to do "everything in my power" to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Today marks three years since the deadly inferno ripped through a tower block in west London.

Starting as a small kitchen fire, the blaze quickly grew until the high-rise was almost completely engulfed in flames, becoming the worst domestic fire since the Second World War.

The blaze claimed 72 lives and injured a further 70, devastating both the local community and the rest of the country.

Commemorations to the tragedy have been moved online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In tribute to each victim, the bells of London churches will toll 72 times on Sunday and green lights will glow from tower block windows.

Faith leaders will conduct sermons and reflections online throughout Sunday and from 10.30pm, people in homes across the UK are asked to shine a bright green light from their screens to show solidarity with the bereaved and survivors.

In a video message, to be relayed to a virtual service hosted by the Bishop of Kensington, Mr Johnson said the UK was working to ensure such a catastrophic disaster would never happen again.

"We can all remember where we were three years ago today when we saw this tragedy unfolding on our screens and across the London skyline," he said.

"That night, 72 men, women and children were taken from us in the cruellest of circumstances.

"As a nation, we are still dealing with the consequences of what happened and working to make sure it never happens again.

"While those affected by Grenfell are not able to gather in person, all of us in this country are with you in spirit."

On Saturday, the Labour Party estimated there are still 56,000 people across the country living in homes wrapped in the same flammable cladding as Grenfell.

Sir Keir said the victims and their families had seen "little justice or accountability" for what happened on that fateful morning.

"In the midst of their suffering, the Grenfell community came together to campaign for justice, safe homes and change. Because no one should ever go through the loss and pain they experienced," he said.

"But three years on and, unbelievably, tonight people will go to bed in unsafe homes.

"Three years on and there has been little justice or accountability. Three years on their campaign continues.

"I support Grenfell United. We can all learn from their strength and determination."

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it is a "national disgrace" that 56,000 people are still living in buildings at risk from flammable cladding three years on.

"This is 56,000 living in fear for their lives every single day. The time for platitudes and promises is over - we need action now," he wrote on Twitter.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also sent his thoughts and prayers to the Grenfell community and said there should never be a repeat of the national tragedy.

Residents in similar high-rises face a "postcode lottery" regarding the number of firefighters that would be sent to their building in the event of a blaze, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said.

"Many brigades would not be able to mobilise anywhere near the scale" that was needed to tackle the Grenfell Tower fire, it added.

The FBU pointed out there is a significant variation between the pre-determined attendance levels - the number of engines sent as standard to high-rise fires - for different forces.

General secretary Matt Wrack described the situation as "shocking" and "a chilling warning to the prime minister".

He said: "Lives in London and the south east are worth no more than the rest of the country, yet different regions have drastically different standards."

Mr Wrack added that the loss of 72 lives at Grenfell was deeply traumatic, but said there was "a good chance that the next Grenfell will be outside London, in an area where fewer resources are mobilised to a fire, and the loss of life could be worse still".

The 72 victims of the Grenfell Tower fire will be remembered in a virtual service
The 72 victims of the Grenfell Tower fire will be remembered in a virtual service. Picture: PA

The public inquiry into the disaster was paused in March because of the pandemic and is due to restart on 6 July.

In April, the Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said coronavirus “cannot be an excuse” for failing to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise blocks.

The shadow minister said he understood the pandemic will change working patterns but added “strong and swift action” is still needed to remove unsafe cladding.

Earlier this year, Grenfell Tower cladding firms were guaranteed protection from prosecution when giving evidence to the fire's inquiry.

In February, Attorney General Suella Braverman confirmed that witnesses would receive the commitment in a bid to ensure vital evidence about the fire is heard.