Apart from the terrible tragedy of lost lives, injuries and homeless survivors, two things stand out above all from the Grenfell Tower fire and its aftermath: the incredible response of local (and not so local) people to help the survivors and the absolute incompetence – initially even absence – of the local council or any help from other authorities.
The response of the local Kensington and Chelsea Borough council (RBKC) was so woeful, even several days after the fire, that the emergency ‘Gold Command’ response unit – headed controversially by the CEO of the ‘unaccountable‘ City of London authority – was eventually brought in to replace it.
However, it now appears that the authorities may have had a presence on the ground very early – but not in a way that the local people appreciate.
A community centre at the heart of the people’s response to the tragedy became a key location for the collection and distribution of supplies and food to survivors, families and helpers. The lady who runs the centre – who has asked for neither to be named – spoke to the SKWAWKBOX about incidents with potentially sinister undertones:
On the morning of the fire, people just started to arrive with all kinds of stuff to help. We were run off our feet and there were lots of people, many of whom we didn’t know. There was a charity worker helping, who also ended up acting as a liaison with the council and one particular young woman who was always around during the first few days but never introduced herself. We just thought she was a volunteer like everybody else.
Some time later, the charity guy went to a meeting with the council and when he came back he told me that the young woman who’d been around from early on the first morning had also been at the meeting – and introduced herself as representing Gold Command.
What’s that about? If she was there on behalf of Gold Command to help, why didn’t she introduce herself? Why stay covert like that?
It’s worrying, especially in the context of other things going on, like armed police patrolling just after the fire. Survivors at the various hotels – who already feel like they’ve been dispersed to make it harder for them to get together – all say they’re constantly being watched by someone, from Gold, from the council, the government? we don’t know – who sits there with a laptop keeping an eye on them.
They say it feels oppressive, like they’re under surveillance. So you’ve got to wonder why that woman was here for two whole days without declaring herself.
These observations become even more troubling when you remember that Gold Command was not triggered or brought in during these very early hours and days after the fire – it was only over the weekend, Sunday as far as can be ascertained, after the fire (which happened on a Wednesday) that the council was removed from the equation and the Gold Command ‘coalition’ was brought in.
These events, together with the beginning of Hillsborough-like victim-blaming by the Establishment, have increased the sense of oppression felt by survivors and their neighbours, fuelling the distrust of authority that has led to the Justice for Grenfell group threatening to boycott the government’s judge-led inquiry that will not examine the wider context of the blaze and which they fear will simply be a mechanism for a cover-up.
Gold Command has not been reachable for comment.
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