In a modern or developed country like Britain, one would expect that disaster prevention measures in place are top notched, and when a disaster happens, the least expected is that management of the disaster both during and the aftermath would be top class.
Grenfell fire however exposed the weakness and backwardness in the British system.
The cause of the fire that killed at least 80 people by official account left many hospitalised for several weeks, some under induced coma and pushed the survivors to homelessness is still subject of public inquiry by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick and a police investigation for possible criminal offences.
The baffling issue here is, four weeks later, the exact number of casualties is not known, what we have is an estimate, based on initial and ongoing police investigations.
The Metropolitan Police released a statement last week that they believed 350 people lived on the property, 255 survived and 80 are known dead or missing (all missing are presumed dead) and the remaining were not in the property on the night of the event. This figure was released about four weeks after the fire raised through the building.
According to Commander Cundy of the Metropolitan police, there are still 23 flats where they have been unable to trace or speak to anyone who was in those properties on the night. So investigators assumed no one from any of those flats survived.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire until now, there have been discrepancies between official accounts of the number of casualties and the accounts from the residents, those close to or familiar with the story and the perception of the general public.
These discrepancies have led to so many conspiracy theories, most of which are reckless and unhelpful but in the heat of the moment, the dissatisfaction by the public towards the local and national government in handling the disaster and the vacuum left by a lack of official briefing initially, fuelled the acceptance of these theories as facts.
Investigators are now saying, they may not know the precise number of casualties until the end of the year, at the same time said they have now collected “all the human remains” in the property. So what is the problem? you have recovered all the human remains and yet cannot tell how many casualties? While it seems these two statements do not add up, I think there are extraneous factors that may hamper the effort to arriving at precise fatality figure.
Let us however quickly examine some of the factors here.
The official figure of 350 residence of Grenfell is very likely to be an underestimation. Being a social housing which is meant to provide stable and affordable homes for those at the sharp end of the housing crisis, it is also largely known that unlawful subletting go on in social housing, Grenfell Tower is not likely to be any different.
The scale of illegal subletting in Grenfell Tower, in particular, is not known, this singular factor may mask the ability of investigators to get the numbers right, at least at the initial stage.
Unlawful subletting is a fraud which can carry a prison sentence in extreme cases. The knowledge of such heavy sentence will not make any one who is potentially guilty of it to come forward with information.
Government have promised not to prosecute anyone who is unlawfully subletting their property, the long term implication could also mean that those that rented their flat out, while they may not be prosecuted, they may well lose the benefits of having a social housing, because it can be argued that the reason you let it out Is because your circumstances changed and you no longer need it.
Thus, these people, despite the assurances by Government, may not come out with information knowing they stand to lose out.
Undocumented or illegal immigrants:
Tied to the point above, the chances of renting an unlawfully sublet property are higher when someone is undocumented.
The documentary aired on BBC London by Assad Ahmed on 13th July 2017 interviewed a Filipino lady, a survivor of the Grenfell fire.
The identity of the lady was protected on the programme at her request, presumably as a condition to appear, she has refused to come forward because of her immigration status.
She also said there are a lot of people like her in the tower.
If indeed there are a lot of people that are worried about their immigration status, these people may never come forward to provide the authorities with information they needed
Again, even though government have said no one’s immigration status would be used against them, the willingness of people to come forward is poor and understandably so.
Alok Sharma, the housing minister promised one year amnesty for victims and survivors to come forward. This is not likely going to make anyone come forward, a one year amnesty? I don’t get it. What happens after the one year? Would people be liable to immigration hassle and the potential for deportation?
For this reason, I don’t think anyone with such status would put themselves forward. As a result, the actual figure of residents of Grenfell will not be known.
Other than the technical reasons put forward by the fire service and the police as a reason recovery and accurate counting have been difficult, these two social issues need be considered seriously.
The right or wrong of an automatic permanent resident is left to the government to determine, but if they are really interested in encouraging people to come forward for the sake of the investigation, government need to make a more generous offer to protect these categories of people.
Police and investigators have relied on the information made available to them by registered or traceable residents, there are some residents and victims that are perhaps alive that may have very useful information, they have not come forward and we need them to get to the bottom of the extent of the disaster.
In addition to the need for thorugh investigation, I think the government should take away the immigration issues hanging over some of these victims on compassionate ground, in the grand scheme of things, the possible number of people with irregular immigration documents in the Tower will not cause a dent in the population. Offering a genuine route to settlement seems the best way to assure them and encourage these people to come out, otherwise, working with the number of 350 people will only result in underestimation.