A damning report into the Grenfell disaster says local authorities and public services failed their human rights obligations to provide safe housing and directly contributed to the death toll by not acting on the identification of dangerous cladding.
The report released this morning (March 13) by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) extends that failure into breaching the residents’ Right to Life.
After the 15 month investigation, EHRC found “the state either knew, or ought to have known, of the real and immediate risk to life posed by the cladding on Grenfell Tower”, and that regulation had failed and that it had also failed to tell residents about the dangers they faced.
EHRC also criticised official handling of the fire’s aftermath, citing witnesses who alleged that the response of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Home Office had been “overshadowed by racism”.
Drawn up for submission to the Grenfell Inquiry the report directly states that authorities were presented with evidence the tower’s cladding was unsafe but failed to take action to prevent loss of life.
Not banning the cladding at the time, or strengthening rules for its use in the UK, breached residents’ right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This, the report says, is a fault the Equality and Human Rights Commission says “lies with the authorities”.
David Isaac, EHRC chair, said: “Everyone has the right to life and the right to safe, adequate housing, but the residents of Grenfell Tower were tragically let down by public bodies that had a duty to protect them.
“It is our hope that the Grenfell Inquiry finds this information relevant and useful as they continue with their work, but we also need to see action taken by public bodies so we never see a repeat of this tragedy.”.
Recommendations contained in the report include:
- More action to protect lives by removing combustible cladding from hundreds of other buildings
- Train for firefighters to combat cladding fires
- Reconsider the application of, or alternatives to, the ‘stay put’ policy for buildings with similar cladding combinations to Grenfell Tower, and implement firefighter training on this issue
- Ensure that residents are provided with sufficient fire safety advice
- Address the need for additional protective measures to meet the needs of particularly vulnerable people, in relation to evacuation policies and housing allocation
- Improved participation of survivors, bereaved families and others affected by the disaster in the inquiry itself
And it is the EHRC view that the inquiry should address these issues ahead of the phase 2 report due next year.
More than 300 high-rise buildings in the UK continue to be wrapped in the now banned combustible cladding, suggesting the failure to protect lives and violation of Article 2 continues.
The safety of wheelchair users, the elderly and the disabled were, says the EHRC, were further overlooked when vulnerable residents were housed on the top floors of the tower.
“We have said this was a breach of their right to adequate housing, which is internationally recognised by the UN in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” said Isaac .
Evidence has emerged that the safety notice was only given to residents in English, a language not spoken by many Grenfell residents – the report concludes this was a “fundamental failure” by the authorities to meet victims’ needs and protect their right to life.
Residents’ concerns about their ability to fully participate in the official inquiry have been raised during the length of the project.
“It is vital that those affected by the fire have the opportunity to present their views; issues raised include concerns about the accessibility of the original venue, and the ability to put questions to witnesses – the Grenfell Inquiry is urged to take note and respond to these concerns as it starts the next phase,” said Isaac.
“It is our hope that the Grenfell Inquiry finds this information relevant and useful as they continue with their work, but we also need to see action taken by public bodies so we never see a repeat of this tragedy,” he said.
To accompany the report, EHRC has also published research undertaken with the community about their experiences since the fire.
Residents expressed concern at how many people were rehoused in temporary accommodation that was unsuitable for their needs and affected their wellbeing, particularly disabled and elderly people, women and Muslim families.
“Many of the issues raised in the report demonstrate an overall lack of co-ordination and organisation of services in response to the fire, both in the immediate aftermath and still ongoing a year later,” said Isaac.
“Some of those who witnessed the fire and lost family or friends have told us their stories and voiced their trauma.
‘Now the Grenfell Inquiry and local authorities must ensure that these failures are addressed immediately and that the same mistakes are never repeated in future,” he said.
EHRC launched its Following Grenfell project investigation in December 2017 to analyse the disaster specifically through an equality and human rights lens.
The resulting research report, legal submission and briefing documents examined seven main areas:
- The duty to investigate
The State has a duty to investigate incidents of deaths or inhumane and degrading treatment where they may be implicated, and ensure proper accountability. The project examined how the state is investigating Grenfell and whether current arrangements meet its obligations
- The right to life
Following Grenfell considered whether the State ensured the safety of the residents in Grenfell Tower and whether lessons have been learnt from previous reports
- Inhuman and degrading treatment
The harm suffered by those who survived or witnessed the Grenfell Tower fire may constitute ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, and the experiences of those after the fire may have increased the harm they endured
The project explored what immediate and longer-term support victims of such events can expect from the State, including medical treatment, counselling, care and housing
- Adequate housing
The State had a duty to provide adequate and safe housing to the Grenfell Tower residents. Thes project focused on children, disabled and older people whose needs may not have been fully respected and understood within the fire regulations
- Access to justice
The project considered whether victims have been able to access appropriate legal advice after the fire, but also questioned whether a lack of access to legal support may have affected residents’ ability to address complaints about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower
- Rights of children
The project examined the specific rights of children and whether they have received appropriate psychological support, housing and educational support since the fire
The Project also explored whether there were any policies and practices in place that disadvantaged any particular groups, such as disabled people or the elderly, and if the State met the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty
MHCLG said ministers were “determined to ensure a tragedy like Grenfell can never happen again23 as they set about reforming building regulations having banned banned combustible cladding on high-rise residential buildings, as well as hospitals, residential care homes and student halls.
“There is nothing more important than ensuring people are safe in their homes and those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy receive the support they need,” a spokesperson said. “The government is committed to supporting the community in the long term and ensuring those affected get the justice they deserve.”
Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said it would “learn from the report” as part of its commitment in making sure Grenfell never happens again “whatever it takes and whatever the consequences for the council.”