Action group calls for urgent arrest of Barwell over Grenfell fire

Hard-hitting report calls for transparent investigation among the ‘links in the chain of culpability’, as it alleges a cover-up has already begun

Gavin Barwell: has questions to answer over the Grenfell Tower

Gavin Barwell, who until last month was the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, should be arrested immediately and his documents and computer records from his time as housing minister seized and investigated for any evidence of a role in the Grenfell Tower fire.

And “where necessary”, a hard-hitting report published today states, Barwell should be  “put on trial in a criminal court”.

ASH – Architects for Social Housing – has campaigned long and hard against the social cleansing of council estates in Southwark, Lambeth and across the country. Today, they  published their report, The Truth About Grenfell Tower, which includes a list of around 60 politicians, civil servants, local authority officials and private contractors and consultants, who it believes should be thoroughly and transparently investigated, or the country risks another disaster with another high death toll.

Barwell was housing minister for a year, during which time he gave an undertaking to “look at” recommendations from a coroner’s inquest, after a previous tower block fire in London, which in 2011 said that the retro-fitting of sprinklers in all tall residential towers could save lives. Barwell never did get round to acting on the sprinkler recommendation.

Despite such failure, since losing his parliamentary seat at the General Election Barwell has been handed another political job, as the chief of staff to the interim Prime Minister.

Now, his name is on the ASH arrest list, together with a predecessor as housing minister, Brandon Lewis, plus Eric Pickles, the former local government secretary, and three directors of Rydon, the company responsible for the cladding work conducted at Grenfell Tower, as well as Richard Blakeway, formerly the deputy mayor for housing under Boris Johnson, and most of the members of the housing committee at Kensington and Chelsea over the past six years.

ASH is particularly concerned that the public inquiry ordered by the government into the Grenfell tragedy will only serve as a cover-up operation. “The first thing the announcement of a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has done… is to have removed all transparency and accountability for the investigation from public scrutiny and placed it in the hands of the very people who are responsible for this crime.”

Grenfell Tower in Kensington. ASH suggests a cover-up has already begun

ASH says that the cover-up has already begun. “As we have indicated throughout this report, much of the information gathered here is no longer available on the websites of the private companies and public bodies involved. The same chain of corruption that led to hundreds of residents burning to death because rich people didn’t want to acknowledge their existence is being repeated in the chain of secrecy that will… absolve the links in that chain of all responsibility for those deaths.”

They draw a comparison with the inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster; it took more than a quarter of a century before those responsible for the 96 deaths at a football match in Sheffield were charged with their crimes.

“We believe that one of the ways we can honour the memory of the dead is to identify and change the system that caused their deaths. If we don’t, this will not be the last loss of life we see on London’s council estates,” ASH warns.

Like many of the Grenfell survivors, ASH wants a coroner’s inquest, as happened after the Lakanal fire in Southwark.

“It seems that, whether by public inquiry or coroner’s inquest, the truth about Grenfell Tower is unlikely to be revealed soon, if ever,” ASH states in its conclusions.

“While the public inquiry to which the public is barred deliberates on what terms of reference it feels inclined to investigate, now might be the time to set up a ‘People’s Inquiry’ in order to address in public the question so many people are demanding be answered: who is responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire?”

Warnings about the risks and dangers of a fire in Grenfell Tower, from residents, the parliamentary fire advisory group and the London Fire Brigade have all “fallen on the deaf ears of politicians and civil servants who have shown neither morality nor responsibility, each and every one of whom should be investigated and questioned about their role in this disaster”.

The ASH report is particularly damning of the regeneration policies of many local authorities – Labour as well as Tory – and how such policies tend to see private contractors constantly seeking to drive down costs in search of ever greater profit margins, all the while potentially compromising on safety measures. In the case of Grenfell Tower, that regeneration policy took on a particularly perverse form: “The appearance of the tower from the outside that had been identified as artificially depressing the potential residual land values in the area received nearly £8.7million for a face lift.”

What they call “the links in the chain of culpability” lead all the way to the Department of Communities and Local Government, where Barwell worked as housing minister.

ASH accuses the DCLG and its ministers of placing “the deregulation of fire safety standards – which in their eyes represented an unnecessary obstacle to the profits to be made from the UK housing boom – above the safety of residents”.

ASH describes this as “systemic corruption that threatens the homes and lives of hundreds of thousands of estate residents across the UK”, and they call for “every individual culpable in this lethal chain of greed and criminal negligence should be arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced – rather than, as is currently happening, being allowed to resign on a severance package”, as has already happened at Kensington and Chelsea.

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5 Responses to Action group calls for urgent arrest of Barwell over Grenfell fire

  1. Jan Brooker says:

    Years ago I was arrested, interrogated several times, and held overnight in a Police cell on suspicion of Robbery with Violence, when some people took some leaflets off the National Front.

    Now, at least 80 people die, and a month on, NOT a single arrest. They’ll all be shredding documents and collating their stories with their Solicitors.

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  3. surrey21 says:

    I have a couple of issues with this article that I think are worth mentioning. Whatever anyone reads into my reply, these events were obviously awful, and the cause(s) need to be identified and sorted as soon as possible.

    First one: quote “hundreds of residents burning to death because rich people didn’t want to acknowledge their existence… ”

    This seems a bit simplistic. The residents’ existence obviously was acknowledged, because they had been granted scarce housing resource right in the centre of our capital. Issues around not acknowledging the residents’ fire concerns needs to be investigated totally, but that’s not the same as saying their entire existence was dismissed…? I don’t think a report about this topic should be ambiguous about issues. Also, why the “rich” reference? It seems to be trying to generalise the fire into a rich vs. poor argument. It’s not as if getting rid of rich people will somehow make hig rise buildings safer.

    Also, the list of politicians. Gavin and other Tory’s are mentioned. Does it include Labour figures who de-regulated building control back in 2005? Does it include those who channelled developers to using cladding in order to meet higher and higher energy efficiency targets?

    Also: immediate arrest of …

    ASH should familiarise themselves with Section G of PACE, whic tells officers that for an arrest to be lawful, it must have 2 elements:

    1. The involvement (actual, suspected, or attempted) in a crime. These must be reasonable, objective and based on known facts and information.
    2. Necessity grounds, where the police feel one of the statutory criteria is met:
    – name or address ascertained
    – causing harm or damage to themselves or others
    – to protect a child / vulnerable person from the suspect
    – to allow a prompt and effective investigation
    – to ensure they don’t dissapear

    Of all of these, the “prompt and effective” bit has the most mileage, especially around preventing the destruction of evidence. But this would need as well evidence of a “crime”. As yet, it is not at all clear what crime(s) have been committed, so any arrest would fail these tests.

    Yes, I can see why people might want someone in “the establishment” (I was going to say high profile, but that would be a bit of a stretch!) arrested, but it would achieve absolutely zero in the short term. Indeed, PACE even says at the beginning:

    “1.3 The use of the power must be fully justified and officers exercising the
    power should consider if the necessary objectives can be met by other, less
    intrusive means. Absence of justification for exercising the power of arrest
    may lead to challenges should the case proceed to court. It could also lead
    to civil claims against police for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment”

    So I would ask: what is the point of calling for the immediate arrest of people when it’s not at all clear there are grounds for arrest, yet alone trial? The celebration amongst those avid readers of ASH would lasyt about 45 minutes, or whatver time it took for Gavin’s solicitor to join him at the station, and blow apart the grounds for arrest.

    Is that really worth it? Is that the sort of outcome ASH want to achieve from this fire? It seems more like they just want to use the legal system to effect some sort of punishment on the list of selected people, but based on their opinion of events, rather than known facts.

    Surely it would be better to wait until facts are known. I am in the portion of London who believe that the police are working as hard as possible to understand the events of that night, and will act the second they have grounds to do so.

    Links with Hillsborough,..hmm OK, I can see the parallels. Have the police changed their spots in 25 years? Dunno. But there’s only 1 police force in London, so there’s not really a choice other than for them to proceed how they best see fit.

    I’m also not sure a coroner’s inquiry would be more revealing than a public inquiry. This article sets out some of the key differences.
    However, I believe there are already inquiries into some of the deaths, held in Westminster?


    • derekthrower says:

      This is a long and detailed consideration of a very important issue of governance by authorities. The problem is when you take everything into consideration it becomes a mindmap of different possibilities and outcomes which any party can argue that it did not hold any real responsibility for the outcome. Gavin Barwell was given a Report of severe deficiencies in the cladding of tower blocks demonstrated by the Lakanal House fire. You would have thought the implications of this would have led to emergency action. It did not and since the logical recommendations from the Report are completely contrary to the interests that Mr Barwell represents he did not deal with the matter urgently. If an incident like Grenfell would have occurred a few more years down the line no doubt Mr Barwell’s indolence would have been long forgotten. Unluckily for him it has not. The culpability of governance has already been admitted by the need for a Public Enquiry. I have no doubt that Barwell will be exonerated for following accepted procedures in dealing with the Lakanal Report (which enables it to be ignored). The problem for a man of conscience is that somebody good at their job could have made a difference and anticipated the crisis in all high rise housing that such issues inevitably lead to.

  4. Pingback: Action group calls for urgent arrest of Barwell over Grenfell fire — Inside Croydon – disabledpartylitigantlegaljourney

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