Britain marked the third anniversary of Grenfell Tower fire on Sunday with the tolling of bells to mark the dead and stinging criticisms of the government’s response to the deadliest domestic blaze for 75 years.
Flammable cladding on the outside of one residential tower block in London allowed a small kitchen fire caused by a faulty refrigerator to spread into a blaze that rapidly engulfed the 24-storey building, killing 72 people. Another 70 people were injured.
An online commemoration service was being held on Sunday owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the leaders of both main political parties promising they would work to ensure that such a tragedy did not happen again.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour party, said there had been no justice for the victims with about 56,000 people still living in homes wrapped in the same flammable cladding as Grenfell. A continuing public inquiry into the fire found that the victims had paid the price for the “catastrophic failure” of industry and government.
“No one should ever go through the loss and pain they experienced,” Mr Starmer 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.”
The block – in one of the capital’s wealthiest areas – symbolised divisions in UK society with fewer than half of those who died UK citizens and the majority of those who died from ethnic-minority communities. Some of the victims were from Lebanon, Iran, Syria and Egypt.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a message recorded for the virtual commemoration that the country was “still dealing with the consequences” of the fire and working to make sure it did not happen again.
“While those affected by Grenfell are not able to gather in person, all of us in this country are with you in spirit,” he said.
The use of combustible cladding has been banned on new buildings, and sprinkler systems – which were absent from Grenfell – must be installed on new-build blocks of more than 11 metres in height.
A parliamentary committee focused on housing issued a warning last week that fixing defects in high-risk residential buildings in the UK could cost up to £15 billion.
It said about 2,000 buildings were still encased in dangerous cladding. It also issued a warning that a government fund to remove certain types of cladding would cover only a third of the blocks most at risk.
The government said it was providing £1.6 billion to replace unsafe cladding with safe materials, allied with the “biggest legislative changes for a generation”.