Grenfell anniversary: survivor fears tragedy may become ‘precursor to something bigger’

Victims say UK government has failed to learn from mistakes of 2017 disaster

Tiago Alves, a survivor of the Grenfell Tower fire in west London. PA.
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A Grenfell Tower fire survivor has said he is worried the tragedy may become “the precursor to something bigger” because of the lack of progress in implementing change.

Tiago Alves, his father Miguel, mother Fatima and younger sister Ines escaped from their home on the 13th floor in the early stages of the deadly blaze on June 14, 2017.

Mr Alves woke his sleeping children and alerted other residents on their floor to get out of the building that would eventually become engulfed in the smoke and flames that claimed 72 lives.

Speaking at their family home in Brent, west London, Mr and Mrs Alves and their son said their main focus is to ensure nobody else loses their lives or experiences the pain the Grenfell community went through.

They expressed their concern the government is yet to implement key recommendations from the public inquiry, such as placing a legal obligation on building owners to outline Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for residents who cannot evacuate themselves.

Last month, the government said it planned to keep the controversial “stay put” policy, meaning residents of most buildings should wait for rescue services rather than leaving in the event of a fire.

In a consultation document, it said it believed the cost of adopting PEEPs would not be “proportionate” and it would not be “practical” or “safe” to implement.

Tiago Alves, 25, said: “A lot of the people who managed to survive were people who managed to get out early because they ignored ‘stay put’ advice.

“And so … I’m gobsmacked at the fact that we’re still having this conversation five years on.”

Mrs Alves, 52, added: “They won’t learn from their mistakes.

Tiago Alves continued: “Why do we have to fight so hard for this? We’re not experts — we’re bereaved and survivors.

“We experienced what we experienced that night. Our trauma and our experience should be useful for something, for government to actually implement changes that need to be made.

“Look at Lakanal House — it happened, there was a fire, that was the precursor to Grenfell. I’m worried if Grenfell will become the precursor to something bigger.”

Six people died and 20 were injured in the Lakanal House fire, which occurred in 2009 in Camberwell, south-east London.

The first report from the Grenfell Inquiry found lessons from the Lakanal fire had not been learned by the time of the Grenfell disaster eight years later.

Tiago Alves said he was previously someone who trusted in authority, but now it “almost feels like that trust is completely broken”.

The family said they would like to ask Communities Secretary Michael Gove whether he would stay put if a fire broke out in a block of flats where he was living.

Miguel Alves, 54, said he believes “nobody will stay put because they are afraid”.

On Tuesday — the fifth anniversary of the fire — the family will join other survivors and bereaved at the base of the tower for a multi-faith service and wreath laying.

Tiago Alves said he will spend the day remembering those who died, as well as in gratitude for everyone who has been “by our side, supporting us” and who “gave us the ability to speak out to make sure something like this can never happen again”.

He said: “Whatever I try and do, I try and do it to make those who aren’t able to be with us proud.

“That’s one of the things that keeps me wanting to continue the campaign, because, at the end of the day, they can’t come back.

His father added: “We can save lives for the future, I think that is the most important thing for me.”

Updated: June 13, 2022, 1:05 PM