Grenfell Tower survivors will this week confront executives from companies blamed for the disaster, after they said that in the wake of the Post Office scandal it was increasingly clear that “those in power have lost their moral compass”.
Over four days in central London, dozens of the bereaved and survivors of the 2017 fire will tell leaders from the construction industry and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea of the “horror” of the fire and its “devastating personal impact”.
It is an attempt to deliver “restorative justice” after the blaze that killed 72 people and comes amid public concern over issues ranging from the wrongful convictions of post office operators to the infected blood scandal.
The Grenfell community remains angry that there have still been no criminal prosecutions and the public inquiry is yet to report in full, but the testimonial week was arranged as part of a £150m high court compensation settlement arbitrated by the former president of the supreme court, Lord Neuberger.
Behailu Kebede, the minicab driver in whose flat the fire started, will be among the first to speak, followed by others including Sandra Ruiz, whose 12-year-old niece, Jessica Urbano, was killed on the 21st floor. She said she hoped the process would be “cathartic”.
“‘I don’t recall’ and ‘I don’t remember’ seems to be a default position for people in power that have messed up – the postmasters, contaminated blood, Covid,” Ruiz said ahead of her appearance. “Those in power have lost their moral compass and we as a society are seeing it way too often. We are not holding them to account enough.”
Hanan Wahabi, who escaped the tower but lost her brother, her sister-in-law and their three children, will also address the corporate representatives. She said she would “share some of the devastating personal impact that night has had on me and my family – and to try to give some of the organisations that I hold responsible an insight into the horror faced by my brother and his family”.
“It is a chance to reflect on the magnitude of the ongoing impact of that night, and the many failings that happened. What happened that night shows the worst of the built environment, housing, emergency services and central and local government. It is symbolic of a total lack of humanity and compassion, of putting profit before people, of a refusal to learn and change.”
The event, at the headquarters of the Church of England in Westminster, comes as Grenfell survivors are drawing comparisons between their own fight for justice and that of the convicted, jailed and bankrupted post office operators.
“We had Grenfell seven years ago and the Post Office rumbling on for 20 years,” said Ed Daffarn, who escaped from his 16th-floor flat eight months after posting a blog that warned of the risk of “an incident that results in serious loss of life”. “What is ever going to change for the little people who become victims of injustice and profiteering?”
Daffarn said he has been “filled with anger” that it took the ITV docudrama Mr Bates v the Post Office to push the government into taking meaningful action. Considering the similarities, he said: “You have a company putting their own interests and profits about the wellbeing of the postmasters, and with Grenfell we had Celotex and Kingspan putting their profits ahead of us.
“I described our tenants’ management organisation as a mini-mafia, and that’s how the Post Office acted. That was chilling. It got me thinking about the other injustices, like infected blood, Windrush, that haven’t had that kind of drama and are therefore languishing in inaction and indifference, which is my experience from Grenfell.”
The writer and director Peter Kosminsky has been researching a docudrama about Grenfell for the BBC, but it is not yet in production.
“As the Post Office TV drama shows, it is vital we keep Grenfell in the public consciousness through Steve McQueen’s art installations, [Gillian Slovo’s] play [at the National Theatre] and Peter Kosminsky’s programme, otherwise it’s forgotten,” Daffarn said. “Without them Grenfell disappears.”