Doreen Lawrence says she has “no doubt” that racism was involved in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, saying: “Had that been a block full of white people in there, they would have done everything to get them out as fast as possible and make sure that they do what they needed to do.”
She said: “Nobody wanted to mention the word ‘race’ in the whole thing. Cos when I saw the residents who lived in that block, to me it was under no doubt around the racism that existed at that time.”
In an interview with Channel 4 News, the Labour peer – whose son Stephen was murdered in a racist attack in 1993 – is concerned that the Grenfell bereaved are not having their voices heard..
Baroness Lawrence now wants to host sessions in Parliament for the Grenfell bereaved, saying “we have an opportunity to bring people together”.
“For a grieving family, nothing much has changed,” she said, “and it depends also if, from the black community, that is what the difference is. That is still the same.”
Speaking about her son, she added: “How many more lives have [been] lost since Stephen? How many families are grieving? And what has the authority done? Nothing really. So, in that respect, nothing has changed towards grieving families from ethnic minorities. Nothing has changed in that respect.”
Her comments were targeted at the authorities and not at any individual. The Fire Brigades Union has previously said any suggestions of racism are “offensive, wrong and unconstructive”.
Baroness Lawrence met with Paulos Tekle, whose 5-year-old son Isaac died in Grenfell – and who now blames the fire brigade for his death.
Mr Tekle said: “We’ve been let down by firefighters – we were hoping we’d be rescued. They are professional firefighters, we hoped they were going to take us, they were going to rescue us, but they didn’t.”
“The truth: the building burnt because of the combustible material; the people died because of the response of the fire brigade. If they were professionally responding properly, many of the people who died could have been here today – including my son.”
Like many others on the night, the family were repeatedly told by the fire service to “stay put” inside their 18th floor flat. When they eventually tried to get out, Isaac was taken ahead by a neighbour and a firefighter.
Paulos held his youngest son, but Isaac was somehow lost on the stairs. His body was found on the 13th floor, with injuries so horrific he had to be identified using dental records.
But the neighbour and firefighter accompanying him, have not been called as witnesses at the Grenfell Inquiry.
“Why that firefighter didn’t hold my son who was only five? The problem is the first phase of the inquiry is finished – so personally it’s not complete. So why those people could have come and given witness, those are the ones I believe, they saw what happened to my son.”
He added: “We and all my lawyers – and all others – are not allowed to ask them, we just give written questions and [the] barrister of the inquiry picks. We didn’t get answers from the hearing, we raised a lot of questions.”
In a statement, the London Fire Brigade Deputy Commissioner and Director of Operations Tom George said: “We absolutely refute the claims made by Baroness Doreen Lawrence that there was any aspect of racism in our response to the Grenfell Tower fire. Every single one of the firefighters and officers who responded to the fire that night was fully committed to rescuing as many people as possible and put their own lives at risk to do so.
“We fully respect the grief expressed by Mr Tekle. However, we are unable to respond to specific detailed claims about the night of the fire. The Inquiry Phase 1 report is due to be published soon which will consider in detail the events of the night and it would be premature to comment any further at this stage.”
Main image copyright: Wikipedia
Written by: Fatima Manji
First published 17.10.19: https://www.channel4.com/news/doreen-lawrence-says-grenfell-tragedy-was-linked-to-racism