Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry is a gripping, horrifying drama. Nicolas Kent and Richard Norton-Taylor have sifted through the public hearings and dramatised the most arresting exchanges. Ron Cook, often miscast as a comedian, is superb as the frosty and occasionally irascible inquisitor, Richard Millett. Early on, he asks the witnesses ‘not to indulge in a merry-go-round of buck-passing’. Later, he comments acidly, ‘That invitation has not been accepted.’
Every witness has something to hide and something to be ashamed of. A fireman searching for a child on the upper floors can’t explain why he didn’t rouse families from their flats and help them escape. A witness describes the inferno’s ghastly noise, ‘like sparklers’. The tower was as flammable as a box of fireworks.
The decision to fit the wrong cladding was taken by a tangled mass of private companies and municipal authorities. Each witness tries to claim that the job of enforcing safety standards was someone else’s responsibility. A clear chain of command should have been in place. Without it, we may never learn who burned Grenfell.
A QC, Leslie Thomas, blames racism and poverty. ‘The majority of the people who died were people of colour,’ he says. This argument overlooks the facts of economic progress. Migrants arrive here with imperfect English and so are unlikely to become high court judges or millionaire financiers (though their kids might). And after working for decades in low-paid jobs they find themselves stuck in cheap flats because they’ve had less time to accrue wealth than their white neighbours whose families have been here for perhaps 20 generations. That’s not racism, it’s chronology. Even today, there are white Londoners doing low-paid work whose ancestors were here to greet Julius Caesar.
The QC might have proved his case by citing racist comments made by the builders, planners and subcontractors whose correspondence was pored over by teams of lawyers. He quoted no such evidence. It seems that not one of the 31 million documents gathered by the inquiry carried any hint of racial bigotry. That is a profound and in some ways encouraging truth.
An obvious cause of the fire was architectural jargon. Builders had to choose between two types of cladding labelled FR and PE. One was safe, one was deadly. But which is which? Unpack the abbreviations and you find that FR means ‘fire-resistant’ and PE means ‘polyethylene’, or plastic. When plastic is set alight it turns into a torrent of burning liquid that sends flames shooting upwards and downwards at the same time.
In future all building fabrics should be labelled in plain English. If the builders were offered a choice between panels marked ‘flammable plastic’ and others marked ‘fire-resistant material’, they would never have turned the tower into a Roman candle.
As an additional measure, dangerous fabrics should carry a ‘red flame’ symbol. A much knottier question involves the strengthening of the statute book so that officials can no longer shrug and say ‘Not me guv’. Much clearer lines of responsibility need to be established, and this will require hard work and ingenuity.
Luckily we have 650 law-makers in parliament who can use this play to help them frame the new laws that are urgently needed. It lasts less than three hours and it sets out all the legislative weaknesses that led to the tragedy. Our MPs can fix this problem if they apply their brilliant minds to it. Every parliamentarian must see this play. If they ignore it, they ignore Grenfell’s dead.
The story of Bob Marley and his music is told in an entertaining new show, Get Up, Stand Up! As an unknown youngster, Marley arrived to record his first album and was told that the producer would own all the royalties. Marley objected. So the producer pulled out a loaded revolver. End of dispute. Copyright issues are settled swiftly in Jamaica, it seems.
The set, consisting of unpainted speaker--stacks, is unlikely to win any prizes but the music, the acting and the story-telling are top-notch. Marley begins as a charming, innocent youngster who turns into a sex athlete as soon as he finds stardom. This brings unexpected layers of meaning to his songs. The lyrics to ‘Waiting in Vain’ are steeped in resentment and jealousy, and here the number is sung by a jilted girlfriend who directs her fury at the unfaithful Marley. A brilliant moment. When terminally ill with cancer, he penned one of his greatest and most optimistic songs, ‘Three Little Birds’. Read the lyrics and you’ll find it hard to believe that the author was staring death in the face. This is a terrific show which, at the curtain call, turns into a live dance party.