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Police response to Grenfell fire ‘Islamophobic’, say community lawyers

8th Jul 2022
Police response to Grenfell fire ‘Islamophobic’, say community lawyers

 Justice for Grenfell demonstration, march to London’s Parliament Square on July 1, 2017 (Credit:Garry Knight/Flickr)

Hamed Chapman

The Metropolitan Police has been indicted of Islamophobia in their response to the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017 that killed 72 people, including two who later died in hospital.

Lawyers acting for the local community accused the police of racial discrimination in its risk assessment just days after the blaze that predicted “crime and disorder” due to the fact that “the majority of those affected are believed to be coming from a Muslim cultural background”.

Allison Munroe QC, appearing for one group of bereaved and survivors at the five-year-old inquiry, said that the issue of racial discrimination remained “the elephant in the room” and that issues of race were “inextricably linked” with Grenfell.

She said the panel “needed to look no further” for evidence of this than a ‘Grenfell Community Impact Assessment’ that was produced by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on 18 June 2017 – four days after the fire. “Imminent national, international or local events taken alone or in combination are expected to lead to outbreaks of crime and/or disorder within hours,” Munroe said in closing statements at the inquiry reading from the document.

“There is an expectation that the death toll from the fire could rise substantially. And with the cause unknown, any subsequent disclosures would have the impact of community tensions, especially when the majority of those affected are believed to be coming from a Muslim cultural background combined with the incident occurring during the holy month of Ramadan.”

“Members of the panel, this is Islamophobia. It’s racism. It is the elephant staring back at us in the room,” the QC told the panel of the inquiry ordered by Prime Minister, Theresa May, at the time on the day following the fire.

The inquiry, which officially opened on September 14, 2017, heard no live oral evidence from Metropolitan Police officers during its investigation of these issues, despite the force’s influential role in the response.

Munroe also drew attention to “slurs” by RBKC staff, which included warnings of “great concern over community tension” with “hostile residents very vocal in negative comments towards the incident” in the days after the fire.

“This focus on public order detracted resources and focus away from the relief effort,” she said. “This we find extraordinary, inexcusable and unforgivable. Racism and discrimination, we say, played a very real part in the response to this tragedy.”
Danny Friedman QC, representing another group of bereaved and survivors, said that the authorities involved in the response were “more concerned about an uprising or unrest than they were about looking after families”.

A barrister appearing on behalf of the police later was quoted telling the inquiry that the force “would strongly refute any suggestion that Islamophobia affected its response to the tragedy.

EDITORIAL: Grenfell fire: an illustration of institutional Islamophobia at its worst

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