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Comment: ‘We’re all at risk if we ignore important lessons from Grenfell’

A silent walk to mark the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire (Getty Images)
A silent walk to mark the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire (Getty Images)

Lost letters, confusing regulations, penny pinching, outdated IT and sloppy building work are among the chillingly mundane failures that culminated in the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower.

This litany of avoidable mistakes is forensically detailed in housing journalist Peter Apps’ remarkable new book, Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen. It is a jaw-dropping account of a callous system that swept individual conscience aside in favour of profit and politics.

Even if you’ve followed Apps’ excellent reporting from the public inquiry since 2018, nothing has yet so damningly exposed the gradual accumulation of blunders that led to 72 deaths and the destruction of 129 homes in one night.

It is hard to convey how moving and enraging the book is — I urge you to read it for yourself. Because one thing almost all of us have been guilty of since the worst disaster in the UK this century is complacency.

Only dogged campaigning from survivors and grassroots groups has elicited any serious action. Building regulations, in need of a total overhaul, have only been tinkered with. Nobody has yet been held accountable.

Meanwhile, the tragedy has expanded out into a broader cladding scandal affecting thousands of homeowners trapped in unsellable and potentially lethal homes.

While Grenfell happened in a perfect storm of social housing neglect, corporate cover-ups and political ideology, it was not uniquely vulnerable to such a catastrophe.

A similar fire that killed six people had happened eight years before at Lakanal House in south-east London. That warning was ignored.

Every one of us is living in a system that is failing to protect us — it might not be in our homes, but in our shopping centres, offices, nightclubs or hotels. We must make sure the lesson is learnt this time.

Show Me The Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen, by Peter Apps is published by Oneworld, £10.99