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From Grenfell to migrant deaths, we fail to see the deeper causes of tragedy

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he 72 people killed in the Grenfell Tower fire. The 39 migrants who died in a shipping container left in a car park in Purfleet, Essex. Little may seem to connect these two dreadful events except the sense of horror we feel about both. What links the two tragedies is less the events themselves than the public discussions about them and the way that such discussions reveal the difficulties we have in thinking about “causation” or “responsibility”. In both cases, the roots of the tragedies are manifold. But in both cases we seem more interested in laying instant blame than in excavating the wider causes that might help us prevent such catastrophes happening again.

When the Grenfell Tower inquiry was set up two years ago, its chair, Martin Moore-Bick, decided to divide it into two phases. The first part, the report of which was published last week, dealt with the events of that tragic night. The second part, which may not be published for another two years, will examine the circumstances and causes of the disaster.

This might seem a rational approach – consider first the actual events and then explore the causes. The trouble is that it’s not easy to create such a neat distinction. In dealing with the events of the night, the first phase of inquiry has inevitably had to deal with causes, but only certain causes, the most immediate ones. It was the actions of firefighters that bore the greatest scrutiny in last week’s report.

Almost from the moment of the fire, though, it has been apparent that behind the horror lay a much wider set of factors – from the flammable cladding that was allowed to wrap the building to a political culture that saw regulation as an affront to freedom; from cuts to the London fire service to an almost criminal level of ministerial negligence. The report acknowledges many of these issues. None will be properly investigated, however, until the second phase.

The fire service and its practices certainly need to be scrutinised. The insistence of the London Fire Brigade commissioner, Dany Cotton, in her evidence to the inquiry that she “wouldn’t change anything we did on the night” was grotesque; she has rightly faced considerable criticism both in the report and from survivors.

The fire service and its practices certainly need to be scrutinised. The insistence of the London Fire Brigade commissioner, Dany Cotton, in her evidence to the inquiry that she “wouldn’t change anything we did on the night” was grotesque; she has rightly faced considerable criticism both in the report and from survivors.

Nevertheless, the failures of the fire service make sense only against the broader background of the failures of regulation and policy. As Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, has observed: “The truth is that the firefighters turned up… after the building had already been turned, in reality, into a death trap.”

The order of the inquiry, Wrack argues, was “back to front” because it “prioritises scrutiny of firefighters, who did everything that they could to save lives, over investigating the critical issues of public safety that led to the fire”.

Perhaps nowhere has this been more apparent than in the discussion of the terrible deaths of the 39 migrants found in a refrigerated container in Essex.

Both the police investigation and the media reporting have focused on one issue: that of people smugglers or human traffickers. In the accounts of the police, politicians and journalists, the migrants are portrayed merely as victims of unscrupulous criminals. The police investigation is still live and we do not have all the details. It is not, however, the first time such deaths have occurred and we know much about people smuggling and the reasons for it, from both academic and police investigations.

Source-https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/03/from-grenfell-to-migrant-deaths-we-fail-to-see-the-deeper-causes-of-tragedy

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