Gaming the System: Imagining JUSTICE4GRENFELL



Reflecting on the Justice4Grenfell movement, returning contributor Colin Prescod throws away the concept of vertical reparations altogether, and sketches a canvas for more radical demands aligned with the tradition of popular political organizing, going as far as the idea of a People’s tribunal.

Article published in The Funambulist 30 (July-August 2020) Reparations. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

In the first days of the great viral pandemic: panic, pandemonium. Everything was panned: plague infested plunder. In the next days: communal isms excoriated those of capital. All in it together lip-service came easy in the crisis; help, a two-faced fork-tongued exchange. If only fresh starts and revelations came as easy as down-under eucalypts spring back to bush, in the wake of forests fired. If only apocalypse augured redemption. 

[COVID19 – AD2020. CP]


The State of Play ///

It’s a serious game, playing the system — an essential skill in class struggles. Black and Third World people, the dispossessed as well as the collaborators, have a particularly rich history of gaming imperialist systems — slave, indenture, colonial, capitalist. The record shows that games can be fixed. The powers that be determine the rules as to who speaks and who listens in courts of law; who gets to govern and who gets to make the big decisions on matters of national interest.

It has long been recognized that the U.K. Government’s Grenfell Tower Inquiry [announced a year after the calamitous fire at Grenfell residential tower, on June 14, 2017] would deliver neither complete nor timely justice for its victims. Justice for the 72 people officially acknowledged to have been killed, and the hundreds displaced and traumatised in the wake of the fire, has been thought of in terms of compensation for those who have suffered, and punishment of those who could be identified as responsible. Easy to see that there would have been any number of legal, professional, statutory, and possibly political perpetrators of wilful, neglectful, or, accidental crimes and other wrongful acts in regard to the unprecedented disaster. But even as the appointed Chair of the Public Inquiry, judge the Rt Hon Sir Martin Moore-Bick, announced the protocols for the hearings, it became clear that some wrongful actions would fall outside both its jurisdiction and its consideration. Police inquiries were to handle legally admissible crimes — against the person, against property, against the law. Human Rights commissions would handle/investigate/discuss wrongful, though not criminal, actions in regard to the people and statutory responsibility — rights to life and equality, for the vulnerable, women, children, the disabled. And, in this instance, it seems to be left to “the court of public opinion” to ‘air’ the unmentionables — crimes against the people, class crimes, crimes of the powerful. 

At its inception, the State declared that the Public Inquiry would look at the circumstances surrounding the fire; leaving the criminal investigation to a proposed Police Inquiry. Gradually it emerged that any Police Inquiry would have to wait for the Public Inquiry to report before it could be convened. Eventually the Public Inquiry opened, uncertainly, with caveats, already mentioned.

After one year’s hearings, the Public Inquiry reported in October 2019 — but only in part. Phase One investigated the events of the actual fire. Phase Two is planned to examine the history of the building — its original construction and related building regulations, subsequent refurbishments, and any role these may have played in regard to the circumstances of the fire.

In January 2020, the Public Inquiry set out to complete its Phase Two business — in effect to investigate who and what is to blame for the disaster. But within just a few weeks the Phase Two proceedings stalled — over protocols. Astonishingly, a challenge by the lawyers representing the building and construction professionals reporting to the Inquiry requested that any truths told to the Inquiry would not be admissible as evidence, in the event of criminal proceedings. Even more remarkably, they have now been given this assurance.