With the Barbadian community in the United Kingdom having been spared the worst of last week’s Grenfell Tower Fire, this country’s High Commissioner to London Guy Hewitt today suggested that there was an important lesson for all of Barbados arising out the recent UK tragedy.
“It is important for us to realize, even in Barbados, that things that go wrong, don’t just go wrong in small islands or in small communities but in big developed countries in major cities,” Hewitt told Barbados TODAY this morning, while stressing that “you can have mistakes made that unfortunately lead to tragedy and loss of life”.
So far, 79 people have been confirmed either dead or missing and presumed dead, following the deadly inferno, which engulfed the 24-storey, 220-foot (67 metre) high residential tower in North Kensington, west London last Wednesday.
While there are no reports of Barbadians perishing in the blaze, there have been unconfirmed reports of Caribbean nationals having lost their lives.
And all that metropolitan officials would say so far is that the official death toll could still rise, as the Theresa May government continues to face harsh criticism over its handling of the entire disaster, including the fact that May did not meet with survivors in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
However, Hewitt today welcomed the UK government’s announcement on Sunday that those who have been left homeless would be given £5,500 from its emergency fund to alleviate their immediate plight and also to assist with resettlement in the North Kensington community.
He also said the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) stood ready to assist the British government in any way it could in the aftermath of the fire which has already been deemed a preventable accident.
“I am not able to make comment on the possible cause of the fire until the investigation has been concluded. However, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer [said yesterday morning] the flammable cladding that helped destroy the Grenfell tower is illegal and had been banned on buildings over 18 metres.
“Now the Grenfell block was 67 metres high, so you realize that there were obvious failings,” said Hewitt who has joined with other CARICOM high commissioners in appealing to the UK authorities to inspect, as a matter of priority, the over 4,000 high-rise blocks in the country.
“We know that there are Barbadians and other West Indians in these high rise blocks across the UK and we need to ensure that if any cladding similar to what was on Grenfell tower, that every effort is made to have it removed and to ensure that there is no possibility that the inferno which destroyed the tower at Grenfell could possibly recur,” he said today, while underscoring the obvious need for regulation and vigilance.
Hewitt also expressed profound sadness at the loss of life in North Kensington, which was once home to a significant portion of the West Indian community and was deemed the birthplace of Notting Hill Carnival, but has more recently been inhabited by other migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers.
“As a minister of religion, there is an awful reality that the authorities have advised that it might not be possible to identify all of the victims because of the nature of the fire. And so we continue to pray for the victims, their families and friends because this is going to be still a painful journey for them,” the Anglican cleric said while praising British producer Simon Cowell for producing a charity single off Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Trouble Water to raise money for the victims.
Hewitt also commented on recent terror attacks in the United Kingdom saying Barbadians there – though increasingly vigilant – were not about to cower in the face of such threats.
“We are not willing to give in to a culture of fear and becoming overly anxious about moving around. If we do that then the terrorists win. So we are going about our daily lives, going to work, continuing to shop, going on public transport, going to public places as we have done, to try to reassure ourselves and each other that life goes on in the midst of these dangerous and heinous crimes,” he said, while also condemning yesterday’s attack by a British man on a Muslim mosque in Finsbury, north London, which he saw as an isolated incident.