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Tower block fires - the forgotten families

Specialist product liability solicitor Thomas Jervis, who represents 40 people affected by the Shepherd’s Bush tower block fire, looks at the tragic similarities with the Grenfell tower block fire and how the people most affected can sometimes be forgotten.

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Tom Jervis is a specialist product liability solicitor who specialises in representing injured people in compensation claims relating to clinical trials and defective goods, in insurance disputes, international claims and multi-party actions.
The Grenfell Tower Block Fire disaster has devastated the lives of so many.  The Police have said that the official death toll had risen to nine, but the number presumed dead remains at 79.   Many families have been displaced, losing all their worldly possessions apart from the clothes on their backs. Some have even lost their identities, with proof of identification and legal status being destroyed in the fire. 

How can this happen in 2017 Britain? Who can imagine losing a family member, or even your whole family in a disaster such as this?  I certainly can’t. 

Today the media has reported on statements issued by the police that the Grenfell Tower Block Fire was started with a Hotpoint fridge freezer.  The Hotpoint brand is owned by the multinational white goods company Whirlpool.  

Many of us have also read news reports that insulation on the building  failed tests, and that the Metropolitan Police will consider manslaughter charges. 

Where do the affected individuals go from here?   Whilst the political, legal and socio-economic issues that this tragedy has thrown up continue to be debated, we need to get these families what they need urgently.

In August 2016, Shepherd’s Bush saw a huge blaze in an 18-storey tower block fire which the London Fire Brigade has alleged was caused by a Hotpoint / Whirlpool tumble dryer.  The fire was attended by 120 firefighters and 20 fire engines. 

Whilst that case might have been seen as a near miss given that there were no fatalities, there is no doubt that it destroyed the lives of many who lost everything in the fire.  Were any lessons learned? 

Almost a year on, some of our clients remain in alternative accommodation, still suffering from the trauma of fleeing a burning building.  Many traumatised families have been left in  limbo and cannot begin to rebuild their lives. 

What happens now for the residents of Grenfell Tower?  Our society has failed these families and it is high time that their voices are heard. The priority must be to get them what they need now (counselling, proper alternative accommodation, food and clothing and emergency payments).   They then deserve answers.  As they face up to the Government and  large-corporations.  We need to make sure that they are not forgotten.

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