BY MATTHEW CORRIGAN
Along with millions of people across the UK, I woke up to truly harrowing scenes reminiscent of Pathe Newsreel footage from the Blitz. It was startlingly obvious that the fire had ripped through the building with terrifying speed, and that those poor souls still waving desperately from their windows were in the gravest of danger. Broadcast directly to the nation’s breakfast table, the disaster unfolded right in front of our eyes, horrific in its immediacy. It was terrible.
This is a national disaster. High-rise flats are not supposed to be death traps. Not in the United Kingdom in the twenty-first century. People are shocked and they are angry. Coming so soon after the recent spate of murderous attacks, attacks for which the natural desire for retribution went largely unfulfilled, people are looking for someone to blame. The atmosphere is febrile.
Grenfell Tower’s recently installed cladding was quickly identified as a potential contributory factor, the studio experts explaining how the fire might have taken hold.
Over the last forty-eight hours or so there have been countless theories put forward – I even have my own. But I’ll keep it to myself for now. I’m not a civil engineer, or an architect, or a fire safety consultant. I actually know the square root of nothing about the construction of high rise buildings, which means my theory is of no value whatsoever. It is worthless – ill-informed and idle speculation of the type that offers no help at all.
And pointless speculation at this time is not helping. In fact, it’s counterproductive and may very well be dangerous. Yet the broadcast media appears to be positively revelling in it. Channel 4 News interviewed a singer, live from the scene, who made entirely unsubstantiated claims that the death toll was being covered-up. The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme carried a report with a visibly distressed lady who suggested Muslims were seeing the fire as ‘revenge’ for recent events. Friday Morning’s Radio 5-Live phone-in gave air time to an individual who spoke at length and rather incoherently about the general state of the nation.
The news media is an essential pillar of a free democracy. It has a duty to report and to ask the awkward questions that will ensure our leaders are kept on their toes. This is a duty it generally performs well. What it should not do is try to aggravate, to whip up the feelings of an already impassioned community, to further sow seeds of division among a disparate populace. Let there be no doubt, these are highly charged and heavily politicised times. We all know there are forces abroad which see unrest as a means to further their aims. Right now, the way many representatives in the media are behaving, these forces are being encouraged.
What is needed now, as the true scale of the catastrophe begins to dawn, is for cool heads to reign. Very sadly, there is no longer a rescue operation. Grenfell Tower has been designated a crime scene. Agonising though it is, the investigators should be given the time to complete their hazardous, painstaking work.
There must – and will – be a public inquiry. It should leave no stone unturned. The media’s actions are in danger of jeopardising the sanctity of that inquiry. Those who must find out what happened will already be feeling the pressure. It will benefit nobody if they are unable to properly proceed because the media has already helped to apportion blame.
For two equally important reasons, I implore the media to behave with some restraint. Firstly, because what happened in the early hours of Wednesday Morning must never be allowed to happen again. And secondly, if there was any wrongdoing, justice must be served for the thirty poor souls who are known to have died, those yet to have been confirmed and the families, friends and survivors of this terrible, terrible tragedy.
RIP The Victims Of The Grenfell Tower Disaster