Tag Archives: John Witherow

Blame and culpability are not the same

The setting is one that has been going on for a while. We can hide, we can blame. Yet the culpability is one that is much larger and it is seemingly aimed at the wrong people. The one that did set me off most was not some Murdoch article, you would expect that. No, it was the Times with: ‘The Grenfell fire inquiry has revealed serious shortcomings in firefighters’ training, but none so serious as a reluctance to react to fast-changing events‘. If we look at certain elements, we can deduce that part and give that a thumb up rating. Yet, I do not believe that this is the case, I believe that certain players are setting the stage and the lighting on the people in this oversized drama, whilst the light is moved away from the actual events and the actual players behind the screen. You see a lot of issues were clear within 5 minutes (always the case after the facts), I spoke about them in my blog of June 2017 ‘Under cover questions‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2017/06/23/under-cover-questions/). The brochure alone gave me so many red flags that this was a much larger danger. So before there were firefighters. There were the people behind the renovation, there were the decision makers, there were the architects of the plan, there were the people who gave the final word. These people were to be fried, baked and were to be interrogated in a very uncomfortable way. When I wrote it, I also saw the Guardian article ‘Complex chain of companies that worked on Grenfell Tower raises oversight concerns‘ raising a few additional concerns. So when we look at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. We see (at https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/news/prime-minister-announces-inquiry-terms-reference) the following points.

(a) the immediate cause or causes of the fire and the means by which it spread to the whole of the building;

(b) the design and construction of the building and the decisions relating to its modification, refurbishment and management;

(c) the scope and adequacy of building regulations, fire regulations and other legislation, guidance and industry practice relating to the design, construction, equipping and management of high-rise residential buildings;

These are the first three points, and it seems to me that this should have been the order. Now, I can accept that they are working on the firefighters first, as the better it is in their memory, the better the quality of the statements. Yet, it is my personal believe that the Times misfired (one of the least likely events in the history of journalism) for the simple reason that nothing about this fire was normal. Anything that could have gone possibly wrong did and when we go back to one of the scariest parts in all this was talked about in my earlier blog too. The footage (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUtjSspO_BU) gives us the recordings on the fireman still on route trying to get TO the fire. They were in disbelief that this was real, so even we hear the talks on the fire fighters being banned talking to the media. Now we see the disgraceful words of the Times (which is an unique in my view as well). The revelations by John Sweeney (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrzcjUhf61w) give us even more (not at present, but at the initial point), it gives us that the first fire engine arrived in 4 minutes. The BBC gives a much better light and the one part that I stated in the beginning and still believe that is true, is that the Firefighters should have been made untouchable by the media until the inquiry is done. Even as we see the critical answers that BBC Newsnight received by Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union is an internal one and he is stating that certain things needed to be looked at. Certain protocols had to be changed. Yet here too the bigger story is not merely what was missed, or what was done. It is what should have been there from the earliest beginning and we see close to zero on that. Yet there were water pressure issues, it was not enough to fight fires, and it became worse when all the levels of concrete hindered communications. Yet the first light was given by Sky News on November 27th 2017 when we hear (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pS3cIF6g24), at 0:45 we hear “we had a push to insulate buildings and easiest, the cheapest way to insulate them is to use these combustible materials“, a clear danger, the Reynobond PE brochure calls even more questions on the failing, yet all eyes are on the fire fighters and I found the Times article the most upsetting one. So, we would not have been surprised to the Telegraph giving us: “The inquiry has previously heard from Dr Barbara Lane, a leading fire engineer, that the controversial stay put policy had “substantially failed” by 1.26am when flames could be seen to have reached the top of the 23-storey tower block“, I expected more and better from the Times. You see, the ‘Stay Put’ protocol makes perfect sense, if all the proper elements are in place and we learned later that not only were they not in place, we see the effect of a fire growing outside of a CONCRETE building that caused the dangers. A danger I correctly identified in less than 5 minutes, and that included the time required to Google search the Reynobond brochure, downloading, and reading it.

We are also given from several sources that repeated warnings were ignored. And that gets us to part 4 of the inquiry. There we see:

(d) Whether such regulations, legislation, guidance and industry practice were complied with in the case of Grenfell Tower and the fire safety measures adopted in relation to it;

There is an important overlap between part c where we see “industry practice relating to the design, construction, equipping and management of high-rise residential buildings” as well as part (d) where we see: “whether such regulations, legislation, guidance and industry practice were complied with“. Here we get to understand the setting of the stage for the fire, yet the stage is larger. The entire consideration by the decision makers on the refurbishment of Grenfell and what happens after are receiving governmental isolation from the event and there is where we see the setting of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO). When we consider the message on September 27th 2017 where we are treated to: “Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) has voted unanimously to terminate its contract with the landlord of Grenfell Tower“, we still see that there is not one, but there are two elements missing in the dock and the people have a right to grill these two players as well. It is my personal view that there is a systemic failure here, but the reach of the failure is a little in the wind as we are unaware of all the legalised settings of responsibility, that is also an element that we should look at, because the deeper the failure goes, the larger the problem for London and its mayor Sadiq Khan.

So even as Sky News treats us to the LFB chief testimony with: “The London Fire Brigade chief told the inquiry she would change nothing about her team’s response on the night of the fire and defended the crews’ “fantastic” actions – to which survivors in the room shook their heads“, I wonder how many saw the YouTube video where the firemen saw the blaze already going on and these people still ran into the fire with whatever they could. That in view of “At that point £300,000 was removed from the cladding budget and zinc panels were replaced with the aluminium composite material with the plastic core“, It is at this point when we need to realise that the Chair of Grenfell gives us what is actually important ion all this: “Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the chair of the Grenfell Tower inquiry which opens in full on 4 June, has said he wants to find out “what decisions about the exterior of the building … were made, by whom and when”. He also wants to know whether the cladding and insulation met building regulations and standards, who was responsible if they did not and “what factors or motives influenced the decisions”“, this setting as given by the Guardian in May 2018 reflects what I stated a year earlier, it is what matters and whilst everyone is having a go at the London Fire Brigade, whilst the initial phone call on a stove with a fire did not include the part: “We are about to call you to a fire that has (intentionally or not) been designed to become a roman candle, burning hotter than a crematorium, designed to kill as many as possible and leave nothing in working order when the fire is done, you will optionally never ever have trained for such an event, as this has not happened since the 1974 when John Guillermin created the Towering Inferno“, which with the eye on irony was actually made by heaven forbid, a British film director, all elements ‘clearly’ seen and not currently reflected upon in the inquiry until much later (not the movie part).

Yet the movie part still matters, you see, when we take a little trip back into time, we see the events of February 1, 1974, the same year the movie was made. Here we are treated to the story of the Joelma Building disaster. Here too we see that there was no sprinkler and no smoke alarms. The 1974 Joelma Building fire was the worst skyscraper-related disaster in history until the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and when you realise that the fire brigade was left with no options and that the fire went out on its own because there was nothing left to burn, only then do you perhaps realise that this was a clear sign that the story was not about the firemen, it was about the 179 people who lost their lives. Add to this the setting of the Lakanal House fire of July 3rd 2009 in Camberwell London and when we realise that at a meeting of Southwark Council, Cllr Ian Wingfield called for a “full and independent public inquiry” into the fire, which was supported by the Fire Brigades Union and that no public inquiry was conducted into the Lakanal House fire. We end up being treated to three clear signs that Grenfell could have been avoided largely BEFORE the fire even started. We get that final part through: “the fire spread unexpectedly fast, both laterally and vertically, trapping people in their homes, with the exterior cladding panels burning through in just four and a half minutes“. All clear statements of facts, all evidence on what happened, not reflected on and with “At that point £300,000 was removed from the cladding budget“, we see what clearly might reflect on the criminal setting of Murder through optional intentional negligence. I wonder if the inquiry will ever touch on that, at present, with the Times giving us ‘shortcomings on fire fighters’ the survivors and for now living relatives of Grenfell, they are not given the whole setting and even as there is a governmental need to critically look at Grenfell tower, it should show a lot more because I am decently certain that the failure will remain after the inquiry. You see, I will call on another piece of evidence, it is the instructed actions by solicitor, Vimal Sama, dated 25th July 2013, where we see that Francis O’Connor was facing optional prosecution on: “defamatory behaviour” and “harassment.” (the Independent at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/grenfell-tower-fire-blogger-threatened-legal-action-kensington-and-chelsea-council-health-safety-a7792346.html), in that part, when we see the actions of “Kensington and Chelsea Council threatened a resident of Grenfell Tower with legal action after he blogged about his concerns over fire safety“, so did the media ever give everyone in London that particular blog and those relevant stories? In addition that article also gives us: “It has also been reported that former housing minister Brandon Lewis “sat on” information and resisted making sprinklers a legal requirement because it would “discourage building”“. In light of that at what point will the chairman of the conservative party be asked a few questions on the wisdom of resisting making sprinklers a legal requirement? Was that after he left that the impact would have been noticed?

All these valid questions on the setting that matters in a few areas (perhaps not at present at this exact stage of the inquiry), yet it gives me the first and perhaps only moment when I feel that this might be the one and only time that I tell John Witherow, editor of the Times:

Bad Form! This was badly done!


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The press has another go

It is always fun to see a repeat of what has been there already. So I was not that surprised watching Sky News and getting another press approach for their regulations. They found another person to step in front of the camera. They made sure that this time there is an utter lack of arrogance. It turned into a casually moment of pointing blame on the politicians. In this case it was John Witherow from the Times. Well, the message is actually simple Mr Spokesperson we the people do not trust you at present!

All this is happening right when another editor of the Sun is being charged (Duncan Lacombe).

So we have the journalists in a corner for a change, oh goody! THEIR view of ‘the people have a right to know‘ has so far seemed to be nothing less than the option to overrule the people’s privacy at a moment’s notice.

It is of course an issue listening to Sky News for the simple reason that they are journalists themselves. Things seem to be pressed on one side and trivialised on the other. I still hang to the original idea that the Leveson report should completely be implemented with a (non-)political option of legislation.

Before you judge me to be against freedom of speech then you are wrong. I am all for freedom of the press, yet the Murdoch crowd (sorry for generalising this) has proven that their freedom to do whatever they like should not be an option even again. You see, one side we have the freedom of speech and on the other side we have the right to privacy, which too often is crushed by the press stating ‘the people have a right to know‘, whilst in reality it is just about making the quick visible exclusive visibility and their need of ego at the expense of anything else.

Issues that also surfaced (the Milly Dowler case) is yet another example. In that case not only was there no investigation, there is even more issues with a police force that as stated by sky news on April 25thhas a case of collective amnesia‘.

Or as quoting a line by the Guardian of April 24th 2013 “while a former senior officer from Surrey police said the press was ‘untouchable and all powerful’“. So not only is the press doing whatever it likes, it is interfering with police investigations, like they are the flipping ‘Special Branch’ (since 2006 known as SO15). Perhaps Commander Richard Walton could confirm whether the press is currently on their pay roll, which would allow for some awesome cost cutting solutions. Mr David Cameron would be so pleased.

We might never know what happened in the case of Milly Dowler. It is not unlikely that the phone hacking resulted in a loss of messages. Lost voice mail messages that could have assisted the Surrey Police department in their investigation. It is interesting that I read in the Guardian “An NoW journalist (name redacted)” It is interesting how that Journalist was redacted. So, Mr Witherow, how about the option of name redaction to be removed as a right for Journalists? How about an open name and shame issue where those people who seemed to have harassing the Surrey Police to be openly known to all. By your own words: ‘the people have a right to know‘.

My bigger issue is with some of the points mentioned (I will be playing the devil’s advocate here).

 1. A majority of independent members on all the bodies of the new regulator, with open and transparent appointments.
– My worry is that those appointments might not be as independent as we would like.

2. Public involvement in how the new Code of Practice will be framed.
– My worry is that this is one certain way to get loopholes placed and more of an issue is the delay that this public involvement brings. Delays the press would love to see going on and on and on.

I do agree that regulation should remain outside of the reach of politicians. Yet, adding regulations, even if it was a clear regulation to the conduct of the members of the press is needed. This is the part all media seem to be fighting, as they seem to prefer to remain footloose, fancy free and non-accountable. This is where I am no longer on their side (as the evidence over the last few has proved).

Yet, there is another side to journalism which I do not want to ignore. For every 500 half-baked phone mail chasers that call themselves ‘investigative jounalists’ there will be a real journalist like Paul Lewis or David Bergman (that group is larger than these two, but a lot smaller than most might realise). Here is the crux as they say. I would not want to hinder a journalist like David Bergman, or those hoping to step in his footsteps. Yet, the kind of ‘writers’ that many have been confronted with in the past, especially celebrities and victims of high profile cases there is one journalist that is there to dig into the shady sides of people, collecting specific information in whatever way they can to uncover the truth and the reality.

This reminds me of a scene in the West wing Season 2 episode ‘War Crimes’:
Will: “I don’t like being a stenographer. And I don’t like writing gossip. I read a column last week where a lady bemoaned the decade of scandals she’s had to cover, as if the news was to blame for the quality of journalism. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more important time to be good at what I do. Can you imagine how much I don’t give a damn about what Toby said to a staffer?

It makes my point stronger then I could (it is Aaron Sorkin at his best). Too many Journalists are way too happy to cover gossip and get their stardom visibly shown in any way they can. The environment made them that way and it must change. I am still baffled by the issues, delays and opposition against the Leveson report. If anything, that report shows the weaknesses and also called for proper legislation and regulation to protect the privacy of people (without stopping the freedom of speech). Of course this is not what the press wants as they want to just do, post and publish whatever they like, especially when it is about ratings and circulation.

The only thing that is currently interesting is that at present politicians are trusted more than journalists are. Who would have ever thought that such a day would ever become a reality?

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