“Hello Catherine. Can you make any noise so I know that you’re listening to me?
“Catherine, can you make any noise?
“Can you bang your phone or anything?
“Catherine, are you there?
“I think that’s the phone gone…”
These were the last moments of Catherine Hickman. The words are those of the 999 operator as thick acrid smoke and flames engulfed Catherine in her flat.
She had been on the phone for a full half hour, and, for the whole of that time, was advised – told in fact – to “stay put,” because the fire brigade knew where she was, was coming to rescue her, and because, as she was told, she didn’t know what was on the other side of her front door.
She could easily have been calling from Grenfell Tower on 14 June last year. She wasn’t, though. She was one of the victims of a notorious earlier blaze in a block of council flats, at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London back in 2009.
They had been fitted with flammable composite cladding, and there was no sprinkler system.
That was why Catherine died. That her sisters allowed her words to be used for the broadcast was noble indeed – because, as they explain in the film, they did not wish her life to have been lost in vain.
As BBC Two documentary “The Fires that Foretold Grenfell” forensically and graphically illustrates, the rigid use of the “stay put” rule, official complacency, and a collective failure to learn lessons over many years led inexorably and inevitably to the loss of 72 lives at Grenfell Tower, and even that number was mercifully fewer than it might have been.
Could Grenfell happen again? Given the history presented in this distressing and important documentary, the answer is yes.
Read the story at the Independent.
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