Watchdog confirms Grenfell breached human rights laws

Published: 13 Mar 2019

Local authorities and public services failed their human rights obligations to protect life and provide safe housing, we have confirmed in a report submitted to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

The Following Grenfell report states residents’ right to life and right to adequate housing were breached before the fire started on 14 June 2017.

It highlights authorities were presented with evidence the cladding was unsafe but failed to take action to prevent the loss of 72 lives.

Not banning the cladding at the time, or strengthening rules for its use in the UK, breached residents’ right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a fault the Equality and Human Rights Commission says "lies with the authorities".

More than 300 high-rise buildings in the UK continue to be wrapped in the now banned combustible cladding, suggesting the failure to protect lives and violation of Article 2 continues.

The safety of wheelchair users, elderly and disabled people were further overlooked when vulnerable residents were housed on the top floors of the high-rise building.

We have said this was a breach of their right to adequate housing, which is internationally recognised by the UN in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Evidence has emerged that the safety notice was only given to residents in English, a language not spoken by many Grenfell residents. ‘Following Grenfell’ concludes this was a fundamental failure by the authorities to meet victims’ needs and protect their right to life.

Residents’ concerns about their ability to fully participate in the official inquiry have been raised during the length of the project.

It is vital that those affected by the fire have the opportunity to present their views; issues raised include concerns about the accessibility of the original venue, and the ability to put questions to witnesses. The Grenfell Inquiry is urged to take note and respond to these concerns as it starts the next phase.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Everyone has the right to life and the right to safe, adequate housing, but the residents of Grenfell Tower were tragically let down by public bodies that had a duty to protect them.

'It is our hope that the Grenfell Inquiry finds this information relevant and useful as they continue with their work, but we also need to see action taken by public bodies so we never see a repeat of this tragedy.'

Recommendations contained in the report include:

  • more action to protect lives by removing combustible cladding from hundreds of other buildings  
  • implement training for firefighters on combatting cladding fires
  • reconsider the application of, or alternatives to, the ‘stay put’ policy for buildings with similar cladding combinations to Grenfell Tower, and implement firefighter training on this issue
  • ensure that residents are provided with sufficient fire safety advice 
  • the need for additional protective measure to meet the needs of particularly vulnerable people, in relation to evacuation policies and housing allocation
  • improved participation of survivors, bereaved families and others affected by the disaster in the inquiry itself

It is our view that the inquiry should address these issues now, not wait until the end of the phase 2 report in 2020.

To accompany the report, we have also published research undertaken with the community about their experiences since the fire.

Residents expressed concern at how many people were rehoused in temporary accommodation that was unsuitable for their needs and affected their wellbeing, particularly disabled and elderly people, women and Muslim families.

Many of the issues raised in the report demonstrate an overall lack of co-ordination and organisation of services in response to the fire, both in the immediate aftermath and still ongoing a year later.

David Isaac continued:

'Some of those who witnessed the fire and lost family or friends have told us their stories and voiced their trauma.

'Now the Grenfell Inquiry and local authorities must ensure that these failures are addressed immediately and that the same mistakes are never repeated in future.'

Notes to editors

The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched Following Grenfell in December 2017 to analyse the tragedy specifically through an equality and human rights lens.  

Through our research report, legal submission and briefing documents we has examined seven main areas:

The duty to investigate 

The State has a duty to investigate incidents of deaths or inhumane and degrading treatment where they may be implicated, and ensure proper accountability. This project will examine how the State is investigating Grenfell and whether current arrangements meet its obligations.

The right to life

Following Grenfell considered whether the State ensured the safety of the residents in Grenfell Tower and whether lessons have been learnt from previous reports.

Inhuman and degrading treatment

The harm suffered by those who survived or witnessed the Grenfell Tower fire may constitute ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, and the experiences of those after the fire may have increased the harm they endured. The project explored what immediate and longer-term support victims of such events can expect from the State, including medical treatment, counselling, care and housing.

Adequate housing

The State had a duty to provide adequate and safe housing to the Grenfell Tower residents. This project focused on children, disabled and older people whose needs may not have been fully respected and understood within the fire regulations. 

Access to justice

The project considered whether victims have been able to access appropriate legal advice after the fire, but also question whether a lack of access to legal support may have affected residents’ ability to address complaints about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower.

Rights of children

The Commission examined the specific rights of children and whether they have received appropriate psychological support, housing and educational support since the fire. 

Equality

The work also explored whether there were any policies and practices in place that disadvantaged any particular groups, such as disabled people or the elderly, and if the State met the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102

07767 272 818 (out of hours)