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Grenfell reveals ‘attitude of unaccountable power’ among firms – victim’s aunt

The fire took place in 2018 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
The fire took place in 2018 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Grenfell disaster and other scandals show an “attitude of unaccountable power” that exists in companies which have “lost their moral compass”, the aunt of a 12-year-old girl who died in the fire has said.

Sandra Ruiz called for a change in how organisations are led as she addressed representatives from many of the firms which bereaved and survivors hold responsible for what happened in June 2017.

Ms Ruiz, whose niece Jessica Urbano Ramirez was among 72 people killed in the blaze, spoke at Grenfell Testimony Week which began in London on Tuesday.

The four-day event is being held as part of an agreement reached following the settlement of a damages claim last year involving about 900 cases and a global sum of about £150 million in compensation for people affected by the fire.

Referring to the long-running Post Office scandal, Ms Ruiz noted that Paula Vennells, the former boss of that organisation, has agreed to relinquish her CBE in the face of a public outcry following an ITV drama.

Jessica Urbano Ramirez
Jessica Urbano Ramirez was just 12 when she died (Grenfell Tower Inquiry)

Ms Ruiz said: “I ask for any honours given to parties involved in Grenfell following the fire to be withdrawn until the criminal investigation is concluded and, following that, permanently withdrawn for anyone found to have failed in their duties and responsibilities.”

Representatives from Celotex, Exova, London Fire Brigade, Kingspan, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Rydon, and Whirlpool Corporation all accepted invitations to testimony week, as well as representatives from the Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Arconic, which supplied the cladding on the outside of the tower, said it has made a “significant financial contribution to fund the organisation” of testimony week but added that it regretted that no representatives could attend.

To those who were present, Ms Ruiz said: “You are sitting here because you formed part of this disaster.”

Listening to the testimonies of bereaved and survivors “is the first step in your conciliation process”, she said.

But she described the fact that not all defendant organisations were present as showing not only “a total disregard for their responsibilities but also a total disregard for our loss”.

She said the focus for those in attendance must be “what you do with the information that you hear and the pain that you see”, warning it will have been “worthless” if it does not lead to real change.

She said: “If you do not go back to your boardrooms to inspire them to make a commitment to memorialising Grenfell by making fundamental changes in their business models, by putting people ahead of profits, then this will all have been worthless.”

The Grenfell disaster has shown that “many organisations, private and public, have lost their moral compass”, Ms Ruiz said.

She said an “attitude of unaccountable power” had been “further compounded” with the spotlight falling on other “miscarriages brought about by similar attitudes” such as Windrush, Infected Blood, and the Post Office.

Ms Ruiz said: “We need to see a change in how organisations are led.”

Emotional testimony was also heard from a number of other people, including bereaved father Marcio Gomes, who described the life his son could have had.

Logan Gomes was stillborn after the blaze.

Speaking about missed first milestones including birthdays and the joy of new parenthood, he told the firms: “This is what you have taken away from me.”

Before the testimonies began, the names of all those who died in the fire were read aloud, followed by a 72-second silence – one for each life lost.

A statement from the Grenfell Next of Kin group, which said it represents some of those involved in the settlement, said some had “actively chosen not to attend testimony week or participate in the proceedings” and that there is “anger and a deep sense of betrayal in the way this event has come about”.

It said: “It has caused tremendous hurt and harm for those who should be at the forefront of this tragedy.”