Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen by Peter Apps - review by Joan Smith

Joan Smith

London Burning

Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen


Oneworld 352pp £10.99

It would be easy to imagine that all the salient facts about the Grenfell Tower fire are out in the open. Most people remember the staggering images of a tower block in west London burning fiercely in 2017, surrounded by firefighters, police officers and desperate relatives. Seventy-two people died in the conflagration, while many of those who survived had to feel their way down a single, windowless staircase filled with toxic fumes. A public inquiry, which has yet to publish its final report, has heard almost unbearable testimony from survivors and family members who recalled the people they lost.

This remarkable book reveals the full picture of what happened. Here, in forensic detail, are the decisions made by successive governments, council officials and commercial companies that allowed the exterior of a block of flats to be covered in cladding panels constructed from aluminium ‘with a core of solid petrol’ (yes, you did read that right). The book sets out all the warnings offered about the risks associated with such practices, and the ways they were ignored by governments obsessed with getting rid of regulations. It catalogues years of neglect by the authorities responsible for the upkeep of the tower, which meant that self-closers on dozens of internal doors were no longer working, allowing choking smoke to spread across entire floors. It shows how the London Fire Brigade advised residents to stay in their flats, sticking rigidly to a ‘stay put’ policy that increased the number of deaths because it did not take into account the likely spread of fire via combustible cladding.

But it also does something else. Peter Apps is deputy editor of a magazine called Inside Housing; he can hardly have expected to find himself telling the story of the worst fire in this country since the Second World War. His book tells that story, hour by hour

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RLF - March