“I wish I hadn’t woken them” said a man the day after the full horror of the Grenfell Tower tragedy became clear, “they’d have died in their sleep without knowing”.
Sometimes it’s better not to alert people to pending, but ultimately unavoidable, tragedy.
The Grenfell disaster prompted urgent panic inspections of tower blocks across the UK. Local authorities sought to establish if their own tower blocks contained similar cladding to that used to refurbish the London building.
In England the inspection results have been damning. Inspection after inspection revealed combustible cladding on high-rise buildings. Thus far over 120 high-rise buildings in 37 local authority areas in England have failed fire safety tests.
Inspections found combustible cladding had also been used in high-rise buildings in Wales. The Labour run Welsh Government insisted the tower blocks were “safe places to be”.
As panic and anger set in south of the border with some local authorities evacuating tenants, north of the border things were different. Local authorities in Scotland moved swiftly to reassure tenants that no high-rise buildings contained combustible cladding.
New building regulations introduced in Scotland in 2005 made it mandatory for builders to ensure external cladding inhibited fire spreading. The new regulations were prompted by a fatal fire six years earlier.
So what’s the point of all of this I hear you ask? Well ever since the Grenfell tragedy morphed into a scandal involving combustible cladding, I’ve sensed a desire on the part of BBC Scotland to try to drag Scotland into the mire.
The desperation has witnessed sensational headlines regarding some cladding on University premises. There’s something cultural at Pacific Quay that compels the broadcaster to try to portray Scotland as just as bad when things go badly awry south of the border.
Scotland cannot be seen to be better or more forward thinking than the rest of the UK. It has to be just as bad.
Cast your mind back to the English summer riots of 2011. The riots started in London and quickly spread throughout England. Very quickly the Scottish media began describing the riots as ‘UK’ and ‘British’ riots.
Many Scottish journalists appeared crestfallen that the riots hadn’t spread north of the border. So much so that when Alex Salmond took them to task for calling them UK riots, the then First Minister was attacked.
I don’t know what it is, but any scandal or tragedy south of the border that might taint the establishment in some way has our media scampering to find anything with which to ensure Scotland cops some of the mud. And that brings me back to the Grenfell tragedy.
Scotland, as I have already noted, escaped the cladding scandal. But it didn’t escape the culture at BBC Scotland. On Monday the broadcaster’s top story were the results of what its reporters called “A BBC investigation”.
The story led BBC Scotland radio bulletins throughout the day. An online article sat at the top of the online news the whole of Monday. It was the lead item on Reporting Scotland.
The so called ‘investigation’ was nothing of the sort. BBC Scotland had merely sent a clutch of Freedom of Investigation requests to local authorities in Scotland asking them how many high-rise blocks had been fitted with sprinklers.
The answers were already known in most cases. You need only walk into a high-rise block in most parts of Scotland and you can see for yourself they don’t have sprinklers. This is because sprinklers weren’t fitted when the buildings were constructed over forty years ago. To retrofit them would incur massive cost and wouldn’t be without its own risks.
The ‘news’ story wasn’t genuine news at all. It was fake news. BBC Scotland had manipulated information that was, in the most part, already known, and presented it as though a new revelation. Why did it do this? Well denied the opportunity to link Scotland to the Grenfell cladding scandal, the North British Broadcasting machine contrived to make up its own ‘scandal’ in the form of sprinklers.
It’s certainly true to say that a lack of a sprinkler system has been one of the aspects of Grenfell that has caused anger. However a lack of sprinklers isn’t the reason the fire spread so rapidly. The cause of the disaster was the use of combustible cladding.
In the Reporting Scotland item the former Head of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue says a sprinkler system would have put out the Grenfell fire at source and prevented the tragedy. Really? It’s perhaps worth noting that a sprinkler system might not have stopped fire from taking hold on the outside of the building at Grenfell. The fridge explosion, and it was an explosion, may have caused the fire to instantaneously leap into the exterior cladding beyond the reach of any sprinkler.
But what few people know is that the fridge fire that caused the tragedy was extinguished by firemen. Below is an excerpt from an article published by the Telegraph newspaper on June 20th.
Firefighters had put out the initial fridge fire at Grenfell Tower and were leaving the building when the blaze suddenly flared up, it has emerged.
Crews believed they had put out the fire at the London high-rise and were astonished to see flames rising up the side of the building, new reports have claimed.
Shortly after dealing with the fridge fire early last Wednesday, firefighters were telling residents that it was out, BBC Panorama reported.
Below is the relevant clip from the Panorama programme [bizarrely entitled London Tower Fire – Britain’s Shame] referenced by the article.
The lack of a sprinkler system was not the cause of the Grenfell inferno. High-rise buildings like Grenfell were designed to contain fires like the one caused by the fridge explosion. Grenfell was safe prior to the refurbishment that led to the addition of combustible cladding. This of course means that Scottish high-rise buildings are not at risk from a Grenfell type inferno.
It calls into question the motives of BBC Scotland in running a story that sought to imply a lack of sprinklers was a key component of the Grenfell tragedy and that Scottish Tower blocks are susceptible to a Grenfell type inferno. Indeed the corporation may now have caused unnecessary fear and alarm amongst residents of Scottish tower blocks, not to mention the implication that the Scottish Govt is now deliberately ensuring the risk persists if it doesn’t commit to fitting sprinklers.
The implied criticism of the Scottish Government,and thus the SNP, is the political side-effect of the sprinkler story as evidenced by the comments from the two Unionist parties in the Reporting Scotland item.
It’s worth noting that on the same day BBC Scotland ran it’s ‘sprinkler’ story, BBC Wales was also covering the issue of high-rise flats in the wake of Grenfell, and for very good reason. There are some high-rise buildings in Wales that have been fitted with a similar cladding to that used in Grenfell.
The Wales Today item is different from the Reporting Scotland item in two key ways. It concentrates on the genuine cause of the Grenfell tragedy – namely cladding – but also crucially, and appropriately given the human tragedy that sits in the background – omits any political opportunism from opponents of the Welsh Labour Government.
At the start of this article I quoted a witness of the Grenfell tragedy lamenting the fact he and others had alerted sleeping residents who ultimately were doomed. Better to have let those poor people perish in their sleep, oblivious to the horror that was engulfing them, he now believes. BBC Scotland has ‘alerted’ residents in Scotland to a danger that isn’t actually genuine. How many of them are now living in a constant state of fear and alarm … unable to sleep?
What’s worse is that BBC Scotland has piggy-backed on a genuine human tragedy in order to manufacture not an ‘SNP bad’ story, but a ‘Scotland bad’ story.
The BBC Scotland ‘investigation’ was a sham. The motives for sending Freedom of Information requests to Scottish councils aren’t clear. For me though it’s further evidence of the institutional corruption that has all but destroyed the credibility of BBC Scotland’s News and Current Affairs Department.
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