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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Gambian family of Grenfell fire victims demands justice

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By Mariama Jallow

On 14 June 2017 around 1am, a fire started on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, West London and within minutes, the fire spread to all four exterior sides of the building.

Grenfell Tower was a 24-floor residential block, and the incident is commonly referred to as the worst fire Britain experienced in a century and the worst residential fire since the Second World War.

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Seventy-two men, women and children died in the fire. Four years later, the loved ones of those who died in the fire are still demanding justice.

June 14th marked the fourth anniversary of the tragedy and victims, including Gambians, continue to call for justice.

Claire Mendy, a Gambian, was a distinguished campaigner for her cousin Mary. Mary’s daughter, Khadija Saye was one of those who lost their lives in the Grenfell fire. Khadija Saye was a photographer whose work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in Italy.

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Nina Mendy, Claire Mendy’s daughter told The Standard that prior to the blaze at Grenfell, “she worked in conjunction with the Gambian government and spearheaded the Roots Homecoming Festival (now referred to as the International Roots Festival). She received a medal from Isatou-Njie Saidy [former Gambian VP] for bringing so many people to The Gambia for the Roots festival.”

However, after the fire occurred Claire Mendy’s focus was shifted to advocating for those who lost their lives and seeking justice.

In December of 2020, Claire died from motor neuron disease which she was diagnosed with after the fire.

Before she died, Mendy held a church service with the archbishop at St Paul’s Cathedral for the 72 people that died and got members of the British royal family including Princes Charles, William and Harry and 1,500 other people to attend.

Nina told The Standard: “The Times of London gave her an obituary on her deathbed which they hardly give to anybody in the world. They recognised that she was a fierce campaigner for justice for this devastating fire. London Mayor Sadiq Khan gave a speech when she died saying that my mom was a committed campaigner for the Grenfell community.”

“Her dedication and determination to secure justice for those who lost their lives, including her own loved ones was inspiring and forever in our hearts. Lots of people from all over the world wrote about my mother including Japanese, German and Dutch newspapers,” Nina added.

Nina said four years on no one has taken responsibility for the tragedy.

“Some people blame the fire brigade because they told everyone that if there is a fire you have to stay in your house so when the fire happened people stayed in their house. There was only one stairwell in the building. In a building that large there should have been more stairwells and fire extinguishers. A lot of things were not completed.

“No one is accepting liability; everyone is passing the buck. The company that manufactured the cladding is passing it to someone in the council, the council is passing it to someone else, so no one wants to take responsibility, and someone needs to,” Nina demanded.

Nina believes her mother developed motor neuron disease because of the toxins she inhaled from the Grenfell fire. “Some people have got cancer, some people got motor neuron disease, but the government isn’t actually looking into that story at the minute, they are just trying to push that by. Mum always swore that her motor neuron disease was because of the toxins from the fire,” she said.

Nothing has been publicly stated on whether inhalations of toxins from the fire gave people cancer and motor neuron disease, however, Nina urged the British government to look into this for all the families who are losing loved ones.

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