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Westminster Abbey service marks five years since Grenfell fire

14 June 2022


Marlene Anderson, the daughter of one victim of the fire, Raymond Bernard, speaks at the anniversary service at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday

Marlene Anderson, the daughter of one victim of the fire, Raymond Bernard, speaks at the anniversary service at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday

COMMUNITIES that remain deeply traumatised by the Grenfell tragedy will struggle to find peace while they wait for the conclusions of the national inquiry, the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, has said.

He was speaking on Tuesday after a national service in Westminster Abbey which marked five years to the day since a fire devastated the west London tower block on 14 June 2017, killing 72 people (News, 15 June 2017). Survivors and the families of people who died in the blaze were among the 700 people in attendance, alongside first responders and community and faith leaders, including the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally.

The service was led by the Dean, Dr David Hoyle, and included tributes from community members, prayers from local church leaders, the hymns “Abide with me” and “Guide me, O thou great Redeemer” and the choral anthem “Pie Jesu”.

In his sermon, Dr Tomlin said: “Those of you who lost loved ones in Grenfell Tower, those who survived that night, those of you who live in the local community and who watched the events of that dreadful night unfold, have waited five long years. And our waiting continues still. And so today we acknowledge our shared sorrow, that sense of injustice, the ongoing grief.”

The service was about lamenting together, he said, which could also be an “engine for change. . . Lament refuses to accept easy answers. It tries to name an uncomfortable reality — it says plainly that what happened at Grenfell was wrong.

“It was not an unfortunate accident — it was the result of careless decisions taken, regulations ignored, an industry that seemed at times more interested in making profits and selling products than in the precious value of human life and keeping people safe in their own homes.”

He continued: “Today we lament but we also live in hope. We are not there yet on the journey towards the light. We name the reality, the darkness that happened at Grenfell. Yet we also declare that we are not alone in our longing for justice — that the God who has planted the desire for justice in our hearts stands with us as we seek peace, as we look for resolution. . .

“We hope and we pray that the word ‘Grenfell’ may one day soon come to stand for a time that we truly learnt to bear each other’s burdens, to value the precious gift of human life, to make our homes truly safe and to trust in the unfailing love that will not let us go.”

Services of remembrance have been held on the anniversary each year. Shortly before the second, Dr Tomlin released his report The Social Legacy of Grenfell: An agenda for change, which urged the Government to recognise the power of faith communities to bring about social cohesion (News, 1 November 2019).

Speaking after the service on Tuesday, Dr Tomlin said: “It meant a lot to the bereaved and survivors to have a service that had a national profile in a place as historic and central to national life as Westminster Abbey.

“It is a difficult day for many of them, but hopefully that sense of being held by in the presence of God in a place where they could bring their griefs and sorrows and hopes, as generations have done before them, will have help them to manage the day and to keep going in the ongoing struggle for justice and peace on behalf of those they lost.”

The chair of the inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired High Court judge, published his first report in 2019 (News, 1 November 2019), but the second phase has been hit by a series of delays beyond the pandemic.

Vigils were held across the country. The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said in his Thought for the Day on Radio 4 on Tuesday that, like others, he would be wearing green to mark the anniversary. He would be feeling sadness, he said, and “a deep frustration, too, that five years on, people still live in buildings judged so unsafe that mortgage-providers are not prepared to lend on them” (News, 4 March, 3 February).

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