Fear spreads in British tower blocks with ‘deathtrap’ cladding

Chalcots Estate, in Camden, London, where Camden council is preparing to remove cladding panels from tower blocks.
Chalcots Estate, in Camden, London, where Camden council is preparing to remove cladding panels from tower blocks.PHOTO: EPA
A poster displaying the names of people missing following the June 14 Grenfell Tower block fire.
A poster displaying the names of people missing following the June 14 Grenfell Tower block fire.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) – From her 18th floor flat, Pippa Wordsworth has a grim view of Grenfell Tower that has become bleaker after she was told her building has the same flammable cladding as on the burnt-out hulk.

“I’m very frightened when I’m in the building now,” the bleached-blonde grandmother told AFP at her home on the Chalcots Estate in Camden in north London.

“This cladding looks nice. We had no idea it could be so dangerous,” she said, following reports that the cladding may have helped spread the flames.

Now the modern covering on her 1965 tower reminds her of the early hours of June 14 when she saw Grenfell Tower on fire, with residents on the upper floors shouting for help before the flames overcame them.

Seventy-nine people were killed or are missing presumed dead in the fire and police have warned the toll could rise further.

Britain is now carrying out emergency checks on cladding installed on social housing tower blocks across the country, with 600 identified as potentially dangerous in England alone.

Cladding on 14 towers in different parts of the country has so far been found to be “combustible” and the government has warned residents may have to be rehoused or the cladding removed as soon as possible.

Camden council, which runs the Chalcots Estate, has promised to take it off the five towers and has met residents to try to reassure them.

 

“The people are scared. They don’t sleep very well,” Casey Oppong, head of the residents’ association for Wordsworth’s tower, told AFP.

Oppong said the council has tried to assure them the cladding would be replaced, although this is not expected to happen for another six weeks at least.

In the meantime, the council is sending fire stewards who will patrol the area around the clock.

Oppong said residents had also asked the council to install sprinklers and fire alarms, which are currently absent in the high-rise apartments, as well as provide residents with fire blankets.

'LIVING IN DEATHTRAPS'

Wearing yellow high-visibility vests marked “Camden”, three fire stewards could be seen standing guard at the Chalcots Estate next to their electric car.

They smiled at residents and said they would remain in place until the cladding is removed but locals said they were still worried.

“The scariest thing to know is that if it happened to Grenfell, it can happen to us,” Oppong said.

 

He blamed the use of multiple subcontractors for work on council tower blocks for putting fire safety at risk, saying that “in the end there is no control”.

Police on Friday (June 23) said they were considering charges of manslaughter in an investigation that would include companies taking part in the refurbishment.

They said the cladding on Grenfell Tower had not passed safety tests, adding that the fire had started with a faulty Hotpoint fridge freezer.

Frederica Otokunuy, 40, said she had just been visiting her elderly parents on the 15th floor of one of the towers.

“My parents are so scared! If it’s the same shit, they wish it could be changed. We had no idea.

“It could be so dangerous but it looks so beautiful!” In its Friday edition, the left-wing Daily Mirror tabloid referred to buildings with potentially dangerous cladding bluntly as “tower deathtraps”.