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The official temperature in London is 31C. This is the measure taken properly, in the shade, as prudence and good methodology requires. In actual fact, the temperature in the sunshine is 36C, and that is what strikes the skin of any Londoner, but that is the least of our problems. Last night, admittedly a sultry one by local standards, an idiot decided to drive his hire van at a crowd outside a mosque, severely injuring at least 10 persons, and possibly contributing to the death of an elderly man who was already unwell, probably because of the heat.
In the weary litany of dreadful events, in terms of modus operandi this one counts as a deliberate running down of pedestrians, but in this case without the additional stabbing. With commendable restraint, the injured crowd handed the assailant, a 47-year-old white man, over to the Police. He had already declared: “I want to kill Muslims.” As seems usual, he too was taken off to hospital “as a precaution” in case he was injured in the process of trying to kill people. The van was apparently hired in Wales. He was not known to the authorities, the authorities say. His neighbours say he is Darren Osborne, of Cardiff, and they are very surprised at his actions.
Political leaders have visited the scene and made statements.
Meanwhile, in the still raw aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Press have done what they always do after a disaster: they have identified the heroes and the villains. The latter category is understandably generating most attention. The local Borough leaders are accused of incompetence and worse, and the search for who knew what, and approved what, at what stage, continues with renewed vigour. Meanwhile, once the Press had agreed how wrong it was of emergency service operators to advise people to stay put in their flats, the Fire Service have said that that remains their advice “in the majority of circumstances”.
There is general surprise that the fire spread so quickly. However, it is not yet known with any precision when the fire started. An emergency call was received at 00.54 in the morning of 14 June. At least one neighbour says he was shown the fire in the flat, which implies the front door was open at some stage, and some accounts say that the flat owner took time to pack some suitcases before leaving. This is unclear, as so much is always unclear in the immediate aftermath of a fire.
The old way of doing things was to gather forensic evidence and interview all the people concerned, once they were over the immediate shock of the event, and then put together the best estimate of what actually happened. Modern times demand a faster pace, and everyone is sure the fire spread very quickly. It seems probable that the cladding was a major contributor, but since most things burn at a high temperature, the time from first flames to the fire brigade being called is crucial to understanding the vulnerabilities of such buildings and their defensive systems. The case for sprinkler systems seems very strong, and if the economic case for installing them in every flat is considered problematical, it seems highly unwise not to have them in the stairwells and ground floor exit lobby at the very least, and preferably also in all the corridors.
It would good be to say that London is keeping calm and carrying on, but these are not normal times. There is a sense of things having shifted in some profound way. It is not just the rush to judgment, but a rush to a lack of judgment, and implausible assurances to all and sundry that everything will be taken care of (those in government), or must be taken care of (those wanting to be in government) and a competition among all politicians to show compassion, outrage, leadership, or whatever is required on an hourly basis by the public.
Perhaps rain will make a difference.