Grenfell Tower and a Lost Huey

First this:

A man and a woman have admitted claiming more than £125,000 in relief funding by posing as victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Elaine Douglas and Tommy Brooks were put up in hotels by Kensington and Chelsea council for almost a year before staff realised the flat they claimed to be living in at the time of the disaster did not exist.

The pair, both Jamaican nationals aged 51, also tried to take advantage of a scheme granting all tower residents leave to remain in the UK for at least five years.

Then this:

A fraudster who claimed his father had died in the Grenfell Tower fire to receive emergency money and a free stay at a hotelhas been jailed.

Two days after the tragedy in June last year, Mohammad Gamoota, 31, told council officials that he had been living with his father on the 24th floor when the fire ripped through the building.

Then this:


The Tweet above made me think of an episode recounted in Robert Mason’s brilliant Chickenhawk, his memoir of being a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war.

Not long after Resler and I talked of disappearing with a Huey, a ship from the Snakes, tail number 808, took off on a foggy morning to go out to Lima with C rations and supplies, and never arrived.
The pilots called once before crossing the pass to say that ­the visibility was almost zero, but they could make it. By 0900 I was involved in the search. By dusk they had not been found not even a clue.
Supply sergeants throughout the battalion were keeping their fingers crossed. This was a rare opportunity to balance the property books-once and for all.
Let me explain. In the army, specific amounts of military equipment were allocated to the company supply sections. Once or twice a year, the inspectors general, agents from the brass, came through to check that all property was in the supply depot or properly accounted for. If it wasn’t, mountains of paperwork had to be done, including explanations by the commander and the supply officer. Searches were made. That was the formal army system.
The informal army supply system worked around such rules. The supply officers simply traded excesses back and forth to cover their asses, and the IGs never knew. Unless, of course, they had once been supply officers. The informal system made the books look good and protected the supply people, but we still had no jungle boots or chest protectors. Certain things you had to get for yourself. I was able to trade a grunt supply sergeant some whiskey for a pair of jungle boots. The chest protectors, though, were still not available. There were only a handful of them in the battalion.
All supply people dreamed of a way to balance the books once and for all – without all that trading and shuffling. Flight 808 looked like the answer.
After two more days of searching, a Huey was found. It was the wreckage of a courier ship that had disappeared on its way to Pleiku a year before. The search was abandoned, and Flight 808 was declared lost.
Declaring the ship missing started paper gears working all aver the battalion. One of the questions the supply people loved to hear was ‘Did you have anything aboard the missing helicopter?’
‘Well, now that you mention it, I did have six entrenching tools on that ship. Plus some web belts – seven web belts, to be exact – three insulated food containers, four first-aid kits, twenty-four flashlights,’ and so on.
When all the reports were tallied, I was told by Captain Gillette, it came to a total of five tons of assorted army gear – ­about five times what we normally carried.
‘One hell of a helicopter, don’cha think?’ said Gillette.
‘Maybe that’s why it went down,’ Gary said. ‘Slightly over-­loaded. By eight thousand pounds, I’d say.’
‘Yep. We’ll never see another like that one.’

Grenfell Tower seems to be serving a similar purpose to Flight 808, doesn’t it?

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15 thoughts on “Grenfell Tower and a Lost Huey

  1. My late uncle served in Korea and was a civilian construction advisor to the US Army in Vietnam and later in Africa. He reckoned that quartermaster was the key role in the US military and everything was possible with trade and good records. The Pentagon buried a couple of trillion after 911 as well. None of this is controversial when you see how modern financial managers massage the company books to make them look more valuable. I always feel gloomy or wary about our business until I attend the board meetings and find out how exceptionally well that we are going.

  2. The same joke was made about Atlantic Conveyor. And of course in war lots of personal kit does get lost. We’d left rucksacks on Sir Gallahad when we went ashore at Teal Inlet. We did get some stuff back from th husk after the war, but w didn’t tell the QM that when we got back to our place nit in Germany.

  3. “Elaine Douglas and Tommy Brooks were put up in hotels by Kensington and Chelsea council for almost a year before staff realised the flat they claimed to be living in at the time of the disaster did not exist.”

    How hard can it be? I would have thought that you start with a diagram or spreadsheet of the flats. Then you get the official housing association list of who was living in them. Things might get a bit trickier thereafter due to the epidemic of illegal sub-letting, but claims against non-existent flats would be easy to spot.

    Official: “Hello, Ms Douglas, Mr. Brooks. I’m sure you’ve had a terribly traumatic time, but can you tell us what flat you were living in at the time of the fire?”

    Scamster: “Erm….Twenty…erm…Twenty Eight?”

    Official: “Dreadful, just dreadful. Anyway, here’s your chit for the hotel, your free citizenship papers, and a ticket for the enquiry. Now, is there anything else we can do for you?”

  4. Chickenhawk was a great book, but who was really surprised by his surprise ending?

  5. New York City used to pay out a ridiculous number of injury claims resulting from bus accidents. It turns out they were routinely paying off many more passengers per incident than could have ever fit on the bus. No one had the sense to take a census of who got off the bus after each accident.

  6. Misusing terrible incidents is as old as the sun. While I was a student I used to work at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. I remember an old hand telling me how that after the IRA bombing the hotel staff were told to chuck anything not nailed down into the blast crater so it could be claimed off the insurance.

  7. All of this began with non-existent ‘passengers’ claiming for whiplash injuries from accidents they were never even involved in. So-called victim-less crimes which led to insurance premiums sky-rocketing.

  8. There was an accident on a chairlift on Copper Mountain a while back. About double the number of skiers sued than there were seats on the lift. IIRC a class action lawsuit succeeded. Only in America (not).

    More revoltingly, the IRA got a fair bit of funding from suing Belfast council for tripping on dodgy pavements.

  9. I think the number of people who have claimed to be at Woodstock is up to around 10 million by now.

  10. @Zut – More revoltingly, the IRA got a fair bit of funding from suing Belfast council for tripping on dodgy pavements.

    Sounds like urban myth that blogs that don’t check facts thrive on to me.

  11. @Zut – More revoltingly, the IRA got a fair bit of funding from suing Belfast council for tripping on dodgy pavements.

    Sounds like urban myth that blogs that don’t check facts thrive on to me.

  12. BiND beat me to it with how marine architects are still puzzled about how MV Atlantic Conveyor ever floated, given the tens of thousands of tons of stores she turned out to have been carrying when sunk.

    Viktor Suvorov, in “The Liberators” described how the accidental destruction of a motorcycle (cleaning weapons in petrol, while smoking and drinking, isn’t a good idea – who knew?) was written off by the miscreants’ platoon commander as “hostile action” (the broken vodka bottle became a petrol bomb thrown by ‘counter-revolutionary forces’)… and of course he’d left his binoculars in the saddlebags. Hadn’t he? (as he poised his pen to sign). His company commander agreed… and said it was a shame about the map case and documents the courier had been carrying for him. Wasn’t it, lieutenant?

    By the time the report reached Moscow, apparently this motorcycle had been field-modified into an experimental combat reconnaissance vehicle, carrying a variety of navigational equipment, an infrared telescope, several rifles, a machine gun, quantities of ammunition and hand grenades. It was stocked for extended operation with several crates of vodka and towing a bowser or three’s worth of fuel. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a pitched battle with “counter-revolutionary forces…” before the report into its performance could be completed…

  13. “How hard can it be? I would have thought that you start with a diagram or spreadsheet of the flats. Then you get the official housing association list of who was living in them.”

    You might be surprised (I certainly was) to discover how difficult large landlords find it to accurately produce a list of everything they let, even within a single building.

    Even annually-let stuff like student accommodation is like this, which seems somewhat staggering given the value of each room.

    I reckon that if you asserted confidently enough that you lived in ‘flat 28’, then the person sitting in front of the spreadsheet which didn’t have a row for “flat 28” would be inclined to believe you rather than their spreadsheet.

    As for any kind of reliable drawing of an existing property, the only time I’ve seen them is in American disaster movies, where the rogue cop and the fire chief spread them out the bonnet of a car outside the burning/hijacked building. They always find them to be both comprehensive and instantly comprehensible too.

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