It was among the worst fires in modern British history: The blaze that gutted Grenfell Tower in London last year killed more than 70 people, displaced hundreds more and marred the lives of the mostly low- and middle-income residents who lived there.
But to a group celebrating Britain’s annual Bonfire Night, it was a joke.
In a widely shared video that circulated on Monday, a group of people laughed as they burned an effigy of Grenfell Tower, which included paper cutouts of residents in the windows. “Help me! Help me!” one person mocked as flames overtook the model tower. “Jump out the window!” another shouted.
Brown paper was used to represent at least some of the residents trapped inside the tower, which in real life was home to ethnically diverse families and many Muslims.
Politicians quickly condemned the video, and the police said they were investigating whether any crime had been committed. Justice4Grenfell, a community group working for justice for the residents of Grenfell Tower, called the act a hate crime.
“This was an unnecessarily sickening act of hate against those who, through no fault of their own, have experienced the worst since 14th June 2017,” the group said in a statement. “This is clearly a hate crime and as a society we should never tolerate these blatant acts of hatred.”
Early on Tuesday morning, the Metropolitan Police said that five men, ranging in age from 19 to 55, had been taken into custody in connection with an investigation into the video after turning themselves in at a station in South London late Monday night.
The crude video emerged as Britain marked its annual Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, celebration. Every Nov. 5, bonfires are lit, fireworks set off and effigies burned in memory of Guy Fawkes, the Roman Catholic rebel who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.
In the past, revelers have burned effigies of the pope, particularly Pope Paul V, who reigned in Fawkes’s time, and modern-day figures, including President Trump, Osama bin Laden and even Winnie the Pooh.
But this year, the distasteful effigy of Grenfell Tower was met with outrage.
On June 14, 2017, flames tore through the 24-story public housing block. Witnesses recalled the haunting screams of residents, the people dangling out of windows trying to escape, the neighbors who would never make it out.
“We learned of how whole families died huddled together in corridors, a mother found with her 6-month-old baby in the stairwell after having attempted to escape,” Mohammed Rasoul, who lived on the fifth floor, recalled earlier this year.
The Grenfell blaze came to symbolize inequality in one of London’s wealthiest areas, Kensington and Chelsea, where those of more modest means had long felt treated as second-class citizens. Residents had complained for years that the building invited catastrophe. It lacked fire alarms, sprinklers and a fire escape. It had only a single staircase.
The police blamed flammable materials used in the facade for the spread of the flames. Fire safety experts said the blaze could have been avoided, if warnings had been heeded. A public inquiry into what caused the fire continues.
The bonfire video was a callous reminder of the wounds from that day, which to many still feel raw. Homeless residents have spent many months living in hotels or other temporary accommodations. Survivors are steeped in trauma and angry at the absence of accountability.
“I utterly condemn this sickening video,” Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said on Twitter. “The horrific Grenfell Tower fire was one of the most devastating tragedies our city has ever suffered — and I urge social media companies to do the right thing and remove this content immediately.”
Prime Minister Theresa May, who faced criticism for her own response to the fire, also weighed in.
“To disrespect those who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower, as well as their families and loved ones,” she said, “is utterly unacceptable.”