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Romania: The fallout from the Bucharest nightclub fire

Memorials to the victims of the nightclub fire which killed 63 people. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

By any measure Romania is a country that has a problem with corruption, it bumps along at the bottom of EU countries on Transparency International's annual corruption ratings.

But what really brought it home to me was the joke going round Bucharest when we were there - that an entire government could be formed in prison - there were so many former ministers, politicians and until recently, even an ex-prime minister doing time.

So what's it like living in a country where you can't trust that those at the top aren't in it to line their own pockets?

A joke going around Bucharest says an entire government could be formed in prison. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

The young people we met described the 100 ways that corruption colours daily life in Romania.

How if you went to see the doctor, or to hospital, it's the norm to offer them some money to see you.

Or the train journeys, where if the carriage is full you don't buy a ticket, you pay the guard "directly".

Or the exam system where everyone gets pretty good marks because cheating is ignored.

The fire was the worst tragedy in Romania since the fall of communism. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

"Corruption", I was told by one young activist - "is embedded in Romanian life - there isn't a person in the country who won't have been affected by it."

Many described it as a hangover from communism - but if the older generation are prepared to accept that that's the way things are - the young it seems increasingly aren't.

Sometimes it takes a single event to ignite anger that has been brewing for many years.

And that catalyst came on 30 October, 2015, when a fire killed scores of young music fans in a basement nightclub.

Protests broke out after the fire which eventually brought down the Romanian government. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

The government was brought down by the days of protests that followed. "Corruption kills," the protesters banners declaimed.

When I asked how could a fire have brought down a government: "We can put up with so much", they told me.

"But when people start dying and you can see that it was because safety checks weren't made or backhanders were paid - you just have to say, enough".

"This", one of the survivors of the fire told me, "is what happens when as a people you don't pay attention for a very long time."

Children as young as seven openly inhale drugs on the street. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

The nightclub’s owners are yet to speak publicly, facing charges of negligent homicide, while the district mayor who resigned in the face of the protests, denies corruption and illegally approving the club to operate.

On our last day in Romania one of the campaigners we met wanted to show us the work she was doing with street children in Bucharest.

It was a pretty bleak illustration of how those at the bottom of the heap are living whilst so many at the top are skimming off the country's riches.

The sewers have become home to some of Romanian's poorest children. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

She introduced me to a gaggle of kids - from seven to about 17 - none of whom went to school, all of whom lived in the city's sewers.

What do you want from life, I asked them. "A bicycle", they all chorused.

It was both heartbreakingly modest and heartbreakingly out of reach.

Watch On Assignment tonight at 10.40pm on ITV.