Grenfell inquiry set to begin proceedings

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Almost a year after the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people, an independent public inquiry into the disaster is set to begin its proceedings in London on Monday.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry will open with two weeks of commemorations from family and friends of the deceased, who will pay tribute to their loved ones at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in South Kensington.

Following this, the inquiry will be split into two phases. The first, beginning on June 4, will examine the events that unfolded on the night of June 14, 2017, along with fire safety and prevention measures in place at Grenfell Tower and the response of emergency services.

In the second phase, the question of whether a refurbishment carried out by local authorities made the building more dangerous, and the efficacy of the “stay put” policy in the event of a fire will be examined. 

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry was formally opened in September 2017 by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a former Court of Appeal judge who was chosen by Prime Minister Theresa May to lead the public inquiry as chairman. 

The inquiry is said to have the largest number of participants ever approved to a public probe in the United Kingdom, with 547 appointed so far.

However, the inquiry has been met with criticism and distrust by campaigners and some survivors since it was first announced, who have called for representation at the inquiry and better building regulations.

Muddled response

To the anger of many, an independent review into building regulations, published on Thursday, failed to recommend any bans on flammable cladding, which is thought to have contributed to the speed at which the fire spread through Grenfell Tower.

Commissioned in the wake of the disaster, the review led by Dame Judith Hackitt, the former chairwoman of the Health and Safety Executive, instead emphasised the need for an overhaul of the regulatory framework of high-rise buildings.

This came a day after May announced the government would pledge £400m ($538m) to strip flammable cladding off of social housing tower blocks, following pressure from the opposition Labour party as well as statements from local councils and housing associations who said they did not have sufficient funds to complete the process themselves.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s appointment as chairman of the inquiry has caused concern among some survivors and campaigners [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Campaign co-ordinator of Justice4Grenfell, Yvette Williams, said the report didn’t go far enough in redressing the issue of flammable cladding. 

“We’re having a big discussion about banning plastic straws. I’m not sure of any plastic straws responsible for killing 72 people,” she said. 

Moore-Bick’s appointment initially caused concern among activists and survivors after he refused to appoint a survivor to the inquiry panel because it “risked undermining impartiality”, resulting in a petition calling for a more diverse decision-making panel, which was signed by more than 156,000 people. 

Despite having rejected calls in December and resisting subsequent pressure from survivors, bereaved families and campaign groups, May announced on May 11 she had approved the addition of two panel members capable of examining the cultural and community factors that contributed to the fire to sit alongside the chairman.

Dark moment in British history

Survivors and campaigners have had to fight for representation in the independent inquiry[Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

Adel Chowdhury from the Grenfell Muslim Response Unit welcomed May’s announcement, saying  it was imperative to keep “the people we have lost, the bereaved families” and those “permanently effected” at the centre of the inquiry.

“We advise the panel to recognise and appreciate that this tragedy was more than just a fire. It was and will now forever be a dark moment in our history,” said Chowdhury.

“We encourage the panel to focus on the community itself, and the efficacy of the response, as well as how we can and must avoid any tragedies like this in the future; not just for the people of Grenfell, and not just for the people of Britain, but out of a commitment to the sanctity of human life itself.” 

For Williams, however, May’s reversal came far too late.

“It took too long to have a diverse panel. Theresa May hasn’t made it clear if those additional panel members will have equal decision-making powers as the judge. It’s still being left in the chairman’s hands to make decisions for us. But he doesn’t understand us,” she said.  


Williams also said technical jargon was being used to exclude the two additional members from the first phase of the inquiry.

“It’s important for the additional panel members to be on board from phase one, but the inquiry are saying there are going to be loads of complex technical terms. It is imperative that the inquiry explain those complex technical terms in plain English.

“Grenfell isn’t about the building, it’s about the people, and I think that’s been lost in all of this.”

The two additional experts are expected to join the second phase of the inquiry that begins in December. 

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