A public inquiry into Grenfell fire opens to ‘provide answers’

The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has opened today (Thursday 14th September), three months after the disaster claimed at least 80 lives.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is heading the investigation into Britain’s worst ever tower block fire, has said the inquiry “will provide answers” for those affected, including what caused the blaze.

The first hearing opened at the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London today with a minute’s silence for the victims before Sir Martin said that the major fire, which broke out at the tower block in the early hours of the 14th June, was a “tragedy unprecedented in modern times.”

He added that those undertaking the inquiry were “acutely aware that so many people died and that many of those who survived have been severely affected. We are also conscious that many have lost everything.

“The inquiry cannot undo any of that, but it can and will provide answers to how a disaster of this kind could happen in 21st Century London.”

No evidence was heard on the first day of the hearing but the chairman outlined the scope of the investigation, which includes:

  • The cause and spread of the fire
  • The design, construction and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower
  • The scope and adequacy of the relevant regulations relating to high-rise buildings
  • Whether the relevant legislation and guidance were complied with in the case of Grenfell Tower
  • The actions of the local authority and other bodies before the tragedy
  • The response of the London Fire Brigade to the fire and the response of central and local government in the aftermath

An interim report from the inquiry is expected to be published by Easter 2018.

Sir Martin said the inquiry would be separated into two phases. The first, he explained, would address the “urgent need” to identify how the fire developed, looking at which parts of the tower’s design and construction played a role in enabling the tragedy to unfold.

He said this was “important because if there are similar defects in other high-rise buildings, steps must be taken quickly to ensure those who live in them are kept safe.”

The second, perhaps more complicated, stage of the inquiry will focus on how the building came to be so exposed to the risk of a major fire in this way.

This part of the investigation will focus on the decisions made about the tower’s management, the reasons behind these, and whether attempts to cut costs could have led to the fatalities.

The actions of Royal Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council will be examined as part of this phase. The former leader of the Council, Nick Paget-Brown has already resigned in the wake of the disaster.

oday, Sir Martin told the hearing that he acknowledged the “great sense of anger and betrayal” felt by the Grenfell community, explaining that he would examine the evidence “calmly and rationally” and assuring people that he would “not shrink” from making recommendations that may lead to civil or criminal prosecution.

Some of those among the survivors from the tragic blaze, the bereaved and their supporters, have criticised the lack of diversity among the inquiry panel and have rejected Sir Martin as a member of the establishment. Some have heckled him during his earlier public appearances, while many have also called for a person from the Grenfell community to be appointed to the panel.

Sir Martin has rejected this proposal though, saying it would “risk undermining impartiality.”

Solicitor Jhangir Mahmood, who represents several of the families affected by the Grenfell disaster, said that there remains a “huge level of mistrust” among survivors who do not feel that “they have been listened to.”

He added that Sir Martin “really needs to take that on board. Today wasn’t an example of him listening.

“Today was simply him laying down the rule book about how he wants to conduct the inquiry.”

Meanwhile, Labour MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, voiced concerns that some questions may remain unanswered.

For instance, she asked: “Why this has all happened, how was this allowed to happen and how the council was sitting on a third of a billion pounds worth of reserves and saved £100,000 on the cladding, all of those issues, will they be answered?”

A spokesperson for the government said it was confident, however, that the inquiry would “get to truth of what happened and learn the lessons to stop a similar catastrophe happening in the future.”

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has previously spoken out to say that the inquiry must also act as a “watershed” moment for fire safety in the UK.

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A fire safety and health and safety Training Officer at FRT, explains: “The Grenfell Tower block fire was a disaster on a massive scale, and our thoughts are, as ever, with all of those affected by this horrific event.

“We hope that they get answers and that this investigation will lead to positive actions to ensure that this can never happen to people ever again.

“Organisations, employers and individuals all have responsibilities when it comes to protecting the health, safety and welfare of themselves and others.

“Since the Lofstedt Review in 2011, there have been a number of measures introduced to deregulate health and safety in the UK, with much talk of ‘cutting red tape’ and reducing burdensome costs for businesses.

“Now we have seen what this deregulation can lead to, however, and that health and safety measures are not a burden but instead offer protection for businesses, employees and the general public.”

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Grenfell Tower Inquiry Block of flats chosen to house Grenfell survivors found to have ‘high’ fire risk