Grenfell Tower fire: Inquiry 'can and will provide answers'

Grenfell TowerImage copyright Reuters

A public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 80 people in June, has officially opened.

It will examine the cause and spread of the fire, high-rise regulations and the actions of the local authority.

The head of the investigation, retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is giving a 45-minute statement which is being watched by residents and victims.

He said the inquiry "can and will provide answers" on how the disaster could occur in 21st Century London.

A minute's silence was held for victims of the disaster on the first day of the inquiry.

'Risk impartiality'

Sir Martin said the blaze was a "tragedy unprecedented in modern times".

"We are 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," he added.

Sir Martin also rejected calls from survivors to appoint a person from the Grenfell community as an adviser on the inquiry panel as it would "risk undermining impartiality".

He told the hearing he recognised the "great sense of anger and betrayal" felt by those affected by the blaze - and would examine evidence "calmly and rationally".

Sir Martin said he would "not shrink" from making any findings or recommendations "simply because someone else may consider that they form the basis of civil or criminal liability".

No evidence is being heard on the first day of the hearing and an interim report is expected by Easter.

The fire started in a fridge freezer and spread quickly through the 24-storey tower block in North Kensington, in the early hours of 14 June.

A BBC investigation found that it took 30 minutes for a high ladder[1] - used to tackle exterior blazes on high-rises building - to reach the site.

In August it was announced that the actions of Kensington and Chelsea Council, which operated the block, were to be examined by the inquiry.

The council was criticised for its immediate response to the fire, which led former leader Nick Paget-Brown to resign[2].

The full terms of reference for the public inquiry, which have been accepted in full by the prime minister, are:

  • 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

'Nightmare continues'

Miguel Alves, who escaped the fire, said residents wanted justice, and for either people or institutions responsible to be held to account.

"It's very important for us that they will come out with some outcome, some justice," he told BBC Breakfast.

"This is a big opportunity for things to be changed in the near future.If we save lives from now, at least it's something."

Shah Aghlani, who lost his mother and aunt in the fire, said:"The nightmare continues as it was like the first night.

"We're desperately seeking a beginning of an end.And hopefully this inquiry would start this beginning of an end."

Image caption Tomasina Hessel says it is important individuals responsible for the block are held to account

However, Tomasina Hessel, who lost her home in the blaze, fears the inquiry will not go far enough.

"It won't look at social housing, we don't think it will look deep enough into the relationship between the tenant management organisation and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea," she said.

"I'm not sure it will go in-depth to identify which individuals are responsible for which decisions, which I think is really important if we are going to hold them to account."

The former Court of Appeal judge is delivering his statement from the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London.He will not take questions afterwards.

Survivors and victims' families have gathered in Notting Hill Methodist Church to watch Sir Martin's opening statement live on a screen.

A silent march is planned for later on Thursday at the church.

Image copyright PA Image caption Sir Martin had faced calls to step down as inquiry head

The inquiry has yet to decide which potential witnesses will be granted "core participant status", which entitles them to see evidence, and suggest lines of questioning.

Since his appointment, there have been calls from some of the survivors[3] for Sir Martin, who was chosen by the prime minister, to stand down.

Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad said they needed somebody they could trust,[4] not a "technocrat" who lacked "credibility".

Speaking ahead of the inquiry, she said she was doubtful it would answer the questions:who was accountable, why was the fire "allowed to happen" and are we going to change the funding of social housing?

She also said the inquiry should look at how social tenants are seen by wider society.

"There's a lot of people who treat social tenants as less than human," she told BBC Breakfast.

'Social housing neglect'

Labour's shadow housing secretary John Healey said he was concerned ministers would use the inquiry as "an excuse" for further delaying urgent action needed to support survivors and to ensure the safety of high-rise tenants across the UK.

He said the inquiry should be addressing "serious questions about the neglect of social housing", adding Sir Martin should be "free to roam much wider" but that has been "cut off by the prime minister"....

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