x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

Grenfell Tower: Tensions flare as public inquiry begins

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is chairing the inquiry, said the investigation would “provide answers” for survivors

Protesters demonstrated outside the Grenfell Inquiry in London. Retired High Court judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick opened the public inquiry into the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire. Andy Rain/EPA
Protesters demonstrated outside the Grenfell Inquiry in London. Retired High Court judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick opened the public inquiry into the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire. Andy Rain/EPA

One of London’s plushest venues was the setting for the opening of an inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, a disaster which affected some of the poorest people in the capital.

Retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, began the first hearing of the inquiry, held at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn, with a minute’s silence for the victims of the blaze.

 

At least 80 people died earlier this year when a fire broke out on the fourth floor of a 24-storey social housing block in North Kensington.

 

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In his opening speech, Sir Martin vowed the investigation would “provide answers” as to how a tragedy the scale of Grenfell could occur in the 21st century.

"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 said.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick was heckled by survivors for leaving the opening of the inquiry without taking questions. Neil Hall/ EPA
Sir Martin Moore-Bick was heckled by survivors for leaving the opening of the inquiry without taking questions. Neil Hall/ EPA

However, the chairman faced criticism from survivors, many of whom attended the hearing in central London, for failing to appoint a Grenfell resident to the panel.

Explaining his decision, Sir Martin said that appointing a survivor would risk undermining impartiality.

“I know that many of the survivors would like me to appoint someone from among their own number – or perhaps another resident – as one of my assessors,” he said.

“Many of them can, of course, provide valuable evidence and I shall ensure all their evidence is heard and carefully assessed.

“But to appoint someone as an assessor who has had direct involvement in the fire would risk undermining my impartiality in the eyes of others who are also deeply involved in the inquiry.

"I have therefore come to the conclusion that I cannot take the course that they would wish me to adopt."

The former Court of Appeal judge said he understood the “great sense of anger and betrayal” residents felt but that the evidence must be considered “calmly and rationally”.

After delivering his opening statement, Sir Martin left the inquiry without taking any questions, leading to heckles from residents.

At least 80 people died when fire broke out at the 24-storey tower block in June.  Stephen Lock for the National
At least 80 people died when fire broke out at the 24-storey tower block in June. Stephen Lock for the National

Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, who represents Grenfell residents in Parliament, criticised the inquiry for being too narrowly focused as well as the venue of the first hearing, describing the meeting room as a "ballroom, dripping with chandeliers.”

“It says it all... that 'we are from a different world and we're going to do this for you, little people'," she said.  

An interim report is due to be released by April next year.

The inquiry is set to probe the cause and spread of the fire, as well as the actions of the relevant authorities in the aftermath of the disaster.

One particular aspect which will be placed under the microscope, is the refurbishment of the tower, which was completed just one year before the disaster took place at a cost of £9 million (Dh44m).

As part of the refurbishment, the tower was fitted with new cladding, using materials, which had the effect of dousing the building in 32,000 litres of petrol.

A study of the insulation and cladding, led by Angelo Lucchini professor of architectural engineering at the Politecnico Milano, due to be submitted to the inquiry found that the materials used in both components supplied a “fuel load” enough to fill around 600 cars.