14:57, June 29 80 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-29 14:57:02
Survivors tell Grenfell inquiry chair the remit is too narrow

Residents and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have told the judge heading the inquiry they are unhappy with its narrow remit and want a broader investigation into the causes and aftermath of the disaster that killed at least 80 people.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who was named as inquiry chairman on Thursday, cautioned that he was doubtful it would be as wide-ranging as many residents hope.

Meeting the bereaved and survivors on Thursday morning, the former court of appeal judge engaged with their suspicions and was candid about the restrictions under which he would work.

“I’ve been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development, in order to make recommendations as to how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future,” Moore-Bick said afterwards.

“I’m well aware that residents want a much broader investigation ... whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I’m more doubtful. There may be other ways in which that desire for an investigation can be satisfied.

“I would hope to be able to answer basic factual questions such as: how did the fire start, how did it spread, how was it able to engulf the whole of the building at such speed? And also questions such as what internal precautions there were, what steps were available for alerting residents and for allowing them to escape.”

Moore-Bick’s appointment was questioned because of his 2014 decision to allow Westminster council to rehouse a tenant in Milton Keynes, 50 miles away from her home. Asked about the case he said: “I was rather surprised to see myself described as controversial. The case you described is one of many that I decided over my time as a judge.”

Pilgrim Tucker, a housing campaigner who worked with Grenfell Action Group to expose the safety flaws at the tower, said: “Residents pleaded with Theresa May to involve them in the decision-making about the inquiry. In appointing Sir Martin Moore-Bick, she has ignored them and appointed a completely inappropriate judge. We can have no faith that this inquiry will produce justice for Grenfell residents.”

Moore-Bick visited the burnt-out tower as police recovery teams continued to pick through the scene where at least 80 people died. He went on to nearby St Clement’s church, where he met survivors from the tower and residents of the wider estate.

Outside the church, some locals were sceptical as they left the meeting. Joe Delaney, 37, lives in the estate near the tower and expressed concerns about the breadth of the inquiry. “He seems a genuine guy. He gave us a bit of a preamble about his background. He seems to want to keep the scope very narrow, to do with why the fire spread so quickly, while we are more looking at why was it started in the first place, why were residents ignored,” he said.

His neighbour Jamal Williams said: “I think we need to call for a parallel inquiry. I think the inquiry is going to be very narrow, that is what I have come to understand.

“There needs to be a separate focus on social housing and systemic failures and I don’t know if that is coming out of this.”

Such fears were not shared by all who met the judge. Olesea Matcovschi, the chair of the Lancaster West Residents Association, said: “We are glad that the residents were consulted, we had a chance to meet the person in charge of the public inquiry. We are going to work closely. It looks like he was pretty open.

“We told him what we expected for the public inquiry, so we will see how it goes, it is too early to say if the public inquiry satisfies our concerns.”

Salah Duale, who escaped from the third floor with his wife and two grownup children, said survivors were unhappy that they had not been consulted on the appointment of the judge, and that many were critical of the choice.

“People have been saying ‘Surely we should have a say in the appointment of this person’,” Duale, a black-cab driver, said. “Some people have been saying it would have been better to have a judge with a background in criminal law.”

Another resident, who did not want to be named, told the Guardian: “He candidly admitted that he didn’t think he was entirely qualified to get into the aftermath of the fire and how the response broke down and secondly how the fire was symptomatic of 40 years of neglect of social housing, which we the residents want. Those issues may require another public or a parliamentary inquiry.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, which supports relatives in coroners’ courts, said: “For this inquiry to have any confidence of those affected – residents, survivors and the bereaved – they must have meaningful input into the terms of reference. Nothing less will ensure the wide-ranging scrutiny that this inquiry needs.

“A critical part of the investigation needs to look at previous fires and what happened to coroners’ recommendations in those cases. There’s concern that such recommendations have no statutory force behind them.”

Sailesh Mehta, a barrister at Red Lion chambers in London who specialises in prosecutions relating to criminal responsibility for fatal fires, said: “This is the most significant public inquiry over the past 20 years. The criminal inquiry will take its own course. It would be wrong for the public inquiry to wait until [a trial had been held].”

Jolyon Maugham QC said it was disappointing the government was not consulting publicly on the terms of reference. “That seems to me to be an act of unnecessary self-sabotage,” he suggested. “They should enable the communities to appoint counsel to the inquiry and then could have negotiated over what the terms of reference should be.”