13:42, July 07 71 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-07 13:42:03
The need for the Grenfell inquiry to address survivors’ fears

According to Anne Perkins the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster is not a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), and she implies that it shouldn’t be (The Grenfell inquiry has to put cold facts before emotions, 7 July). Surely that is exactly what it should be. The desirable outcome is that the survivors should feel better, for which they require three main things: to be heard, to be rehoused and have their losses made good as far as possible, and to know that action will be taken to prevent similar tragedies elsewhere. A tribunal is inevitably seen as allocating blame for wrongdoing, which puts those responsible on the defensive and gives them an incentive to conceal or minimise their actions; a TRC (in this context, unlike those in South Africa and elsewhere) implies that the harm was caused by mistakes, with an incentive to learn from them, put them right, and apologise. It should be led by a professional facilitator, whose focus would be humane, not legalistic, assisted by assessors to deal with technical recommendations about action to be taken.

Martin Wright

London

It has taken a generation for the truth about Hillsborough to be established and still no culprit has paid a price. Fears that the Grenfell disaster will suffer a similar fate are well-founded and reflect clearly the inclination of the establishment. It wasn’t ever thus though.

After the sinking of the Titanic on 15 April 1912 every aspect of the horrendous events – the loss of life, the competence of the crew, the design of the ship, the performance of the rescue, the evacuation procedures – was under the spotlight. Families wanted answers, shipbuilders wanted a cover-up, politicians ran for cover. This was a monumental human and engineering and professional standards catastrophe. The result was a US Senate inquiry. Senator William Smith conducted it. Hearings began on 19 April 1912 and concluded, 18 days later, on 25 May. It incorporated the UK inquiry, was 19 pages long and made 14 key recommendations that changed safety law and practice for ever.

Done and dusted in six weeks. Similar timely justice was meted out to Enron and Arthur Andersen whereas here Barclays is still untouched after a decade.

John Smith

Sheffield

It is becoming abundantly clear that Martin Moore-Bick is not going to command the respect of the survivors of Glenfell Tower to lead a public inquiry. The government, and Theresa May in particular, does not have a good track record in being able to satisfy victims in the selection of inquiry chairs. Better choices – that could be suggested to the survivors, and their choice is both critical and necessary – could be Michael Mansfield or Lord Saville of Newdigate, both of whom excelled themselves in respect of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

Canon David Jennings

Canon theologian, Leicester Cathedral

They just don’t get it, do they? Of course the Grenfell community do not feel comfortable with the retired judge chosen to lead it. Consider: a double-barrelled name, public-school and Cambridge background. Of course he is highly intelligent, mightily experienced, and his sincerity is beyond question – but still one of “them”, not one of us.

Why not a triumvirate: a civil engineer graduate from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, whose grandad was a miner; a woman lawyer, graduate of Liverpool University, whose mum was a primary school teacher in Birmingham; and an architect graduate of the University of London, whose dad drove a black cab? Does some such bear thinking about in this 21st century?

Howard W Hilton

Audlem, Cheshire

Quite understandably, the Grenfell Tower survivors are deeply concerned about the limited scope of the public inquiry into the disaster (An inquiry into cladding will not do justice to Grenfell, 4 July). Your article states that the terms of reference “are set by the minister when appointing the inquiry chair”. The question has to be asked: “Why?” (with “in God’s name” potentially added). We should all have learned from Hillsborough that there is a danger of the perception of a back-covering exercise. At the very least, we are immediately back in the territory of decisions being handed down from on high, and residents having no input into issues that affect their lives.

Having worked across the UK to develop participatory budgeting (PB) – where residents have direct decision-making powers over some public budgets – I’m reasonably confident that had a participatory approach to decision-making been adopted at Grenfell, the disaster may well have been avoided. We’ve worked with several tenants’ groups to allocate refurbishment funds in social housing areas: residents were able to draw on relevant technical support to inform their decision-making processes, but theirs was the final call. Had this approach been available to the Grenfell residents, I suspect that the re-cladding undertaken at Grenfell wouldn’t have been top of their priorities list.

On a broader point, had PB been adopted in Kensington and Chelsea, I imagine the £274m surplus currently sloshing around in the council’s bank account might have been put to better use. While loath to endorse Michael Gove’s pronouncement on the country being “sick of experts”, the charred carcase of Grenfell Tower unequivocally demonstrates the limitations of top-down decision making.

Alan Budge

PB Partners, Buxton, Derbyshire

I shuddered when I read the report of community groups and independent lawyers trying to pull together a definitive list of the victims, survivors and missing in the Grenfell Tower disaster (Volunteer experts launch DIY tally of the missing and dead, 1 July).

After the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013, I interviewed a local community activist who told me how he and his colleagues had mobilised a team of student volunteers in the immediate aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster. They had conducted gruelling physical searches and a house-to-house survey of those reported dead, injured and missing. The numbers were collated and cross-checked by skilled volunteers and the final of figure of 1,134 dead, now widely accepted as an accurate measure of the scale of tragedy, has been used to hold those responsible to account. The activist said he had done this as an immediate reaction because “everyone knew the government would lie and that there would be a cover-up”.

Bangladesh ranks 145th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s corruption index. The UK is currently listed as 10th alongside Germany and Luxembourg, and yet the people affected by the Grenfell Tower are still relying on volunteers and the local community to assemble a list of dead and missing.

As I remember the actions of that heroic Bangladeshi activist and of the decades-long struggle of the Hillsborough families to discover the truth, I wonder if this is the kind of “big society” that David Cameron et al once envisaged, and how much longer the UK can think of itself as a champion of democracy and fair play.

Phoebe Beedell

Lostwithiel, Cornwall

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