14:18, March 20 150 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-20 14:18:04
Grenfell inquiry to have most core participants in UK history

More than 530 individuals and organisations have been granted core participant status for the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry, which resumes preliminary hearings on Wednesday.

The number of accredited parties underlines the breadth of the disaster’s impact and the challenge facing Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the retired appeal court judge chairing the investigation. Three individuals are being allowed to remain anonymous.

It is believed to be the largest number accredited to a public inquiry in the UK. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, established in 2014, which is examining multiple allegations and locations, has so far granted core participant status to 302 people and organisations.

The second preliminary session is expected to fix a firm date for the first evidence to be heard. The Grenfell inquiry has previously said it intends to begin substantive hearings in May and before 4 June at the latest.

There is likely to be further discussion at the hearing on Wednesday about how the 71 victims of the fire should be appropriately commemorated.

The timetable for delivering expert reports commissioned by the inquiry will be closely watched. The studies include assessments of the cause and spread of the fire in the flat where it started, ignition of cladding and insulation on the tower’s facade, fire protection measures and statutory building regulations. The reports are due to be sent to core participants by 30 March, but are supposed to remain confidential.

Differences about the venue for the main hearings and whether there should be an expert panel sitting alongside the judge are expected to surface again.

Survivors and bereaved relatives have asked Moore-Bick to reverse his refusal to appoint an expert panel. In December, the prime minister rejected a petition from them urging this in order to diversify the inquiry.

A debate on the issue is scheduled in parliament on 14 May after a petition “to ensure those affected have confidence in and are willing to fully participate in the inquiry” attracted more than 150,000 signatures, including high-profile backing from the grime artist Stormzy.

The survivors’ group Grenfell United has consulted families involved in the Hillsborough disaster ahead of the inquiry. It wants the main hearings to be held in a venue large enough to accommodate everyone who wishes to attend.

Shahin Sadafi, the chairman of Grenfell United, said: “The Grenfell Tower inquiry matters not just for the Grenfell community, but for everyone across the UK. Everyone has the right to feel safe and protected in their homes – that includes people living in social housing. No one should have been treated the way we were.

“Nothing will bring our loved ones back, but we fight on for truth and justice, to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again.

“Survivors and bereaved were promised that the inquiry would place our voices at the centre and that ‘no stone would be left unturned’. So we are asking for two things: an expert panel of decision-makers to sit alongside the judge and the right for our lawyers to question witnesses on our behalf.

“These are reasonable requests that we believe will offer a better chance of truth, justice and change.”

The inquiry has said lawyers for core participants will be able to question witnesses “with the permission” of the chairman, and as long as they have given five days’ notice of questions.

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