13:44, June 11 166 0 theguardian.com

2020-06-11 13:44:04
Black Britain matters  The Guardian view on the Grenfell inquiry: justice delayed

It is three more weeks before the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire emerges from lockdown. On Sunday, the bereaved and survivors will mark the three-year anniversary since the disaster tore their lives apart with a programme of remote commemoration. It is a mark of the wider importance of their campaign for justice that, two weeks ago, Black Lives Matter protesters ended their march at the foot of the North Kensington ruin.

Events preceding the inquiry’s closure in mid-March left victims justifiably angry. In January, one of two panellists appointed by the government to advise the inquiry was forced to step down. Benita Mehra was revealed by the Guardian to have run an organisation that received a grant linked to one of the contractors on the refurbishment. Then the hearings were paused for most of February while witnesses sought assurances from the attorney general, Suella Braverman, that their oral evidence would not be used against them in any future prosecutions.

This immunity does not apply to other evidence, including police statements. But the double disruption undermined confidence in the government, since Ms Mehra was appointed without the conflict of interest being discovered and initially resisted calls to step down. It also fuelled suspicions that delay will be a tactic of the companies involved in the refurbishment. For the families hungry for justice, the longer they have to wait, the greater the loss.

Already, evidence has revealed that the fire engineers on the refurbishment, Exova, knew that the cladding would fail in the event of a fire, while the architects, Studio E, lacked relevant experience and believed they would not have won the contract had it been put out to tender. In an email, Jane Trethewey, the housing strategy and regeneration manager at Kensington and Chelsea council, said that Grenfell was “one of its worst property assets” and recladding would “prevent it looking like a poor cousin”.

While the disaster’s survivors have passed lockdown in an awkward limbo, thousands of other people have spent it in blocks covered in unsafe cladding. Ensuring that another fire like Grenfell never happens again has been among the Grenfell campaign’s aims from the start. Now, frustration at the stalled inquiry is mirrored in concerns about inaction over safety and housing more widely. While £1bn was allocated in March’s budget to strip off cladding, the government has yet to publish a promised white paper strengthening tenants’ rights.

Already there are resemblances between the picture of costcutting and outsourcing emerging from the Grenfell inquiry, and aspects of the UK’s Covid-19 response. In both building regulation and pandemic planning, health and safety appear to have been overridden by other concerns. Grenfell’s survivors fought hard for their inquiry, and again for hearings to resume in person rather than online. The support for their cause shown by anti-racist activists in recent weeks is a reminder of just how much it matters.

Topics