Grenfell TowerImage copyright Reuters

A public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 80 people in June, officially opens later.

It will examine the cause and spread of the fire, high-rise regulations, and the actions of the local authority.

The head of the investigation, retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, will give a 45-minute statement which will be watched by residents and victims.

No evidence will be heard on the first day of the hearing, and an interim report is expected by Easter.

The fire started in a fridge freezer and spread quickly through the 24-storey tower block in North Kensington, in the early hours of 14 June.

A BBC investigation found that it took 30 minutes for a high ladder – used to tackle exterior blazes on high-rises building – to reach the site.

In August it was announced that the actions of Kensington and Chelsea Council, which operated the block, were to be examined by the inquiry.

The council was criticised for its immediate response to the fire, which led former leader Nick Paget-Brown to resign.

The full terms of reference for the public inquiry, which have been accepted in full by the prime minister, are:

  • The cause and spread of the fire
  • The design, construction and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower
  • The scope and adequacy of the relevant regulations relating to high-rise buildings
  • Whether the relevant legislation and guidance were complied with in the case of Grenfell Tower
  • The actions of the local authority and other bodies before the tragedy
  • The response of the London Fire Brigade to the fire and the response of central and local government in the aftermath

‘Nightmare continues’

Miguel Alves, who escaped the fire, said residents wanted justice, and for either people or institutions responsible to be held to account.

“It’s very important for us that they will come out with some outcome, some justice,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“This is a big opportunity for things to be changed in the near future. If we save lives from now, at least it’s something.”

Shah Aghlani, who lost his mother and aunt in the fire, said: “The nightmare continues as it was like the first night.

“We’re desperately seeking a beginning of an end. And hopefully this inquiry would start this beginning of an end.”

The former Court of Appeal judge will deliver his statement from the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London. He will not take questions afterwards.

Survivors and victims’ families are expected to gather in Notting Hill Methodist Church to watch Sir Martin’s opening statement live on a screen.

A silent march is planned for later on Thursday at the church.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Martin had faced calls to step down as inquiry head

The inquiry has yet to decide which potential witnesses will be granted “core participant status”, which entitles them to see evidence, and suggest lines of questioning.

Since his appointment, there have been calls from some of the survivors for Sir Martin, who was chosen by the prime minister, to stand down.

Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad said they needed somebody they could trust, not a “technocrat” who lacked “credibility”.

Speaking ahead of the inquiry, she said she was doubtful it would answer the questions: who was accountable, why was the fire “allowed to happen” and are we going to change the funding of social housing?

She also said the inquiry should look at how social tenants are seen by wider society.

“There’s a lot of people who treat social tenants as less than human,” she told BBC Breakfast.

‘Social housing neglect’

Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey said he was concerned ministers would use the inquiry as “an excuse” for further delaying urgent action needed to support survivors and to ensure the safety of high-rise tenants across the UK.

He said the inquiry should be addressing “serious questions about the neglect of social housing”, adding Sir Martin should be “free to roam much wider” but that has been “cut off by the prime minister”.

After the tragedy, survivors were told by the prime minister that every person made homeless by the fire would receive an offer of accommodation within three weeks.

Three months on, however, only three of the 196 households who needed rehoming have moved into permanent accommodation offered by the council.

Four are in the process of making their temporary accommodation permanent, but most are still living in hotels.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, questions were raised about the adequacy of regulations for tower blocks across the UK.

Cladding installed on Grenfell Tower in a recent refurbishment has come under scrutiny.

Documents seen by the BBC suggest the cladding was changed to a cheaper, less fire resistant version part way through the building work to save nearly £300,000.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption At least 80 people died at Grenfell Tower

Since the fire, tower blocks with similar cladding and foam insulation across the country have failed new fire tests.

On Wednesday, London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton said Grenfell Tower was a “turning point” and called for all high-rise council buildings to be retro-fitted with sprinklers, which were not in Grenfell Tower.

A BBC Breakfast investigation which focused on half the UK’s council and housing association-owned tower blocks found just 2% have full sprinkler systems.

Sprinklers have been compulsory in England for buildings over 30m constructed since 2007.

But these regulations were not applied retroactively and therefore did not apply to Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here