The Grenfell Inquiry begins on Monday 6th July, following its suspension due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The inquiry sent out a consultation to Core Participants and interested parties asking for considerations of the following:
Option 1: Suspend hearings until social restrictions have been lifted completely
Option 2: Conduct hearings remotely via a video conferencing platform
Options 3: Resume hearings with limited attendance when social restrictions are partially lifted
The inquiry panel informed all that option three had been selected. What was not made transparent is that ‘limited attendance’ translated into NO access would be given to the Bereaved Survivors and Residents (BSR). Along with their legal teams, they will only have access via livestream on You Tube!
The only people present will be Sir Martin Moore Bick, Thouria Istephan panel colleague, The Inquiries Counsel Richard Millet QC, his legal team, and a journalist from the Press Association.
What is It clear is that the BSR’s were not given all of the facts of ‘limited admittance’ to the proceedings. They thought, or were under the impression that- ‘limited attendance’, meant that some BSRs would be able to attend with social distancing in place. Today’s hearing resumes with evidence from Rydon, the main contractor in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. This has caused serious concerns amongst bereaved families and core participants. Nabil Choucair, who lost six members of his stated-
“We should be allowed to see their faces. We are the families that have had our families taken from us”
It appears that even after these corporate companies were granted ‘immunity’ for their oral evidence by the attorney general – they are now given additional ‘special measures’ to further protect them.
The Grenfell disaster is about the 72 men, women and children who died, and hundreds more who lost their homes and a traumatised community. It now seems evident that the Inquiry is more concerned with building safety issues rather than the impact on people and communities. The request to include and address social inequality and institutional discrimination were omitted from the Inquiry’s terms of reference. J4G has serious concerns that the inquiry only sees Grenfell as a building that ‘failed’ and NOT the people ‘who were failed’. Especially in the wake of the Black Live Matter Movement and the recent Pandemic – , again the question must be asked- Why is it acceptable for BAME c= and working class communities to be considered worthy of only substandard housing and substandard lives. ‘YOUR INTENDED PATH IS,YOUR ATTENDED OUTCOME’;
J4G SAY YOUR PATH SHOULD BE JUSTICE!
This Sunday will mark the third anniversary of the Grenfell fire tragedy.
It’s a particularly painful time to mark the date, as communities affected by the fire are unable to get together and mourn the 72 people who lost their lives.
Some relatives of the dead also say that racism played a role in the tragedy and continues to be a factor in their recovery, and are asking why the ongoing Grenfell Inquiry isn’t considering it.
Please click on the second line on icon below to view the Factsheet on the extension to Attorney General’s undertaking to The Grenfell Tower Inquiry in PDF form.
Please click on the icon below to view the Factsheet on the proposed extension to Attorney General’s undertaking to The Grenfell Tower Inquiry in PDF form.
Resignation of Panel Member
Newly appointed member of the Grenfell Tower inquiry panel, Benita Mehra resigned just two days before the resumption of the inquiry. Lawyers for more than 60 participants had urged her to quit. It was revealed that Ms Mehra, a former president of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), had received funding from the Arconic Foundation for an apprentice conference. Arconic sold the flammable cladding that covered Grenfell Tower. Requests have been made to the Judge and the Cabinet office for a new panel member to appointed swiftly.
Corporates ‘apply for ‘immunity’. LFB and FBU Integrity
There were groans from bereaved families and survivors after an 11th-hour application was lodged by some private companies. Harley Facades, main contractor, Rydon, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation and architects Studio E are asking chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick to write to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC asking for an undertaking that would stop any evidence staff gave being used against them in any future criminal proceedings. The integrity of the Fire Brigade Union and the London Fire Service was applauded as they chose to give evidence with openness and transparency in Phase 1.
Request for Terms of reference to included institutional discrimination
In his opening statement Imran Khan QC, who represented the family of Stephen Lawrence, said the Grenfell inquiry should follow in the footsteps of the MacPherson inquiry into Stephen’s death in addressing the issue of institutional discrimination. He said Inquiry should review and broaden the terms of reference to examine whether the council and tenant management association were guilty of institutional discrimination on issues of race, religion and class. We also think that disability should be included.
Exclusive: Survivors and bereaved call Benita Mehra appointment ‘a slap in the face’
Boris Johnson appointed a key figure to the Grenfell Tower inquiry who has links to the company which made the cladding blamed for accelerating the fatal fire, the Guardian can reveal.
Last month, the prime minister picked Benita Mehra, an engineer, to assist Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired judge who is leading the inquiry into the disaster that claimed 72 lives. Mehra previously ran an organisation that received a £71,000 grant from the charitable arm of Arconic, the US conglomerate that made the aluminium composite cladding panels used on Grenfell.
The inquiry has already found that Arconic’s polyethelyne-filled panels were “the principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up the building”. The Arconic Foundation’s board of directors includes several senior Arconic executives and its stated goal is to support the company’s mission by making grants in countries where it trades.
Survivors and the bereaved said the grant created a clear conflict of interest and described Mehra’s appointment as “a slap in the face” for their hopes of justice. Grenfell United is calling for Mehra to stand down before hearings restart on 27 January with an examination of how the Arconic cladding panels were chosen, their safety testing, marketing and promotion. Mehra is one of two experts selected to help Moore-Bick preside over at least 18 months of hearings into the events leading up to the fire.
“How can she sit next to Sir Martin Moore-Bick when Arconic will be on the stand and is one of the organisations we need answers from in terms of what caused the deaths of our loved ones?” asked Karim Mussilhy, the vice-chair of the survivors and bereaved group GU. “Her society has been supported by Arconic. She will look at it from the perspective of Arconic doing good things for the industry, that they are a great organisation. Her perspective will be affected.”
The Arconic Foundation grant was awarded to the Women’s Engineering Society charity, which Mehra chaired from 2015 and 2018. She helped draft the application and the funds arrived three months after Grenfell in 2017, the charity confirmed. It was the largest grant received that year. Mehra remains a trustee.
The link is particularly sensitive because anger is running high among many survivors at the role played by manufacturers of the combustible cladding and insulation materials used to reclad the tower during its 2016 refurbishment. The families of 69 victims and 177 survivors are separately suing Arconic and other materials manufacturers in the US courts for wrongful death. It has argued any litigation should take place in the UK. The UK government has also banned the use of such panels on high-rise residential buildings.
A spokesperson for the inquiry said it was “confident that Benita Mehra’s former presidency of the Women’s Engineering Society does not affect her impartiality as a panel member”.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said there were “robust processes … [to ensure] any potential conflicts of interest are properly considered and managed”.
“The Arconic Foundation donated to a specific scheme which provides mentoring for women in engineering and is unrelated to the issues being considered by the inquiry,” they said.
The inquiry concluded in October that Arconic’s panels were the main cause of the spread of fire that engulfed the full height of the 24-storey tower in less that 30 minutes on 14 June 2017. Moore-Bick said the panels “melted and acted as a source of fuel for the growing fire”.
“We will be absolutely furious if she is on the platform and it would be morally wrong to keep this person there,” said Mussilhy. “The report from the first phase of the inquiry restored a little bit of confidence. This has taken us ten steps backwards.”
Mehra’s appointment was quietly announced by Downing Street just before Christmas on 23 December, in a move suspected by some of the bereaved and survivors to have been an attempt to avoid public scrutiny and possible legal challenge. Johnson said at the time that Cabinet Office officials had conducted due diligence about Mehra’s appointment, “which has not identified any concerns”.
He told Moore-Bick in a letter: “The [Inquiries] Act is also clear that I must not appoint… a person who has a close association with an interested party unless those links could not reasonably be regarded as affecting the impartiality of the inquiry panel.”
He said: “Ms Mehra has confirmed that she is not aware of any conflict of interest.”
Mehra was a late replacement for Prof Nabeel Hamdi, an expert in housing and planning issues who survivors hoped could better understand the tensions between the council landlord and the tenants that preceded the disaster than Moore-Bick, whose expertise is in construction contracts. Johnson provided no explanation for the move apart from saying Hamdi “was unable to proceed with the appointment”. The Cabinet Office said this week that Hamdi had reflected on the commitment required and decided to withdraw.
Concerned that Mehra lacked his expertise in community relations, Grenfell United decided to investigate her background and found details of the Arconic Foundation’s grant in the annual report and accounts of the Women’s Engineering Society.
The inquiry panel was only introduced by Theresa May after months of pressure from survivors backed by the musician Stormzy to appoint people who understand “the culture at the heart of how people living in social housing are treated”.
A spokesperson for Arconic said the foundation was an independently endowed and managed foundation, with a core goal to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and training worldwide and create access to these fields for girls and women internationally.
“The grant we awarded in 2017 to this particular UK association was purely on this basis,” they said.
QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS –WHO GUARDS THE GUARDS?
The leaking of this report to the media has impacted on the ability of the BSRs and community to have had the time to calmly digest the recommendations made by Inquiry Chairman. The media has started with an onslaught on the firefighters who attended on the night; J4G feel that this outcome was embedded in the initial culture of the Grenfell Tower lnquiry. (GTI )
The fire at Grenfell Tower occurred within a historical background of cuts to public services, deregulation, privatisation, a culture of ignoring the concerns of social housing residents and social inequality. So the GTI should have begun with in this context; it would then have greatly assisted the inquiry’s investigation and subsequent recommendations. Instead the Inquiry began with ‘Act two, Scene 1’ asking details about the fire on that fateful night .The Phase 1 Inquiry ‘stage’ seems to have been pre-set with a determined route that would lead to a determined outcome (blaming the firefighters); with no historical context the route appears to be one that let’s those most accountable namely, government and private companies, off the hook.
The Chairman has made a range of recommendations primarily for the fire service and Owners and Managers of high rise buildings including:
For the Fire Service:
These recommendations all have financial implications which will have to be honored and prioritised by the same government that cut fire service budgets in the past.
For Owners and Managers of high rise buildings he has recommended:
These recommendations could have been made during the duration of the inquiry.
Moore-Bick makes no recommendation for the fitting of sprinkler systems. No recommendation has been made to ban the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise buildings that are not of Euro class Al (the highest classification of reaction to fire in accordance with BS EN 13501-1); again he will look at this in Phase 2.
He does however touch on the lack of urgency by the government on the removal of combustible cladding from current buildings.
In 2010, after six people were killed in a cladding fire at Lakanall House, the coroner made a series of safety recommendations for the government to consider. But these recommendations were sat on by then Minister Gavin Barlow with devastating effects on ehat would happen at Grenfell. There are so many parties’ decisions implicated in the lead up to the fire: the government at all levels; the council; the planning department; the building management company (KCTMO); building inspectors; the building industry as a whole, architects to contractors and manufacturers and retailers.
How could they all have failed in their professional responsibilities and in their duties of care, so abysmally? If the Inquiry had begun with Act 1 scene 1, the Chairman’s recommendations would have looked starkly different and the real ‘villians of the piece’ would have been in the headlines, rather than the firefighters who risked their own lives in a building that no-one should have been living in.
The inquiry must fully investigate all such issues, in addition to purely practical issues such as what technically started the fire, how did it spread, the role of the cladding etc. These matters are vitally important, but they are simply the final act in a long line of actions that (appear to us) to have led, inevitably but predictably, to the Grenfell Tower fire and its attendant loss of life. We submit that, left unchecked, the social, economic and political forces that have led to Grenfell will no doubt lead to further such preventable disasters.
We are also minded that there is nothing on the statute books that makes it mandatory for a government to act on any public inquiry’s recommendations. This will be about political will. Let’s hope they will!
This leaves us to ask the question – QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS –who guards the guards?
RIP to all those whose lives were taken in this tragedy.