72 dead, no diverse Inquiry panel. How come?

The sarcophagus of Grenfell Tower stands as a monument to what the North Kensington community has endured over the past 9 months. The trauma, pain, exhaustion and anger has led to the blooming of a spirit of resistance, care, support and self-organisation. The community remembers with dignity, on the 14th of every month, in the Silent Walks,72 men, women and children, whose lives were so brutally taken, while families left languishing in hotel rooms wonder in despair, if this is what justice looks like.

It has been 3 months since the last procedural hearing of the Public Inquiry. Three months in which survivors and displaced families have struggled through a quagmire of institutional indifference from the local authority. At the opening of the Inquiry, Leslie Thomas QC asked whether the panel could understand the experiences of the residents from diverse backgrounds. He stated,

“that affects confidence. Confidence or a lack of it affects participation. And a lack of participation from the very people who matter will affect justice”

The Justice 4 Grenfell Campaign demanded a diverse panel in June 2017. Bereaved families took a petition to Downing Street in December asking for the same. It was in the gift of Prime Minister to grant this; she refused. It appeared particularly heartless especially as it was announced over the seasonal break; A PARTICULARY VULNERALBE time for many who were facing their first festive season without their loved ones and where they had little opportunity to challenge her decision.

Theresa May quoted, “I am also very conscious of the need for the inquiry to complete its initial report as quickly as reasonably possible. I therefore consider that additional panel members should not be appointed at this stage,”

Dr. Richard Stone OBE an independent Inquiry Panel member of the Stephen Lawrence Campaign said this about the Grenfell Inquiry Panel,

“They will have to be a diverse group, which ensures that the experiences of the whole range of people affected by the fire are in the ear of the judge from the earliest moment. From my previous experience, I would argue that civil servants or government officials should not be involved in the choice of any ‘independent’ person within the Inquiry team. I have found in some senior officials an almost irresistible desire to maintain control even of officially ‘independent’ Inquiries. The team must be absolutely independent, from the outset.

Once again, the survivors and bereaved families have had to turn to the community and ordinary people up and down the country for support. Following Justice4Grenfell’s ‘3 Billboards’ Campaign and Grime Artist Stormzy’s timely reminder to the Prime minister at the Brits not to forget the horror of what happened to Grenfell; the petition got over the 100,000 signatures to trigger a debate in parliament. This has raised serious questions about the commitment of this Inquiry to put those most impacted at the heart of the Inquiry. The date for the parliamentary debate is set for 14th May 2018 – this is the very date of the 11-month anniversary of the Grenfell Fire; the community holds a Silent Walk on the 14th of each month and it is also the first day of Ramadan!!!

Justice4Grenfell and the community of Grenfell’s expectations of this second procedural hearing are near zero and until the demand for a diverse, equal decision-making panel has been granted, we enter the doors of Holborn Bars with the question still firmly in our minds:

“72 dead, no diverse Inquiry Panel, how come?