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Grenfell Inquiry to examine role of council before fire

15 August 2017

THE PUBLIC inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire will examine the actions of Kensington and Chelsea Council but broader questions on social housing will not be addressed.

Number 10 has published a letter sent to the Prime Minister by the judge heading the inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick. In his letter, he confirms that tin inquiry will focus not only the fire itself, but matters such as the history of the building, its most recent refurbishment, the state of building and fire regulations, and aspects of the relationship between the residents of the tower. He also urged the government to set a start date for the inquiry that is “as soon as possible”. 

In relation to calls for the inquiry to examine social housing policy, Judge Moore-Bick wrote: “I can well understand why local people consider that these are important questions, which require urgent examination. I share their concerns, but on careful reflection I have come to the conclusion that the Inquiry you have asked me to conduct is not the best way of satisfying their wishes. 

“The inclusion of such broad questions within the scope of the Inquiry would raise questions of a social, economic and political nature which in my view are not suitable for a judge-led inquiry.”

The judge has also urged the Prime Minister to allow former residents of Grenfell Tower, who were in the building at the time of the fire, to give evidence. But he warned that some are reluctant to come forwards due to concerns of their immigration status. He has asked Theresa May to dispel any concerns about the long-term immigration status of those witnesses.

Prime Minister Theresa May responded by saying she respects the reasons set out by the chair for not including social housing policy concerns in the Inquiry’s terms of reference, but reassured residents that this doesn’t mean the questions raised will be left unanswered or are somehow seen as a lower priority.

The government will now consider how best to address the social housing issues. Housing minister Alok Sharma will personally meet and hear from as many social housing tenants as possible, both in the immediate area around Grenfell Tower but also across the country to help build up a comprehensive picture of some of the immediate issues facing tenants, as well as to identify any common concerns that must inform any national approach. There will be a further announcement on this work shortly.

The Prime Minister said: “The terms of reference set out by Sir Martin address crucial issues such as the cause of the fire and the adequacy of building and fire regulations, which will allow the inquiry to get to the truth of what happened and learn the lessons to stop a similar catastrophe happening in the future.

“I am determined that the broader questions raised by this fire – including around social housing - are not left unanswered. We are taking action with the housing minister meeting social housing tenants to discuss the challenges they face and we will be setting out further proposals in due course.”

The Justice4Grenfell Campaign believes the remit of Inquiry needs to be widened, a spokesperson said: “We remain of the opinion that the remit does not go far enough and that Kensington and Chelsea Council are not specifically named, when they are clearly culpable.

“We believe that from the start of the process of announcing and setting up the terms of reference of the Inquiry, that the greatest consideration should have been given to the broadest remit possible to ensure all aspects of this avoidable disaster could be examined and lessons learnt to ensure such a disaster never occurs again. 

“The broadening of the Inquiry terms of reference has only been announced following a massive amount of public pressure and this reflects the importance of the community never remaining silent and ensuring that their voices are heard.”