Grenfell Tower inquiry: what have we heard so far?
Official probe to hear first evidence on cause and spread of the fire
The Grenfell Tower inquiry will begin hearing evidence this week on the cause and spread of the deadly fire, following the completion of seven days of tributes to the victims.
Five expert reports “detailing the cause of the inferno and why it spread so quickly are to be published as the inquiry hears an opening statement from its top lawyer”, says The Daily Telegraph.
The reports, published on the inquiry website, also include analysis of the effectiveness of the fire protection measures within the building. The blaze at the west London tower block on 14 June last year claimed 72 lives.
“The fact-finding stage of the inquiry will begin with an all-day address by lead counsel Richard Millett QC,” says ITV News.
“A provisional schedule indicates that a submission from Harley Facades, the firm which installed the cladding on Grenfell Tower, will also be read into record.”
What has the inquiry heard so far?
Commemoration hearings came to a close last Wednesday, following seven days of tributes and memories from the families and friends of the people who died.
Footage controversy: On the penultimate day of these tributes, last Tuesday, a video of the fire was shown to the inquiry without any prior warning about the content. Some of the bereaved fled in tears, with one person collapsing after suffering a panic attack outside.
Bernard Richmond QC, counsel to the inquiry, was forced to pause the video after proceedings were interrupted by the flashing lights from an ambulance called to the scene.
According to the Metro, Richmond acknowledged “his failure to warn survivors about the shocking imagery”, saying: “I’m sorry that the warning that should have been put out didn’t get put out.”
Pride for victims: The inquiry also heard how one family - Kamru Miah, 79, Rabeya Begum, 64, Mohammed Hamid, 27, Mohammed Hanif, 26 and Husna Begum, 22 - died together in the fire, after refusing to abandon their elderly parents in their 17th floor flat.
The sole remaining immediate family member, Mohammed Hakim, 32, told the inquiry: “I can say with my hand on my heart that I am extremely proud of my family remaining close to each other in their last moments before passing away.
“I am even more proud as a brother that my siblings did not leave my parents behind, even though they might have had the chance to escape.”
No escape: The daughter of a 65-year-old disabled woman who died in the blaze criticised Kensington and Chelsea council for housing her mother on the 18th floor of the block. According to the BBC, Nazanin Aghlani said that Sakineh Afrasiab's “human right to escape” was impeded by housing her so high up.
The inquiry heard how the council initially assured Aghlani that she would not be allocated a flat above the fourth floor of any building.
But “after being refused many suitable properties”, “out of desperation” she moved into an 18th floor flat in Grenfell Tower in 2016.
Missing ministers: There were complaints from survivors that neither the housing secretary, James Brokenshire, nor the housing minister, Dominic Raab, had plans to attend the hearing.
“The ministers are not here, it’s terrible,” Hamid Wahabi, who lived on the 16th floor of the block, told The Guardian. “Some have sent officials. But this is the time we want everyone to see [our] feelings.”
“If they came to listen to the bereaved, about how they lived, their families, their children and education they will have some feeling of empathy,” said Sid-Ali Atmani, 42, who lived on the 15th floor. “They have been looking at things professionally and politically. If they came they would see it emotionally. They have missed an opportunity. This is the most important part of the inquiry in terms of understanding what really went wrong.”
Enormous variety: So far, “these testimonies have suggested opposite things”, says The Guardian’s Ian Jack. “One, that people are different. Two, that they are much the same.”
The people who lived in Grenfell Tower “represented an enormous variety of birth countries, languages, diets and customs”, he writes. And yet, “on the evidence of the hearings, they managed to live harmoniously”. In the words of Michael Mansfield QC, counsel to a group of the victims, “London should have been proud of this community”.
What happens next?
The inquiry will now examine reports by expert witnesses looking in detail at how the fire spread over the building's external facade, including the cladding and insulation.
Another report will look at the fire protection measures within the building, and give preliminary conclusions on the extent to which they failed to control the spread of fire and smoke.
These findings may inform an interim report that inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick will be publishing.
Throughout the week, Moore-Bick “is to hear opening statements from a range of core participants”, says The Daily Telegraph.
This will include lawyers representing survivors and bereaved families, the Metropolitan Police, Kensington and Chelsea council, and firms involved in the block’s final refit.
“More harrowing evidence is likely to emerge in July,” when firefighters “will speak about how they fought the blaze and carried out search and rescue operations as the staircases filled with smoke”, says The Guardian.
The second stage, which may not begin until next year, will look at the lead-up to the fire, including decisions made about the refurbishment of the building by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.