Grenfell Tower: Who is Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the judge heading up the public inquiry?

Retired Lord Justice of Appeal presided over controversial case which would have 'given green light for councils to engage in social cleansing'

Caroline Mortimer
Thursday 29 June 2017 23:27
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Sir Martin Moore-Bick reading floral tributes to the victims outside Grenfell Tower after meeting with residents
Sir Martin Moore-Bick reading floral tributes to the victims outside Grenfell Tower after meeting with residents

Eyebrows have been raised following the announcement that Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been appointed to lead the inquiry in the Grenfell Tower fire following his judgement on a social housing case brought against a neighbouring borough in 2015.

The retired Court of Appeal judge has been appointed to lead the inquiry into the fire at the west London tower block earlier this month in which at least 80 people died.

Theresa May promised the probe would “leave no stone unturned” and told MPs that she expected Sir Martin to deliver a preliminary report as soon as possible.

On Thursday Sir Martin went to the site to meet with a handful of residents to discuss the case and promised the inquiry would "open, transparent and fair".

But senior Labour MPs have questioned his suitability for the role following a 2014 court judgement against a social housing tenant.

Former shadow Energy Secretary Lisa Nandy questioned whether he could command the “confidence of the survivors” and predicted the inquiry could follow the same path as the child abuse inquiry which lost three chairs before it even begun hearing evidence.

Sir Martin, who retired as a Lord Justice of Appeal in December last year, ruled against Titina Nzolameso in November 2014 when she brought a case against Westminster Council.

Ms Nzolameso, a mother of five with serious health problems, was made homeless in 2012 and appealed for help from the council to rehouse her.

The council then offered her a property in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, even though she said she needed to stay in London for her children’s schooling and so she did not lose the network of friends she depended on when she was unwell with depression, diabetes and high blood pressure.

When she refused the offer of the house, the council said she had made herself “intentionally homeless” and no longer had a duty to find somewhere for her to leave under the terms of the Housing Act 1996.

Sir Martin agreed the council could take “a broad range of favours” in account but did not have a duty to explain what other accommodation it had available.

The Supreme Court eventually overruled him and found in Ms Nzolameso’s favour but her legal team attacked Sir Martin’s decision saying it would be giving the “green light for councils to engage in social cleansing”.

Last year, Westminster Council was accused of “social cleansing” when The Independent revealed it was buying up affordable housing in Hounslow to transfer its social housing tenants to another local authority.

But the judge has been defended by some of his former colleagues who say he is a “scrupulously fair” and “held in the utmost high esteem”.

The barrister, who was first called to the bar in 1969, was first appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2005 as an advisor to Lord Charles Falconer and Jack Straw after a career specialising in commercial law with a focus on maritime and transport disputes.

The 70-year-old later took on the role of vice president of the court in 2014, serving for two years before he retired.

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