Grenfell Tower inquiry to begin as residents of similar buildings are told to flee in event of fire

'Starting this inquest process with statements and images means we have a stark understanding of how this horrific event has obliterated so many lives'

James Brokenshire says government will consult on banning flammable cladding in wake of Grenfell

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry will commence on Monday with two weeks of poignant tributes from family and friends in remembrance of the fire’s victims.

Almost a year after the tragedy, the bereaved will collectively paint a picture of the loved ones they lost in front of the retired judge chairing the probe, Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

Seventy-one people died in the fire that swept through Grenfell Tower in west London on 14 June last year.

The blaze spread far more quickly than it would otherwise have done due to the combustible polyethylene-filled aluminium panels that clad the facade of the building and had reportedly been passed as safe in 2015.

There were multiple other structural inadequacies, most notably the absence of sprinklers, which would have most likely contained the fire’s outbreak.

The Grenfell Action group had drawn attention to the multiple deficiencies and said that there would be tragic consequences in the event of a fire. However, their warnings were not heeded.

Just 16 other tower blocks have had their aluminium cladding material replaced with non-combustible cladding since the fire drew attention to how flammable the materials are.

It emerged on Saturday that residents in more than 100 tower blocks in London have been advised to flee if a fire breaks out because the buildings are structurally unsafe.

This contradicts the conventional advice given during the Grenfell Tower fire, and maintained since, that residents should “stay put” in the event of a fire.

The London fire brigade said that the owners of 101 residential blocks more than 18 metres tall had been ordered to change their advice to residents from “stay put” to “simultaneous evacuation”, The Observer learned.

The news will do little to assuage the fears of the bereaved that a similar tragedy could befall another tower, as the inquiry – which will examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire – begins on Monday.

A series of pre-recorded videos and statements will be delivered by the bereaved and on their behalf, across the first two weeks of the independent inquiry.

Starting the hearings in this way on Monday will ensure that “we will never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it”, lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett said.

Survivor Nicholas Burton will pay tribute to his wife, Maria Del Pilar Burton, who died in January after seven months in hospital following the fire.

Mrs Burton, known as Pily, had suffered from serious long-term health conditions prior to the disaster, in which her home was destroyed and her dog died.

The commemorations come after a week of significant victories for Grenfell United, the leading campaign group representing the survivors and the bereaved.

Their wish for a diverse panel to sit alongside Sir Martin was finally granted by prime minister Theresa May after months of campaigning and a petition backed by grime artist Stormzy and more than 150,000 supporters.

Panel members will be appointed for the second phase of the inquiry, due to start later this year, so as not to delay the first part.

This, however, was criticised from some quarters while the government’s promise to consult on banning flammable cladding from high-rise buildings was widely regarded as wholly inadequate.

Slater and Gordon barrister Kieran Mitchell, who is representing three victims’ families, said the opportunity for them to have their voices listened to had been “a long time coming”.

“Starting this inquest process with statements and images means we have a stark understanding of how this horrific event has obliterated so many lives,” he said.

“On behalf of our clients, we are grateful they have been granted this opportunity to finally reveal the impact these truly terrible events have had on them.

“However, this is just the beginning. We must get the answers everyone craves and understand how this tragedy could ever have been allowed to happen.

“Ultimately our clients want justice and we will not rest until those culpable are held accountable.”

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