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Grenfell Tower fire: Government makes U-turn on inquiry panel after pressure from bereaved families

'We should not have had to campaign for it, but relieved to finally have been granted a panel'

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 11 May 2018 21:47 BST
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(Getty)

The government has caved to pressure from relatives of Grenfell Tower victims to include a “diverse” range of people on the panel investigating reasons behind the blaze.

Theresa May previously rejected a request from grieving family members for a diverse decision-making panel to sit alongside the head of the public inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired high court judge.

But following a petition signed by more than 156,000 people and a number of meetings with bereaved relatives, the prime minister announced she will appoint two additional members to the panel.

A government statement said: “The fire at Grenfell Tower was an unimaginable tragedy. Given the scale and complexity of concerning issues that are emerging from the inquiry’s early investigations, the prime minister has a continuing duty to ensure that the inquiry always has the skills and expertise it requires for the challenges that lie ahead.

“An inquiry panel with a breadth of expertise and diversity of experience will best serve the work of the inquiry for phase two.”

The additional two panel members will join the inquiry for its second stage, which will begin in December at the earliest.

Adel Chaoui, who lost four relatives in the fire and launched the petition for the Grenfell United survivors’ group, said he was relieved at the decision.

“This is a huge step for all of us who are desperate to make sure the inquiry delivers truth and justice for the loved ones we lost in the fire and those that survived,” he said.

“When we met the prime minister a few weeks ago to make our case for a panel we felt she listened to us. Today she has shown she heard us. We thank the prime minister for this. We also thank over 100 MPs who came to meet us in parliament on Tuesday.”

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, said the decision to grant a panel in the Grenfell inquiry was testimony to the campaign by the bereaved families and the survivors, but said they “should never have had to wage this campaign”.

“The demand for a panel was always about ensuring the trust of the community in the inquiry and it should have been delivered from the start,” he added.

“For the Grenfell inquiry to deliver truth and justice, it must always have the full confidence of the bereaved families and survivors and it is essential that, going forward, all their other demands are properly met.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, meanwhile said that while the U-turn was welcome, it “doesn’t go far enough”, adding: “The prime minister should ensure that the panel is there for the whole inquiry, not just for phase two so that all of the issues and policies that led to the disaster are addressed.

“Theresa May must also start to make good on ministerial assurances on rehousing. So far she has failed miserably on those promises.”

It comes after 14 bereaved family members met with Ms May on Thursday, in a meeting that was scheduled to last 30 minutes but lasted an hour-and-a-half.

During the meeting, the prime minister was told a diverse panel would help to restore campaigners’ confidence in the investigation.

Afterwards, Clarrie Mendy, whose cousin Mary Mendy died in the fire along with her daughter Khadija Saye, told The Independent: “We were asking for a diverse panel for the inquiry. We need diversity. It’s not that hard. That’s what will restore our confidence.

“We gave her a lot to think about, she never said no, she listened to the concerns, but she kept saying she would ‘think and reflect’. We had to keep bringing her back to the main frame, we don’t want to know about lessons to be learnt.”

Concerns were also raised that support for grieving relatives had dramatically reduced since the fatal blaze, as public attention has moved away from the disaster.

Nabil Choucair, who lost six relatives in the fire, including his mother, sister, brother-in-law and their three children, said he felt the government’s approach to the inquiry was exacerbating the grief while support provided to relatives had “dropped off a cliff”.

He said: “It has caused us more pain and suffering. It is still not getting in, 11 months on. They should have woken up now.”

Mr Choucair, who also lived in the tower, added: “The help has gone over the wall. It has dropped off a cliff. It is not as good as it was before, and it was not even great before. They are not doing it from the heart. It is like a job they have to do. There was more attention on it before.”

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