Grenfell inquiry ‘continues to review’ evidence

Grenfell inquiry ‘continues to review’ evidence

IN ITS latest update on progress, the inquiry stated that ‘work continues’ on the report for phase one, while preparations for hearings in phase two are ‘well underway’.

Last year, the inquiry began looking at the ‘factual narrative’ of the events, with expert witnesses describing the various safety failures in the tower and a ‘culture of non compliance’. After the inquiry resumed once more, a fire station manager stated that ‘vital’ plans for the tower were not able to be found in the lobby of the buildingIt then heard from 999 operators that due to a policy not to recontact callers, residents were not told to evacuate when policy changed.

In September last year, one of the fire commanders stated that ‘the building let us all down’, before London Fire Brigade (LFB) commissioner Dany Cotton admitted that she had no knowledge of cladding risks despite an LFB presentation created only a year before the fire. Recently, the inquiry heard two different experts note that flames spread in ‘just over 10 minutes’ to the outside of the tower, and that cladding issues ‘have been known for decades’.

In November, the inquiry heard that the architectural ‘crown’ of cladding designed to make the tower ‘look nice’ was ‘instrumental’ in the fire’s spread around the tower, and that the fire was ‘most likely started by overheated wiring’ within a fridge freezerThen, the inquiry heard that LFB had ‘failed residents and firefighters’, and that a post Grenfell audit of the building’s management company found only ‘minor weaknesses’ in its approach.

In December, the second phase was reported to be ‘unlikely to start’ until the end of 2019, according to chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, because there are ‘more than 20,000 documents still to disclose’, with this ‘probably not’ completed before this autumn. This second phase will examine the ‘wider issues surrounding the fire’.

Since the inquiry began, it has sat for almost 100 days and collected and disclosed 20,000 documents, with 686 firefighter statements submitted and 88 officers giving oral evidence. In turn, 307 statements were received from the bereaved, survivors and local residents, with 35 giving evidence in person, and an interim report will be produced ‘as soon as possible, having regard to the volume of information that has to be digested’.

The Fire Brigades Union gave a closing statement with its hopes for future change, and Arconic - which manufactured the cladding used on the tower - gave a 'combative' statement saying that other materials were to blame for the fire's spread. Earlier in 2019, reports on the refurbishment of the tower and the cladding and insulation were released, while it was revealed that any prosecutions over the fire are ‘unlikely’ before 2021.

Its most recent update in February stated that over 20,000 documents have been disclosed in the first phase, and if ‘further relevant’ material is provided ‘this will be disclosed’ to core participants. The April update meanwhile saw the core participant numbers updated on the inquiry’s website, with 688 individuals having applied for this status and 580 granted.

Of these, 554 were from individuals whose names have been published, one anonymised and 26 from those under the age of 18. So far 69 organisations have applied for this status, with 30 granted – 20 of 22 commercial organisations, two of five trade unions, seven of 11 public bodies, and 1 of 31 ‘other organisations’.

On the phase one report, the inquiry states that Sir Martin ‘continues to review the full body of evidence presented’, and is ‘making progress’ with the report, but it noted that ‘at this stage, it is not possible for the inquiry to be more definite about the timing of publication’, while the “Maxwellisation” process - sending warning letters to those ‘that may be subject to criticism’ so that they can give a response before publication - must be undertaken before completion or publication.

As soon as the inquiry ‘can be more definite about dates it will be’, with core participants communicated with about interim recommendations, with explanations that any of these ‘will need to emerge from the specific evidence’ received in phase one. Sir Martin is ‘considering the range of suggestions made’, with expert witnesses producing formal advice that has been disclosed to core participants, and this advice will be published alongside the phase one report.

It concluded by noting that evidence will continue to be published online from the first phase, while over 34,000 of 200,000 documents relating to phase two have been disclosed, with this process to continue throughout 2019 and the aim being to start phase two hearings in January 2020.