Latest updates given on Grenfell inquiry

Latest updates given on Grenfell inquiry

THE INQUIRY into the Grenfell Tower fire, led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is preparing for evidential hearings and a procedural hearing at the end of March.

Previously, Sir Martin appointed three assessors to look at housing, local government and technical matters. Two days of inquiry hearings took place at the Holborn Bars in central London, and dealt with ‘case management issues’ including proposed timetables, matters concerning witnesses and the disclosure of evidence’.

Sir Martin’s inquiry is also looking to produce an ‘initial report’ that would explain the ‘immediate cause and spread’ of the fire, as well as an ‘assessment of the evacuation process’. Now, the latest update on the inquiry’s progress revealed that it is preparing for ‘its first evidential hearings’, and has written to core participants to update them on the next steps.

These include that evidential hearings are planned to start in May and ‘no later than 4 June 2018’, with the lead counsel having written to core participants to invite comment on a proposed procedural programme. Applications for core participant status continue to be received, with 521 granted so far, and Sir Martin ‘would like to publish the names of all’ as ‘soon as possible’.

A community forum has also been suggested so that the inquiry remains ‘fully informed of any concerns arising’ and to ‘provide appropriate support’. Vulnerable witnesses will also be supported, with a protocol published to cover this and make sure those affected ‘are able to give their evidence in the least distressing and most effective way’, such as through interpreters, intermediaries, alongside a friend or relative, via video or recorded interview or with screens in session.

Extra assessors are also being sought, with one from the architecture sector to help with ‘consideration of design and build issues’, and another from a social housing and tenants’ rights perspective to help with ‘consideration of issues’ from those perspectives. In turn, a series of expert reports have been commissioned for the first phase of evidential hearings, and will be disclosed by 30 March 2018.

Reports are expected from: Professor Niamh Nic Daeid on ‘the cause and spread of the fire in the flat of origin and the spread of fire within and out of that compartment’; Professor Luke Bisby on ‘the ignition of the façade materials (including the cladding and insulation) and the fire spread over the building’s external façade’; and Dr Barbara Lane on ‘the active and passive fire protection measures within the building and preliminary conclusions on the extent to which they failed to control the spread of fire and smoke and contributed to the speed at which the fire spread’.

Other reports commissioned include two from Professor Jose Torero ‘as to fire spread throughout the building’, and Colin Todd ‘as to the different statutory and regulatory requirements in force over the lifetime of Grenfell Tower’. It is intended for core participants to ‘have at least six weeks to consider’ the reports before oral hearings begin, while the inquiry is ‘actively considering’ further additional reports ‘as the evidential picture develops’.

So far, 267,000 documents have been received by the inquiry, and ‘it is anticipated this number could rise’ to 300,000, with witness packs already being disclosed to relevant core participants. This will include background material (such as floorplans of the tower), emergency services material, witness statements, material on flame spread, and material relating to the cause and origin of the fire.

Finally, the second procedural hearing will take place on 21 and 22 March at Holborn Bars, with the inquiry pointing out that this will ‘review the progress of the first phase of the inquiry and finalise the timeframe for the evidential hearings’, with those in charge ‘keen to ensure the views’ of all core participants are ‘taken into account when considering the structure and timetable’.