The judge leading the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has been told to resign by angry residents who called his presence on the panel “an affront to the community”.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick faced local residents at a public meeting on Tuesday evening at Notting Hill Methodist Church, where he and his legal colleagues were told they “don’t represent the community” as residents slammed the lack of diversity on the panel.
Nearly six weeks on from the fire that killed at least 80 people, the terms of reference of the inquiry are still being decided.
Tensions in the church were high on Tuesday evening, where scores of residents and people affected by the fire were able to have their say on what the inquiry should be focusing on.
Moore-Bick was forced to justify why he was qualified to lead the investigation, telling residents: “The reasons why I think I have the qualifications is because I have spent 20 years as a judge, looking into the sort of problems that have to be considered in relation to this fire.”
He said that he felt he had the experience needed to make him “suitable” to carry on in the inquiry.
But soon residents were calling for Moore-Bick to step down as lead judge, with concerns raised about his decision in 2014 to allow Westminster Council to rehouse Titina Nzolameso 50 miles away in Milton Keynes.
“This is why there’s a distrust in the community, because we look at your public record,” one resident told Moore-Bick.
“Your very presence is an affront to this community,” the resident added.
The same resident told the panel: “Recuse yourself, it’s no shame, it’s no shame.
“It’s in the interest of justice and social rights that you should say ‘we are just not the right people for this’.”
In a passionate speech about the importance of listening to residents’ concerns - both before and since the fire - he said:
“In the event that the people were listened to, the residents were listened to... Would this have been avoided, this disaster?
“That’s a key question for the panel to answer. Not just how the fire started, not just the material ... had the people been listened to?
“Because, in the aftermath when people were trying to get into the council, a Tory official was mouthing the words ‘don’t let them in’. It’s like a horror film. The people were coming from a horror and were greeted by the horror of rejection. Don’t let them in.
“That has become a metaphor for our society. Keep them out, don’t let them in, don’t listen to them, don’t hear their voices, shut them up. But this community will not be shut up.
“And if the community was listened to, this could have been avoided. And if it could have been avoided and if the people were ignored, criminal charges need to be brought and people need to be accountable.
“And if, finally, we answer that question, and we conclude that had the people been listened to, this could have been avoided, then we might start to listen to the people, for example when they say ‘this is not representative’.
“It’s nothing against you, it’s just not representative. Britain is better than that, Britain has produced a fine flock of legal minds. You’re not the only ones, you’re not the only competent ones. But you don’t represent the community.”
Another resident said that when she walked into the room and saw the panel, she did not feel as though justice will be done and called for the panel to be more ethnically proportionate.
Niles Hailstones, chairman of community group Westway 23, said that the community does not recognise the panel as a “legitimate board”.
“You need to go back to the people that sent you and tell them that we don’t recognise you as being a legitimate board.
“You will not be the only unrepresentative board that we have had to shut down in Ladbroke Grove. Know that, because it’s not been the first time and it probably won’t be the last.”
Another resident asked where the diversity of the community was reflected in the inquiry panel.
Eartha Pond, a community councillor who has been volunteering since the aftermath of the fire, told the panel that they “do not look like any of us”.
“I’ve heard the same thing repeated time and time and time again and that is that Grenfell residents, local people, don’t have any confidence in you guys as a panel giving justice to the community,” Pond said.
“As this gentleman said, as this lady said before, you do not represent us and you do not look like any of us.”
At times members of the public turned against one another as residents scrambled to be heard.
Many from the floor called for criminal prosecutions to be brought against those involved in the regeneration of the tower in 2014.
Moore-Bick disappointed those in attendance when he said he has “no power” to bring about criminal prosecutions, adding: “A public inquiry is designed to find out exactly what happened.”
Responding to a question as to whether there has ever been a successful prosecution for corporate manslaughter, the head of the inquiry said: “I think the answer to your question is that there have been no successful prosecutions.”
Residents became frustrated when they thought their questions were not being answered by the panel, who told those in attendance that they were there to listen in order to help determine the terms of reference for the inquiry.
During one exchange in which Richard Millett, leading counsel to the Grenfell Inquiry Team, was trying to answer questions from the audience, he had to concede “I can see we’re not going to get anywhere” as people spoke over one another.
Moore-Bick promised that the inquiry would consider the deregulation of fire safety standards, as well as the multi-million pound refurbishment to Grenfell Tower.
He said: “We are going to investigate and find the facts in relation to the whole course of events.
“And we will do that in a way that means we will get to the bottom of that.”
Similar to other meetings recently, criticism was laid at the door of the local authority and support services for not making it easier for survivors to access the care they need.
There was also speculation over the death toll, which still stands officially at 80.
The meeting came to a close shortly before 9pm, although many from the local community had already left their seats.
As the head of the inquiry left the church, there were calls of “resign”.