POLITICS

Grenfell Tower Fire: Inquiry Head Sir Martin Moore-Bick Heckled By Survivors At Meeting

Retired judge told words of reassurance 'not good enough'.

07/07/2017 11:22 | Updated 07 July 2017

Grenfell Tower survivors angry about the probe into the blaze heckled the inquiry head as he tried to convince them he was the right person for the job. 

Retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick met face-to-face with residents on Thursday night in a bid to reassure them he would investigate the tragedy to the “very best of his ability”. 

It comes amid anger at the “narrow” remit of the public and concern about Sir Martin’s background in banking and commercial law. 

His one judgement on a social housing case was also overturned on appeal. 

Sir Martin sought to address any “preconception” about him, telling the meeting that he knows “what it is to be impartial”.

But residents rejected his words as “not good enough”, with one suggesting arrests had to be made over the catastrophe in order to win their confidence.

PA Wire/PA Images
Sir Martin Moore-Bick faces calls from survivors to step down 

A video of the meeting showed him being heckled as he said: “I can’t do more than assure you that I know what it is to be impartial.

“I’ve been a judge for 20 years and I give you my word that I will look into this matter to the very best of my ability, and find the facts as I see them from the evidence.

“That’s my job, that’s my training and that’s what I intend to do. Now if I can’t satisfy you because you have some preconception about me as a person that’s up to you.”

The meeting, held in a centre overlooked by the burnt-out west London high-rise block, took place as the Government said further tests will be carried out on samples from other buildings across the country.

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The charred shell of Grenfell Tower

Some 190 samples from buildings located across 51 local authority areas failed combustibility in tests after the disaster.

Experts will now look at how different varieties of cladding insulation with different types of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels react in a fire, the Department for Communities and Local Government said.

At least 80 people were killed when fire tore through the 24-floor tower in the early hours of June 14, with the building’s cladding suspected to be central to its spread.

Sir Martin promised to consider a broad range of evidence after survivors and residents threatened a boycott over the inquiry’s scope.

An official start date for the inquiry has yet to be set, although he told the meeting that he was keen to have the terms of reference sorted before Parliament goes into recess.

The inquiry’s terms of reference, concerns about the health of people living near the blaze, air quality, evacuation procedures and the condition of the block were among the wide-ranging questions posed by attendees.

PA Wire/PA Images
Anger boiled over when Kensington Town Hall, where the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea adjourned a planned cabinet meeting last week, claiming it would "prejudice" the forthcoming public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire.

Afterwards, Melvyn Akins, 30, who was brought up in the area, said there was “frustration, anger and confusion” in the meeting and people were left with “a lot more questions”.

He said: “It is going to be an uphill struggle. People feel abandoned. Now you have got somebody coming in (Sir Martin) and saying ‘I am going to look into it all thoroughly’ and it is not good enough.

“People firmly believe that arrests should be made as a result of the outcome of all of this. If arrests are not made, people are going to feel justice may not be being done.”

Jacqui Haynes said she was more angry and frustrated after the meeting.

She said of the retired judge: “He is trying to rush us so they can give us this document where the devil is in the detail and we will have one week to deal with it.

“Us residents who don’t have their expertise, who don’t have their professionalism and resources have had to fight ... They are relying on us giving up, being tired and becoming overwhelmed.”

On Wednesday the Government announced it was sending a specialist taskforce to assist Kensington and Chelsea council with the “long-term recovery effort”.

TOLGA AKMEN via Getty Images
People pause in front of memorial tributes to the victims and the missing from the Grenfell Tower block fire close to the scene in North Kensington, west London, on June 18, 2017

 

It came after the beleaguered council’s leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown, stepped down following fierce criticism over the authority’s handling of the disaster.

Meanwhile, the Government was urged to extend its 12-month grace period for foreign survivors without regularised immigration status, with Labour calling for a “full immigration amnesty” instead.

Joe Delaney, from the Grenfell Tower Action Group, said the retired judge “didn’t inspire confidence in anyone” as he had failed to assure residents that he would hold the Government to account.

He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “He needs to understand that we’ve had a lot of people come in, act in a high-handed fashion, pretend to listen to us and then leave.

“It seemed to a lot of people last night that was his modus operandi as well.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Survivor Joe Delaney of Grenfell Action Group

He said Sir Martin had been inconsistent over the terms of reference of the probe during the meeting, questioning how he could maintain consistency over the entire inquiry.

Mr Delaney added: “He didn’t inspire confidence in anyone.

“In a room of 200-plus people, he didn’t manage to convince one of us, I don’t think.”

Asked who he would prefer to lead the inquiry, Mr Delaney suggested a criminal barrister with a “proven track record” of holding public authorities to account, who was able to relate to ordinary people.

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