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Sir Martin Moore-Bick's Appointment As Grenfell Tower Investigation Head Sparks 'Alarm'

'We shouldn't read too much into particular decisions of a judge.'

29/06/2017 10:53 | Updated 29 June 2017

A retired judge once accused of “social cleansing of the poor” after relocating a tenant facing homelessness to a place 50 miles away, has been appointed to lead the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster.

As claims of a cover-up rage on over the death toll following the June 14 blaze and cladding concerns spread across the country, a fresh controversy has further agitated those affected - the appointment of recently retired lord justice of appeal, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to lead the investigation into the blaze.

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Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been appointed to lead an investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire that claimed at least 80 lives

While the hire has reportedly been welcomed within the legal profession, media reports highlighting a case Moore-Bick presided over in 2014 - which was later overturned by the Supreme Court - has caused concern.

That case involved single mother-of-five Titina Nzolameso, who like residents displaced by the Grenfell blaze, wanted to be rehoused in her local area after she could no longer afford her Westminster Council home. 

Nzolameso was made homeless after resisting council plans to move her to Milton Keynes because the benefit cap meant she could no longer stay in her four-bed flat.

Moore-Bick upheld the move, which Nzolameso’s lawyer, Jayesh Kunwardia, said amounted to “social cleansing of the poor”.

“This judgment could have dire consequences for vulnerable families across the country.

“It gives the green light for councils to engage in social cleansing of the poor on a mass scale.

“Council tenants are being threatened with homelessness unless they agree to uproot themselves from communities they’ve lived in for years.”

Moore-Bick ruled that it was not necessary for Westminster to explain in detail what other accommodation was available and that it could take “a broad range of factors” into account, including the pressures on the council, in deciding what housing was available, the Guardian reported. 

The Supreme Court reversed the ruling in April 2015. It found that the council had not asked “any questions aimed at assessing how practicable it would be for the family to move out of the area”.

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At least 80 people died in the Grenfell Tower blaze on June 14

Moore-Bick said on Thursday that he understands “the desire of local people for justice” adding that this will be “served by a vigorous inquiry that gets to the truth as quickly as possible”.

He said that he was “doubtful” the process will be as wide-ranging as some residents hope, adding it could be limited to how the fire started, spread, and how it could be prevented in future.

Moore-Bick, who specialised in commercial law during his career, was recommended to No 10 by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd last week.

The delay in announcing his appointment, The Times claimed, was due partly to concerns over his suitability. However, the newspaper also noted the government needed time to explain the investigation process to those affected by the blaze. 

While the newspaper quoted legal sources as saying Moore-Bick’s appointment was “an excellent choice” that will “draw universal rounds of applause”, it said the Nzolameso case had “caused alarm”.

However, in a series of nine tweets on Thursday, Jo Maugham QC defended Moore-Bick’s appointment, imploring people not to “read too much into particular decisions”. 

While noting the Nzolameso case, the Guardian noted that Moore-Bick had previously been praised by the justice minister, Dominic Raab, for applying “long-awaited common sense” to limit human rights law in a case where he deported a foreign-born criminal whose young children lived in Britain.

In the case, Moore-Bick had to assess whether a foreign-born man who tied up and robbed two women in their flat could rely on article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The convention guarantees a right to family life, to avoid being removed from the UK.

Moore-Bick ruled that the public interest in seeing the Chinese man returned to his own country outweighed the human rights of the criminal’s children.

Raab said of that decision: “This is a welcome ruling, some long-awaited common sense on the application of article 8. But one swallow doesn’t make a summer – we need to see the whole approach to deportation reoriented to put public protection first.”

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Justice Minister Domic Raab has previously applauded Moore-Bick for applying 'long-awaited common sense' to limit human rights law 

Moore-Bick was educated at the Skinners’ school in Tunbridge Wells and at Christ’s College, Cambridge and became a barrister in 1969.

He spent more than 20 years as a judge of the commercial court and the court of appeal. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted residents will be given a say over the direction of the investigation.

She said a full judge-led inquiry was needed to ensure the events at the 24-storey block were “properly investigated”.

In the wake of the disaster, cladding at tower blocks across the country has undergone fire safety tests with 120 found to be combustible, something the National Housing Federation now says is pointless. 

Chief executive David Orr said: “These tests were the right thing to do, but the results are now conclusive: Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding simply does not pass these tests and is deemed unsafe.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images
Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted residents will be given a say over the direction of the Grenfell Tower investigation

“Across the country, valuable resources - from specialist equipment to expert time - are being poured into a testing process of which the results are already known.”

Orr spoke of the testing process revealing a “systematic failure” around the development, manufacture and regulation of cladding.

The Metropolitan Police says it will be months before the final roll call of victims is established.

Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said contact had been made with at least one occupant from 106 of the 129 flats in the building.

From those properties, 18 people are dead or assumed dead, meaning the remaining victims are thought to have been in the flats wiped out by the inferno.

She said: “There are 23 flats that, despite huge investigative efforts, we have been unable to trace anyone that lives there.

“At this stage we must presume that no-one in those flats survived, that includes anyone who lived there or was visiting them.”

Pressed on whether the death toll could climb to triple figures, McCormack said: “I’ve said I believe it could increase, I don’t think it’s going to be triple, no.”

A six-month-old girl was among the latest victims to be identified, found dead in her mother’s arms in the smoke-filled stairwell.

Westminster Coroner’s Court opened and adjourned inquests into seven Grenfell Tower victims, including baby Leena Belkadi and her eight-year-old sister Malak.

As the vast criminal investigation into the fire continues, 60 organisations have been identified as having a hand in the tower’s refurbishment, which is suspected to have helped the blaze spread.

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