Victims of the Grenfell Tower fire have voiced their frustration at being barred from the inquiry into the disaster as a result of social distancing rules.
The hearings into the blaze, which killed 72 people in 2017, will resume on Monday, but attendance has been severely restricted after proceedings were brought to a halt in mid-March as the coronavirus crisis developed.
There will be no space for bereaved, victims or relatives, as those involved in the refurbishment of the west London block continue to give evidence.
Only members of the panel, counsel to the inquiry, the witness giving evidence and their legal representative, as well as support staff and an invited journalist are allowed to attend.
Nabil Choucair, who lost six relatives in the tragedy, said: “We should be allowed to see their faces.
“We are the families that have had our families taken from us.”
In a statement released on Sunday evening, victim and survivor support group Justice4Grenfell said: “The Grenfell disaster is about the 72 men, women and children who died and hundreds more who lost their homes and a traumatised community.
“It now seems evident that the inquiry is more concerned with building safety issues rather than the impact on people and communities.”
Their anger comes as firefighters have called for no more delays or “painstaking postponements” to the inquiry.
The coronavirus delay was the second major interruption to the hearings since the second stage of the inquiry began in January.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) expressed sympathy with those affected by the fire who have been “forced to wait” for answers.
General secretary Matt Wrack added: “The bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell should have seen justice delivered by now, but instead have been forced to wait, first because of the obscene moves from corporate witnesses to secure immunity from prosecution, and then because of the coronavirus pandemic which made continuing the inquiry all but impossible.”
He accused those involved in the refurbishment of the block of “try[ing] again and again to avoid responsibility”, but added: “In the cold hard light of day, the crimes of those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, and who ignored the concerns are residents, are apparent – and they must be held accountable.”
In February, the hearings were paused to consider whether oral evidence given by corporate witnesses should be able to be used in any future prosecution over the blaze.
Protections for anything said by individuals to the public inquiry were guaranteed in February, but in June Suella Braverman QC extended this to cover “legal persons” or companies.
It means people who cannot be separated from their firms – including senior directors, executives and sole traders – cannot refuse to answer questions by claiming the legal right of privilege against self-incrimination.
Without these protections, some witnesses had threatened to refuse to give evidence.