The Chair of the Grenfell inquiry has been condemned for walking away from a lawyer who tried to ask a question on behalf of survivors prompting cries of “rubbish” and “don’t just walk away” as he left.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick delivered a 45-minute statement on the opening day of his controversial investigation but declined to respond to Michael Mansfield.
“I think it is disrespectful to survivors,” Mansfield told HuffPost UK after the event.
Karim Mussilhy, a survivor of the blaze whose uncle Hesham Rahman died in the fire, will be a core participant in the inquiry. He reacted with frustration to the incident.
Speaking after the inquiry opened, he told HuffPost UK: “He wasn’t even listening to him. Small things make a big difference.
“Listen, it’s two seconds of your time, just listen. You don’t have to agree with anything anyone is saying. You should just listen to what the people are saying.”
He added: “For me, it would have made a massive difference that small gesture at the end.”
“I have more confidence in the criminal investigation than I do the public inquiry.”
He added: “That’s the issue, isn’t it? We weren’t listened to before and now we feel like that is happening again.
“Why do they think that what they have to say is more important than what we have to say?
“At the end of the day, we are the ones that have gone through this tragedy. He did say in his speech that some of the core participants will have to be witnesses and speak and give their accounts.
“They only want to listen to us when it suits them, when it benefits them. That is why loads of members of the community are here because it’s not their public inquiry, it’s our inquiry, our questions and our terms of reference. We are the ones that need answers.”
Moore-Bick turned his back on Mansfield at the close of his speech, in which he told survivors he hoped he could “count on that cooperation” that would allow the inquiry to run smoothly as he aimed for an interim report in easter 2018.
He said: “We share a common goal. We are all searching for the truth about the cause of the fire and the massive loss of life it caused and we owe it to those who died and those who homes have been destroyed to work together to achieve that goal.”
Another survivor said: “We should know who is going to be on the panel, not have to wait another week.
“Moore-Bick was just reading from a rule book today. It was a waste of time.
“He was rude. He just got up and walked away. He didn’t have to stay for all the questions, but he could have taken just one.”
Mansfield rose and politely asked: “Sir, before departing, I wonder if I may make a quick request on behalf of survivors...”
Moore-Bick then left and Mansfield said: “Obviously not.”
Mansfield told HuffPost UK: “On behalf of survivors, I wanted to ask for another preliminary meeting at which they would be there as core participants, with designated lawyers to sort out reservations and concerns they have had from the beginning about this whole process.
“One of those concerns could be encapsulated in there being not any mention of the establishment of a panel to sit with him.”
Peter Herbert, who chairs a coalition of BME lawyers that tried to challenge to Moore-Bick’s all-white inquiry panel, told HuffPost: “What on earth are you there for? How do you have any credibility if you cannot, in the first opening session, talk to survivors and have their representatives say something before you turn tale and run? It really is shambolic.
“You’re meant to have people skills... some ability to interact with an audience of ordinary people. For me, that’s symbolically shows how far away he is. This is not his inquiry, it’s a judge-led public inquiry. I think it was quite shocking. It really is very, very poor.”
He also said Moore-Bick had made a “ludicrous” suggestion when he said he would not appoint a survivor of the blaze to be an assessor.
Herbert’s coalition had suggested BME experts who understood issues like social housing and regulatory processes to work alongside him, rather than appoint a survivor to help them.
“I think [Moore-Bick] quite deliberately got the wrong end of the stick,” Herbert said. “I’ve never heard that being done by any inquiry.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, said Moore-Bick risked “sending the wrong signal” by ignoring Mansfield.
She added: “The Grenfell Tower Inquiry is a chance to rebuild trust with a deeply wounded community. Theresa May must take this seriously and listen to the concerns of the Grenfell residents and the local community.
“The model to follow is the Lawrence Inquiry which appointed a panel of known and trusted advisors include Bishop John Sentamu, which is why that inquiry was widely respected and reached effective conclusions regarding the failures of institutional racism.”
The inquiry, whose terms of reference has also been controversial, began on Thursday, three months after the blaze gutted the building, killing around 80 people.
During his speech, Moore-Bick said the inquiry will not appoint a survivor of the fire to help find answers, as this would “undermine” its independence.
He said the inquiry’s assessors would not be people with a direct, personal link to the fire, in his 45-minute opening statement, after severe criticism of him and his team for being remote from survivors and relatives of those who died.
Before he opened on the inquiry, protestors gathered outside the London venue, carrying placards and demanding “justice for Grenfell”.
Moore-Bick opened the inquiry with a minute’s silence.
Those in the room were asked to rise as he entered, prompting some to tut and do so grudgingly, according to HuffPost’s reporter at the hearing.
He said he would appoint assessors next week and insisted they would have the necessary experience.
He added the inquiry “will provide answers to the pressing questions as to how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London”.
His statement was delivered in the Grand Connaught Rooms in London.
The grand environment of the room was at odds with the tower, the burnt remains of which still stand over Kensington.
Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad said Moore-Bick’s “meticulous” investigation of the “very narrow” terms of reference were “such a tiny, tiny part of what people want to have justice in this process”.
She told Sky News: “What we’re going to end up with a technical assessment of what has happened... not the bigger questions, the political accountability or any other issues that concern people the most, which is why was this allowed to happen? I don’t think we’re going to get that.”
She said Moore-Bick’s refusal to appoint a survivor to help the inquiry was “insensitive” and “very difficult to take”.
Survivors and relatives of the dead were watching Moore-Bick’s statement live on a screen from Notting Hill Methodist Church.
A silent march in memory of the dead is planned for Thursday evening.
Clarrie Mendy, who lost two relatives in the fire, told HuffPost: “I don’t think this march will be so silent. I pray tempers are controlled.”
Speaking to HuffPost before the inquiry opened, key figures said they feared it would let the guilty parties get away with it.