Bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower fire have said they are tired of “begging” Theresa May for answers as MPs gathered in the Commons on Monday to debate ongoing concerns surrounding the official inquiry into the disaster.
During a rally held just metres from Parliament, pictures of the 71 people who died in the blaze were laid out to mark the 11-month anniversary since the tragedy.
Campaigners, survivors and bereaved families addressed the rally, which was also attended by politicians ahead of the Commons debate.
Concerns were raised about the scope of the inquiry, as well as long-standing issues surrounding housing survivors.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told the crowd that solicitors acting for bereaved families and survivors had not had access to 99.5% of relevant documentation.
Campaigners are also calling for the government to take “immediate action to end the delays survivors face in being rehomed”. The government revealed earlier this year that it was unlikely all survivors would be rehoused by the time of the one-year anniversary.
Kensington and Chelsea Labour MP Emma Dent Coad told the rally: “This is about social housing everywhere. And it’s about what certain people think about certain other people and it’s about how they look at them, how they disdain them and about how they ‘other’ them and about what they think they are worth in their lives.”
Deborah Coles, director at Inquest, a charity which provides expertise on state related deaths, told the rally that key questions over accountability must be answered during the course of the inquiry and “meaningful” recommendations acted upon.
“It should not have been left to traumatised and grieving people to actually get the inquiry to perform its really vital function,” Coles said on Monday.
“Because this isn’t just an inquiry to perform for the benefit of the bereaved, survivors and those affected. It’s to the benefit of our whole society, and this will be one of the most significant inquiries of modern times.”
This view was echoed by survivor Natasha Elcock, who escaped the 11th floor of the tower with her six-year-old daughter.
Elcock said that the inquiry had far-reaching implications and said recommendations raised during the course of the process needed to be acted upon “as and when they arise” and not at the end of the inquiry.
Elcock told HuffPost UK: “It’s important that the public, especially all those living in tower blocks across this country with cladding, that they can sleep easy at night and that the government releases money to ensure that cladding is removed from tower blocks.”
Campaigners secured a huge victory last week when, in an apparent U-turn, the Prime Minister agreed to appoint a more diverse panel of experts to help oversee the investigation.
At Monday’s rally, Labour’s Diane Abbott congratulated campaigners on their success in convincing May to include additional panel members, but said it was “not enough”.
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“We need to know who they are going to be,” she said. “What made the difference in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was the actual people who served on the panel. If they just had puppets on the panel that is not going to help anybody.”
Abbott added: “You can talk about the cladding, you can talk about the regulations. But there’s also an attitude to communities that needs to be exposed and needs to be eliminated and I think it’s about those underlying issues about who has power and how they use it that are so important.”
Criticism has been mounting for months after survivors and bereaved family members said the inquiry panel isn’t reflective of the community most devastated by the blaze, with some calling it a “whitewash”.
Clarrie Mendy, who lost two relatives in the fire, said bereaved families had found themselves “begging” for May to listen to them, adding: “If we don’t get what we want today then we might have to be back here very soon.”
On Thursday, May announced two people will support the chairman, Judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, for the second phase of his investigation, which is due to start hearing formal evidence later this month.
A spokesman for the campaign group Grenfell United, Adel Chaoui, who lost four relatives in the fire and co-led the petition that triggered the parliamentary debate, said survivors were “relieved” by May’s announcement.
“This panel means that the inquiry will have the expertise it needs to get to the truth of why our community was not listened to when we raised concerns, why such a dangerous refurbishment could be allowed to go ahead and all the issues that led up to that awful night.
“These are the questions that need answered to make sure this never happens again.”
Sir Martin is heading the investigation into the blaze, and will be supported by a legal team, civil servants and three assessors.
In Friday’s statement, May said phase two of the inquiry would be the “largest phase in terms of the number of issues to be considered”.
She added: “To ensure that the inquiry panel itself also has the necessary breadth of skills and diversity of expertise relevant to the broad range of issues to be considered in phase two, and to best serve the increasing scale and complexity of the inquiry, I have decided to appoint an additional two panel members to support Sir Martin’s chairmanship for phase two of the inquiry’s work onwards.”
She said she had written to Sir Martin to tell him of the change and would do so again “once suitable panel members have been identified”.