POLITICS
02/03/2018 14:38 GMT | Updated 02/03/2018 14:38 GMT

Grenfell Inquiry Beginning To Look Like A Stitch-Up, Says Labour MP Emma Dent Coad

'We are feeling marginalised and neutralised.'

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Labour MP Emma Dent Coad said her party has been "marginalised" by inquiry head Sir Martin Moore Bick

The Grenfell Tower public inquiry is beginning to look like a stitch-up, Emma Dent Coad has said.

Kensington’s Labour MP made the claim after the local Labour group was refused core participant status in the investigation led by Sir Martin Moore Bick.  

At a press conference in London on Friday, Labour councillors said there would be a “clear conflict of interest” if they are represented at the inquiry by lawyers acting for the Tory-run authority.

At present, Dent Coad and her fellow Labour councillors, currently in opposition on Kensington and Chelsea Council, have core participant status under the umbrella of the council as a whole. 

Asked if she thought the Grenfell Inquiry was therefore “stitch-up”, Dent Coad said: “It’s beginning to look like that. We are feeling marginalised and neutralised. That’s not good.

“I really object to being represented by the lawyers of a discredited organisation which is under criminal investigation.”

Pat Mason, also a local Labour councillor, said the inquiry had “less and less credibility on the ground”, adding: “We don’t believe the inquiry is credible either. We don’t believe that it’s a fair process. If you are excluding people and using obscure rules in the Public Inquiry Act to block out evidence, then you are not going to get all the evidence.” 

He added: “We have core participant status but we can only exercise it through the council’s own lawyers, who we are opposing. 

“We are in a situation where, we have evidence to give which will directly oppose much of the evidence that the council will give as they try to clear themselves of as much guilt as possible.

“The inquiry are basically saying that we should go cap in hand to the lawyers at the council and they will represent our views to the inquiry.” 

PA Archive/PA Images
A vigil near Grenfell Tower in London.

John Cooper QC, who is representing the Labour group, said: “If we do not get core participation status in this inquiry, then I’m very convinced at the moment justice will not be done.”

He added: “We should not be bound by rigid rules in an unprecedented inquiry. It absolutely beggars belief, we say, that one legal team should be expected to represent two groups with diametrically opposed views.” 

Councillor Robert Atkinson, leader of the Kensington Labour group, said: “I’m appalled that it can be seriously suggested that the same legal team can represent both Labour opposition members and the discredited former Tory Cabinet.

“This is like suggesting a bank robber can be represented in court by a barrister who is also prosecuting them for the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Core participants get advance sight of evidence, can make opening and closing speeches at the inquiry, suggest lines of questioning and can have legal representatives apply to Moore Bick to ask witnesses questions. 

A spokesman for the Grenfell Inquiry, said despite not being awarded the core participant status, the Labour group could still play a part in the inquiry.

He said: “Whilst the Inquiry is not able to comment on individual core participant applications, not being awarded the status does not preclude an individual or organisation from participating in the Inquiry as a witness or attending hearings in person as a member of the public.”

Asked how people in the community are feeling, Dent Coad said: “Still desperate and raw. It is very raw.” 

“People are still in a very bad state. And the frustration of thinking that people may not get justice is making it so much worse while they are struggling like this.” 

She said survivors were still grappling with grief and housing issues. 

“In addition to all that, thinking there may be no justice at the end of this process is just unbearable,” she said. “It is quite literally driving people over the edge.” 

Labour, who called the press conference as campaigning gets under way for the local elections in May, said Conservative politicians who oversaw a “bonfire of regulations” during David Cameron’s tenure should be invited to give evidence on the broader issue of regulation.

Mason picked out Oliver Letwin, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Business Secretary Greg Clarke, Baroness Rock, Lord Marland, Charles Moore and former Housing Minister Gavin Barwell. 

The public inquiry into the tragedy, which claimed 71 lives last June, has proved controversial.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to take action to build public trust in the probe.