Bereaved families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire are to open the official public inquiry on Monday with commemorations to the dead, to ensure the investigation does not “lose sight” of those at the heart of the tragedy.
Over the next two weeks, a series of pre-recorded videos and statements will be delivered by the bereaved as phase one of the probe takes place.
Starting the hearings this way will ensure that “we will never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it”, lead counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett, said.
Seventy-two people died in the fire that swept through the west London tower on June 14 last year.
The Shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said on Monday that she had confidence that Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the chair of the inquiry, would “get to the facts”.
Abbot told the BBC’s Today Programme: “This should be a really seminal inquiry and you can’t get it right unless you have the community at the heart of it, because I think that Grenfell is more than the sum of its parts – it’s the technical aspects of how the fire started and so on, but there are also broader issues that we need to touch on.”
The Labour frontbencher added that the bereaved and survivors wanted a “forensic examination of what happened” which would determine who was responsible.
She said: “There are issues about Grenfell over and above the cladding and so on – about why that community, on that estate, no-one listened to them, why they were almost abandoned.”
While all the victims’ names will be read out, it is understood that not all families will give a tribute.
Natasha Elcock, who was rescued from the 11th floor of Grenfell Tower, said the public “deserve to hear the wonderful characters that were in that block, the public deserve to hear what it is that we’ve lost as a community”.
The Grenfell United member said listening to the tributes would be “exceptionally difficult” but that she was grateful the judge had allowed them to take place.
She told the Today Programme: “My heart goes out to every single bereaved family who are doing pen portraits this week and next week, but I am immensely proud of them, because through all the grief and the sorrow they are going through – the trauma – they want to do their relatives proud, they want to ensure that their memory is brought to this inquiry and I think it’s exceptionally important that it starts with this.”
She added: “We must remember all of those people that died and we must keep them in our hearts and our minds all the way through this inquiry until the bitter end.”
A spokesman for campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell said: “We think the tributes will be very powerful and at the same time distressing but we think the process will be strengthening for bereaved families and survivors to go forward to the following sessions of the public inquiry greatly focused on finding out the truth.
“Phase one of the inquiry will have some ‘complex technical issues’ to discuss, there is no reason why these can’t be explained in plain English: in fact this will be a litmus test of how inclusive the inquiry really is.”
The commemorations follow a week of significant victories for campaign groups including Grenfell United, Justice 4 Grenfell and Humanity 4 Grenfell.
Their wish for a more diverse panel to sit alongside Sir Martin was finally granted by Prime Minister Theresa May after months of campaigning and a petition backed by grime artist Stormzy and more than 150,000 supporters.
Panel members will be appointed for the second phase of the inquiry, due to start later this year, so as not to delay the first part. The Government also promised to consult on banning flammable cladding from high-rise buildings.
Slater and Gordon barrister Kieran Mitchell, who is representing three victims’ families, said the opportunity for them to have their voices listened to had been “a long time coming”.
He said: “Starting this inquest process with statements and images means we have an stark understanding of how this horrific event has obliterated so many lives.
“On behalf of our clients, we are grateful they are have been granted this opportunity to finally reveal the impact these truly terrible events have had on them.
“However, this is just the beginning. We must get the answers everyone craves and understand how this tragedy could ever have been allowed to happen.
“Ultimately our clients want justice and we will not rest until those culpable are held accountable.”
On Monday before the tributes begin, Sir Martin will briefly address the room, followed by a statement from Millett.
The commemorations are taking place at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in south Kensington, a new venue closer to the Grenfell community.
Private rooms, quiet areas and a prayer room will be available for the bereaved, survivors and residents, while there will be counselling and NHS support.
As the hearings are taking place during Ramadan, the morning sessions are expected to adjourn for lunch at 12.45pm to allow Muslims to prepare for the 1pm prayer.
The rest of phase one of the inquiry will take place at Holborn Bars in central London, where several procedural hearings have already happened.
Campaigners have complained that the location is not suitable as it means survivors will have to undergo further trauma by travelling in “deep claustrophobic tube tunnels” each day.
The probe is believed to have the largest number of core participants to date, with more than 500 survivors, bereaved families and friends, and members of the North Kensington community participating.
As of Thursday, some 533 people have been made core participants in the inquiry, including 21 children. Twenty-nine organisations are core participants.
The main hearing room has a capacity for 500 people and bereaved, survivors and residents will be reserved seats at the front each day.