• Two-day procedural hearing into Grenfell Tower fire underway in London
• Misconduct in public office and manslaughter charges considered
• Police have gathered 31m documents and 2,500 physical exhibits
• Inquiry urged to be moved to venue closer to where the tragedy occurred
• Sir Martin Moore-Bick told to “not let this go quietly into the night”
• A victims and survivors ‘consulting panel’ mooted
• Diversity of lawyers and panel highlighted in damning speech
The Met has told the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire that it is investigating misconduct in public office charges as well as breaches of fire safety regulations, manslaughter and corporate manslaughter.
Outlining just how big the investigation into the June 14 fire is, the lawyer for the Metropolitan Police, Jeremy Johnson QC, told a two-day procedural hearing that began in London on Monday that it had already gathered 31 million documents and 2,500 physical exhibits.
Johnson added that nearly 4,000 separate lines of inquiry had been generated by the witness statements and documents examined so far and that a total of 187 officers and and civilian staff were working on the police investigation.
The scale of the probe was unprecedented outside of a counter-terrorist operation, Johnson said.
Pete Weatherby QC, who is representing 73 individuals, told the hearing that “justice can not be delivered by courier” and called for the victims’ families to be involved.
He also called for the inquiry to order that a full disclosure be made on what evidence is to be heard as soon as possible and for a detailed “road map” on how proceedings would progress be formalised, given the “disappointment” felt about the speed of progress.
The “core participants”, Weatherby said, should see “everything that the inquiry sees”, with few exceptions and should be released as they come in.
Weatherby reiterated calls for the inquiry to reflect the diversity of the tower victims: “Our clients are all different, they are young and old, men and women, they are of diverse heritage.
“Most of my clients are Muslim, they need an inquiry that understands their experience as much as possible.”
Weatherby suggested the venue for the public inquiry be moved to a location “closer to where the disaster occurred”.
Michael Mansfield QC, representing some of the 71 victims, also called for the panel sitting alongside Sir Martin to be more diverse, saying there was a “distinct feeling today that those people most affected have not been included”.
He told Sir Martin: “You yourself cannot be expected to reflect the diversity.... no one person could do that.”
Another lawyer urged Sir Martin to “not let this go quietly into the night” and to “not be afraid to turn over the rocks and see the horrors that lay underneath” and pleaded with him to ensure any recommendations made by the inquiry are properly implemented.
A victims and survivor “consulting panel” was also mooted to help those most affected to engage with the process as they were “more than witnesses” to the tragedy.
Barrister Leslie Thomas, who is representing 17 core participants, urged Sir Martin to bear in mind that the victim’s “pockets do not run deep” and called on him to ensure “you and your team ensure that we are given a fair crack of the whip”.
Thomas told Sir Martin: “There are things that must trouble you at night, when you close your eyes before you lay your head down on the pillow, is, what will my legacy be?”
Sir Martin retorted: “Now, I can assure you Mr Thomas that never troubles me.”
Thomas then made a speech on diversity.
“I make no apologies for what I’m about to say. One of the things that will not be lost on you, or anybody else, that sits on this inquiry... you can see most of the victim core participants, because they’re sitting right at the back... you couldn’t get a more diverse group of people.
“Now look at the lawyers. Look at the lawyers who represent predominately the corporate core participants, and even to an extent, look at those of us that represent the victim core participants. A largely homogenised group, wouldn’t you agree, apart from the odd exception here and there.
“What must they be thinking in terms of, ‘are we going to get justice?’ Do they understand us?
″... this isn’t just lip service, this isn’t just saying, ‘I want someone who looks like me, for the sake of someone looking like me’. No, it’s much more than that.
“Does this inquiry pass the smell test? What is the smell test on an inquiry such as this? ... I’ve already said, look at the suits, I’ve already said, look at the victim core participants...
“As yourself does it pass the smell test? Because that relates to perception, to public perception... do they understand us, do they speak our language? Do they know anything about social housing? How many have lived in a tower block, or a council estate, or in social housing... that affects confidence. Confidence or lack of it. Affects participations and a lack of participations from the people that matter which affects justice. And a lack of justice is injustice.”
As the hearing got underway at Holborn Bars earlier today, Jeremy Corbyn hit out at revelations that more than 100 households that escaped the fire face spending Christmas in hotels and demanded the Prime Minister take urgent action.
Only 42 families from the tower have moved in to permanent new homes since the fire on June 14, a pace described by the Labour leader as a “disgrace”.
This week will see survivors and bereaved families mark the six-month anniversary of the tragedy that claimed 71 lives. Just days earlier residents held a protest outside the year’s final council meeting.
Corbyn said in a statement: “Six months on from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government is failing to learn its lessons and, more importantly, failing the survivors.
“It is a disgrace that the majority of Grenfell residents have still not been given homes and that tower blocks across our country have still not been made safe. We need answers from the Government and we need action.”
Meanwhile, the leader of the local council has said an “army” of staff are working around the clock to find properties for survivors.
Elizabeth Campbell, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said 300 homes will have been bought by Christmas to ensure that when families were ready to move on “we will be ready for them”.
Campbell acknowledged there was a “lack of trust” in the council among survivors and it was “perfectly understandable” that some had refused initial offers of accommodation because they thought it would push them down the list of people trying to find a permanent home.
She defended the council’s actions in responding to the tragedy: “We have taken on about 300 extra people - housing officers and lawyers and key workers and we have got wraparound care.
“We have got an army of people out there working 24 hours a day, seven days a week because we actually really do care, we do want to get people rehoused. We have been buying homes in this part of London at a rate of about two a day.”
She told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We will have 300 homes very shortly so everyone will have a choice, and then I guess it’s about relationships.
“It’s about individual-by-individual, family-by-family, figuring out what they want and trying to get them into a position where they feel ready to accept and ready to move on. And when they are ready to move on, we are ready for them.”
She said that “every family” in a hotel had been offered “alternative accommodation” but many had refused “for perfectly understandable reasons”.
Some felt that “if we take up an offer, we’re out of a hotel, we will go down the list of priorities, we will be forgotten about - that’s the lack of trust”.
Over the weekend the inquiry, was thrust back into the spotlight as Labour backed an overhaul of its format and Britain’s official human rights watchdog expressed misgivings.
Labour highlighted a petition launched by bereaved families and survivors in recent weeks, calling on Theresa May to install an expert panel from a diverse range of backgrounds to sit alongside inquiry head Sir Martin, who has been accused of being out of touch.
On Monday the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced its own investigation into the blaze, examining whether authorities failed in their legal obligations to residents.
Its decision to carry out an independent review will be interpreted by some as a vote of no confidence in certain aspects of Sir Martin’s work.
Despite the watchdog’s eagerness to play down a rift, one arm of the project will look at whether the Government adequately investigated the fire, including through the public inquiry.
The Grenfell Tower National Memorial Service will then be held at St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday, attended by the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.