22/12/2017 17:03 GMT

Theresa May Rejects Grenfell Survivors' Call For Diverse Inquiry Panel

The PM said she wants the investigation to be completed 'as quickly as possible'.

PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May has rejected calls from Grenfell survivors for an independent, diverse panel to sit alongside the head of a public inquiry into the disaster.

More than 22,000 people signed a petition, delivered to Downing Street by family members of those who died, amid doubts over inquiry leader Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s suitability.

It is feared that the retired Court of Appeal judge lacks first-hand experience of the complex cultural factors underpinning the tragedy.

Lawyers representing victims and survivors have also raised concerns about the inquiry’s ability to reflect the needs of the diverse community in north Kensington where the fire took place.

But in a letter to inquiry head Sir Martin on Friday, the prime minister said additional panel members should not be appointed so the first stage of the investigation could be complete “as quickly as reasonably possible”.

May, who by law is the only person who can authorise changes to the inquiry’s format, said she felt it had “the necessary expertise to undertake its work”.

“I am also very conscious of the need for the inquiry to complete its initial report as quickly as reasonably possible. I therefore consider that additional panel members should not be appointed at this stage,” she said.

PA Wire/PA Images
Theresa May said she wants the first part of the Grenfell inquiry to be completed as quickly as possible

The PM did say that she was “particularly pleased” to hear of proposals to establish an advisory panel, which would provide advice and guidance to Sir Martin.

This “could play a very beneficial role in putting those most affected at the heart of the inquiry and enabling them to ensure that their views and experiences are heard”, she said.

However, members of such a consultative group would not be able to make decisions.

At procedural hearings earlier in December, counsel for survivors and bereaved families stressed that this would not be a satisfactory alternative.

Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle died in the blaze, previously told the Press Association he feared participation with the inquiry would drop if such a panel was not installed.

May thanked Sir Martin for taking care to include those most affected by the fire, and said she hoped he would continue working closely with the community.

The next preliminary hearings for the inquiry will be held on January 30 and 31.

Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington, said she will do all she can to ensure the panel is formed.

She tweeted: “This inquiry will suffer a crisis of confidence if those in power refuse to engage with the wishes of survivors and the bereaved. I’m calling on the Prime Minister to reverse this decision.”