Monday 25 June 2018

'We must get the answers everyone craves' - tributes to Grenfell Tower fire victims as inquiry gets underway

Fire engulfs Grenfell Tower in west London
Fire engulfs Grenfell Tower in west London

Jemma Crew

Two weeks of poignant tributes from family and friends remembering Grenfell Tower fire victims will be heard by the public inquiry into the disaster as its first phase gets under way.

Almost one year on, bereaved family and friends will join together and paint a picture of the loved ones they lost in front of the retired judge chairing the probe, Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

Seventy-one people died in the fire that swept through Grenfell Tower in west London on June 14 last year.

Over the two weeks, a series of pre-recorded videos and statements will be delivered by the bereaved and on their behalf.

Starting the hearings this way on Monday 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.

While all the victims' names will be read out, it is understood that not all families will give a tribute.

Survivor Nicholas Burton will be able to pay tribute to his wife Maria Del Pilar Burton, 74, who died in January after seven months in hospital following the fire.

Mrs Burton, known as Pily, had suffered from serious long-term health conditions prior to the disaster, in which her home was destroyed and her dog died.

People hold a vigil near Grenfell tower. Photo: PA
People hold a vigil near Grenfell tower. Photo: PA

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 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 Mr 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.

Press Association

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