Belfast Telegraph

First day of Grenfell fire inquiry ends with shouts and acrimony

By Jack Hardy

The first hearing of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry concluded to a chorus of heckles after a prominent lawyer attempted to quiz the probe's chairman.

In an opening statement, Sir Martin Moore-Bick told the packed Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn, central London, that his investigation "can and will provide answers".

The retired Court of Appeal judge said he would not "shrink" from making findings which could affect criminal prosecutions or civil actions, during a hearing lasting more than 45 minutes.

A minute's silence was held at the start of proceedings for the estimated 80 victims of the June 14 inferno, which was observed by the survivors and bereaved families in attendance.

Michael Mansfield, who represents several survivors, attempted to challenge Sir Martin.

Discontent had begun brewing when the inquiry head rejected calls for residents to be included as one of his team of assessors, telling the inquiry it would "risk undermining my impartiality".

As the meeting drew to a close, Mr Mansfield QC said: "Sir, before departing, I wonder if I may make a quick request on behalf of survivors."

He was ignored by the judge as he exited the room to shouts from gathered residents.

Speaking afterwards, the lawyer dismissed Sir Martin's decision to opt for assessors and branded his departure "disrespectful".

"I was making a request on behalf of survivors for another preliminary meeting when they would be there as key participants, as they are all going to be core participants, with designated lawyers to sort out reservations and concerns that they have had from the beginning about this whole process," he told the media. "One of them can be encapsulated in the absence of any mention of the establishment of a panel or any panel to sit with him to take decisions; there are other issues, but that's a big one. Assessors are quite separate."

Asked about Sir Martin's decision to leave the room, he said: "I feel it is disrespectful to survivors."

Earlier, Sir Martin acknowledged the "great sense of anger and betrayal" felt by survivors of the fire and those touched by the tragedy but indicated he would endeavour to examine evidence "calmly and rationally".

He expressed hope the inquiry would "provide a measure of solace", adding: "The inquiry can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London."

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