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Grenfell families urge PM to reconsider inquiry panel request

More than 22,000 people had signed a petition calling for the community to be more involved in the inquiry.

Heartbroken families of Grenfell Tower fire victims have called for Theresa May to reconsider after she denied their requests for a diverse panel to sit with the head of the public inquiry.

Adel Chaoui, who lost four relatives in the blaze, started a 22,000-signature petition delivered to Downing Street earlier this month, calling for an independent panel amid doubts over 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.

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Nicholas Burton (left), Sandra Ruiz (second right), Karim Mussilhy (right) and a girl who asked not be named (second left), hand in a petition to Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

On the last working day before Christmas, the Prime Minister revealed that additional panel members should not be appointed “at this stage” in order for the inquiry’s first phase to be completed “as quickly as reasonably possible”.

Grieving family members criticised the decision to break the news ahead of the festive season, which is expected to be particularly difficult, while local MP Emma Dent Coad called the announcement an “insult”.

Speaking on behalf of bereaved families, Mr Chaoui said the decision “seems to have been timed deliberately, on the last working day for most law firms, to limit the time available for us to take legal advice and/or challenge the decision”.

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(PA Graphics)

He went on: “Given the news was never going to be well received, the timing raises serious questions about judgment and intent.

“Poor judgment and discourtesy not to have waited until the new year to avoid upset during the holidays, but more concerning, what could possibly be behind the intent to limit time available for a response?”

Mr Chaoui said families had also found it “questionable” that Mrs May did not consult Sir Martin before making her decision.

The former judge wrote to the PM this week and said it would be “wrong” for him to take the initiative to advise her either way on the issue.

Clarrie Mendy, who lost two family members in the fire, urged the Prime Minister to reconsider as soon as possible and called on the public to rally behind the petition.

She said: “She was attending the service at St Paul’s the other day. She saw the victims, did she not see the pain?

“Everyone’s trying to make the most of the season, we just had the service which lifted us up, gave us some optimism, and now … this has just come like a knife to any hope that was given last week.”

She added: “I just pray this Christmas the three wise men come and give her a visit.”

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.

However, members of such a consultative group would not be able to make decisions, and lawyers for affected families have made clear this would not be a satisfactory alternative.

An inquiry spokesman said Sir Martin had noted Mrs May’s decision and that the inquiry was working to provide an interim report “as soon as it is possible”.

It is hoped the first strand, which will examine the events of June 14, will be conducted speedily to help prevent similar fires at high-rise blocks.

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

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Many Grenfell survivors will not have a home to call their own this Christmas, and now face the uncertainty of whether they will get any justice at all.

“The inquiry must have the full confidence of those most affected by this tragedy.”

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From Belfast Telegraph