Head of Grenfell probe will not ask for overhaul of inquiry’s format
Survivors and bereaved families have lobbied for a panel to sit alongside him.
The judge leading the Grenfell Tower public inquiry has rejected calls that he ask the Prime Minister for the probe to be overhauled.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick had faced pressure to discuss with Theresa May the possibility that a panel from a diverse range of backgrounds sit alongside him during proceedings.
Survivors and bereaved families have lobbied for an overhaul of the inquiry’s format due to lingering doubts about Sir Martin’s suitability for the role.
He wrote in a letter published on Wednesday: “I am and must remain completely independent of the Government and in my view it would be wrong for me to take the initiative by advising the Prime Minister either to appoint additional members to the panel or not to do so.”
Only Mrs May can authorise a change in the inquiry’s format under the Inquiries Act 2005.Organisations involved in the refurbishment and management of Grenfell Tower were also asked to provide statements about their work to the inquiry.
The retired Court of Appeal judge wrote to commercial core participants including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), requesting they describe their “role” in the block’s history during the five years before the fire.
It is suspected that the installation of a flammable cladding system on the 24-storey tower contributed to the spread of the June 14 inferno, which killed 71.
In a concession to those touched by the tragedy, Sir Martin said he would consider on a case-by-case basis whether their counsel could question witnesses.
His 18-page letter said it was hoped that evidence hearings could begin after Easter 2018.
RBKC owned the west London block, but it was managed on the authority’s behalf by the KCTMO, an arm’s-length organisation.
The KCTMO was stripped of responsibility for Kensington and Chelsea’s social housing stock after the fire.
An £8.6 million refurbishment of Grenfell Tower finished in 2016, having been designed and delivered by the KCTMO and contractor Rydon.
It was alleged that the council and the KCTMO repeatedly ignored residents’ warnings about fire safety.
They are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police for potential corporate manslaughter offences.
Michael Mansfield, who represents several survivors of the tragedy, first requested that Sir Martin approach the Prime Minister during a preliminary hearing at the inquiry.
The judge wrote in response: “My role in the matter is limited to responding to a proposal made by her.”
It came after a petition was delivered to Downing Street by survivors and bereaved families, bearing 16,000 signatures of those backing a panel-led inquiry.
Sir Martin continued: “That must be a matter for her own judgment, free of any unsolicited advice from me
“If proposals were made to expand the panel I should, of course, consider them carefully and with an open mind, but unless and until that occurs, I must refrain from comment.
“For these reasons I refuse the formal application that I should consult the core participants on the identity of potential additional panel members and make recommendations to the Prime Minister for appointments.”
An expert with direct knowledge of social housing management will be appointed to give evidence on how tenants’ complaints and warnings should be handled, Sir Martin said.