Individual hearings to commemorate Grenfell victims prior to probe evidence
The inquiry, due to start hearing evidence in June, is also expected to formally mark the one-year anniversary of the June 14 fire.
The 71 victims of the Grenfell Tower fire will be individually commemorated in a series of hearings before evidence is heard by the public inquiry into the tragedy.
Survivors and bereaved family members will be able to memorialise their loved ones “calmly and with dignity” during a special period of hearings ahead of the oral evidence.
Mr Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, said the team was “warmly in agreement” that the bereaved could pay tribute using video, audio recordings and a range of presentations during the hearings, which will begin on May 21.
He told the procedural hearing at Holborn Bars, central London: “By starting the public hearings of this inquiry in this way, we can ensure that, however technical and scientific the issues may then become, however dry, however legal, we will never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it”.
The inquiry, which is due to start hearing evidence in June, is also expected to formally mark the one-year anniversary of the June 14 fire.
Leslie Thomas QC, who is representing 11 firms, said the tributes would be “nothing less than a testimonial to the dead” so that “when you, sir, come to hear the evidence that evidence can be put in its proper context”.
He added: “This is not because what is being sought is sympathy, but more empathy, so that you know the people who are being referred to.
“They are not just another statistic, not just another number, not just another dead person.
“We are dealing with real people, who had real lives, who have suffered real loss and who are in real pain.”
Wednesday’s hearing was temporarily halted when a loudspeaker announcement warned those gathered that a fire had been reported in the building.
Sir Martin initially told the room: “I think for the moment we should stay where we are”, but agreed to rise after Pete Weatherby QC said he was conscious of the bereaved and survivors’ position.
The chairman later apologised after Grenfell United, the main group representing survivors and the bereaved, said this was “insensitive”.
He said the “genuine” alert had been for an adjacent building, acknowledging this must have been “distressing if not frightening” for some present.
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.
Mr Millett said 532 individual and groups were granted the status, including 128 from bereaved families, 209 who were residents of the tower or visitors at the time of fire, four leaseholders who were not resident at the time and 163 from the Walkways – the three blocks surrounding the high-rise.
In addition, 28 organisations, including Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (TMO) and Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC), have been granted core participant status.
So far the inquiry has gathered 330,000 documents from 45 providers and expects the total number of documents to exceed 400,000.
Mr Millett said the inquiry team had received 415 firefighter witness statements from the Metropolitan Police as of March 16.
It is hoping to disclose 121 firefighter statements to core participants “as soon as possible”, he said, but added that no witness statements from survivors or bereaved family members have yet been received.
The team has also listened to and transcribed 560 recordings of 999 calls made on the night of the fire.
Mr Millett said some of the material would be distressing but it would be “a failure of our public duty if the inquiry was to sanitise the evidence”.
But Mr Weatherby QC, who represents 62 core participants, said only just over 0.5% of the documents available to the inquiry had been disclosed to his team, and urged the rest to be released “at the earliest opportunity”.
Mr Millett also said the inquiry team had researched more than 150 alternative venues for hearings after concerns from core participants but had concluded that the current building remains “the best available option” for now.
Grenfell United said this was disappointing news, tweeting: “Holborn Bars is not a suitable location & ignores the traumatic emotional impact of travelling in deep claustrophobic tube tunnels.”
Anne Studd QC, for the Mayor of London, suggested that the beginning of the tributes to those who died could be marked by a formal opening, perhaps nearer to North Kensington, which would bestow the “appropriate formality, dignity and respect” on these sessions.
The procedural hearing, scheduled over two days, finished on Wednesday afternoon.