Grenfell survivors fear a whitewash after judge Martin Moore-Bick said the public inquiry will be limited to how the fire started.
Source: The GuardianSurvivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have written to the prime minister demanding that the composition of the public inquiry be entirely changed amid fears that it will be a whitewash.
The survivors are angry at what they say is a failure of the government and Kensington and Chelsea council to deal appropriately with the tragedy and are concerned that the inquiry will follow in a similar vein.
The letter, which contains 12 demands in all, has been drawn up based on feedback from a meeting of about 150 survivors of the fire and BMELawyers4Grenfell, a team of black and minority ethnic lawyers who are supporting them.
BMELawyers4Grenfell said that if the terms of reference of the inquiry did not change, it would consider a judicial review against the government for failing to consult sufficiently with those affected by the fire.
The 12 demands include:
- A properly diverse expert panel to sit alongside the inquiry judge to advise on a variety of issues, including housing need, fire and safety construction.
- A response team to be available to survivors 24 hours a day.
- The removal of Sir Martin Moore-Bick as head of the inquiry.
- The centralisation of all donations into one charity and a full record of money collected.
- Confirmation in writing from the home secretary within 28 days that undocumented survivors are given full UK citizenship.
- A guarantee that the interim findings will be made public within four months.
The survivors are concerned about comments from Moore-Bick, the former court of appeal judge who is heading the inquiry, that it will be restricted to issues relating to how the fire started and spread rather than examining wider issues about Grenfell Tower, the council, central government and the management and funding of social housing.
Peter Herbert, the chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, said: “The inquiry must be capable of guaranteeing answers that honour the memory of all those who have lost their lives and those that remain.”
He said the government must “appoint a judge that residents are comfortable with”. Justice4Grenfell, another group supporting survivors and bereaved relatives, has called for Moore-Bick to step down.
Conspiracy theorists? No: the Grenfell survivors are right to distrust the statePerhaps it’s because it has come to represent so much of what is broken in our society that it doesn’t seem possible the Grenfell Tower fire started less than three weeks ago. In the days that have followed, our deepest divisions have played out on the streets of Kensington and beyond: rich versus poor, voiceless versus powerful, those the state protects versus those who pay its price.
And, amidst it all, growing accusations of a cover-up around a death toll that has crept up cautiously and incrementally jar against accounts of flats filled with guests breaking Ramadan fasts, and the frantic mental arithmetic employed to tot up the tower’s likely occupants at 1am on a Wednesday morning.
The reasons for this, and the Metropolitan police’s most recent announcement that the final death toll will probably not be known this year, are many and undoubtedly legitimate. But these things have evoked justifiable anger from residents, as noted by the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, who tweeted last week that “trust is at rock bottom in the community. Failure to provide updates of the true number that died is feeding suspicion of a cover-up.”
As quickly as they had embraced survivors as passive receptacles for sympathetic platitudes, some corners of the political class took on an increasingly sneering tone as heartbreak turned to anger, and confusion to suspicion. Contempt for an angry working class returned, wrapped up in incredulity that people whose neighbours had burned to death in their homes might harbour some distrust for the state that was meant to protect them.
The idea of a “conspiracy theory” is a disparaging one, evoking images of wild-eyed outcasts rambling incoherently while polite society avoids eye contact. Nasa faked the moon landings, they might say, or Elvis Presley is still alive and wandering brazenly around Graceland; JFK’s murder is unsolved; UFOs crashed in New Mexico; Bush did 9/11.
These are conspiracy theories, and they are, for the most part, as ridiculous as the title connotes. But what they are not is in any way similar to widespread distrust from Grenfell residents – or Hillsborough campaigners, Orgreave activists or any other marginalised group battling resolutely for justice in spite of a system stacked heavily against them.
Grenfell Tower residents, it quickly emerged, had long been fighting for their own safety and warning of an imminent catastrophe if their calls were not acted upon. On 24 June, they not only saw their predictions come true in the most visceral of forms, but those that survived fought on as responses from the council and government proved chaotic and inadequate. Handwritten names stood in for official lists of the missing, and WhatsApp groups for formal communication channels between surviving residents spread across London in temporary accommodation.
The prime minister visited but met no residents. Councillors refused calls for a public meeting with survivors. As recently as Thursday, Kensington and Chelsea council announced that its first meeting since the fire would take place behind closed doors before abruptly adjourning it altogether upon being forced to admit the media.
Against this backdrop of mass confusion, trauma and a complete breakdown in communication, it seems incredible that Grenfell survivors should have any other instinct but cynicism. Suspicion doesn’t emerge in a vacuum as a way to pass time between protests, but from uncertainty and mistrust, the inevitable result of lives spent being dismissed, and people let down and excluded by the institutions purportedly meant to support them.
It’s easy to sneer at when your interests are protected by the state, and any allegations of wrongdoing by its agencies seem ludicrous and offensive – but for those injured by its failings, an alternative is rarely visible.
Grenfell survivors are not the first to realise that giving voice to distrust of the state will see you consigned to the realm of fantasy and farce, however justified your concerns might be. The Hillsborough protestors, who saw charges brought against state officials last week, fought tirelessly for 28 years in the face of public smears and cover-ups. And those who allege police brutality at the 1984 Orgreave miners’ picket are still doing so. Suspicion from activist groups of state monitoring and investigation is regularly mocked in the mainstream, despite the revelation of long-term and widespread infiltration of protest groups by undercover police officers. Not all conspiracy theories are created equal – and not all are even conspiracy theories.
Under the widespread inequality and state-endorsed disenfranchisement that contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire, it’s clear that suspicion on the part of the powerless is understandable, even where it’s ultimately unfounded. What residents need now is transparency, communication and the reassurance that their voices do matter. Mocking the marginalised for distrust in the institutions that marginalised them will only reinforce their sense of isolation and paranoia.