Grenfell Tower fire: Judge 'doubt' over inquiry scope

The retired judge heading the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire says he is “doubtful” the process will be as wide-ranging as some residents hope.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick said the probe could be limited to the cause, how it spread, and preventing a future blaze.

He was speaking after travelling to the site of the fire in North Kensington and meeting some of the survivors.

Some Grenfell residents have said they were unhappy at not being involved in Sir Martin’s appointment.

The judge said his meeting with survivors was “very useful”.

He added: “I’m well aware the residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that – whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I’m more doubtful.”

He said the fire was an “enormous tragedy and I can honestly say I have never seen anything like that building which is now completely gutted”.

Referring to calls for a wide-reaching examination of the blaze, Sir Martin said: “There may be other ways in which the desire for that investigation could be satisfied.”

Police said 80 people are now presumed dead after the fire but the final toll may not be known until at least the end of the year.

Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs she expects Sir Martin will want to produce an interim report “as early as possible” to address the immediate lessons from the fire.

Sir Martin, a retired Court of Appeal judge, said an interim report could be produced within a year.

But he said the inquiry “could be very challenging”.

He said: “I think it’s impossible to say how long it’s going to take; I have said on other occasions a matter of months, some people have talked about two or three months. I don’t think that’s realistic…

“I would hope to be able to answer the basic factual questions such as how did the fire start, how did it spread, how was it able to engulf the building in such speed and also questions such as what internal precautions there were, what steps were available for alerting residents and allowing them to escape.”

Speaking after the meeting with Sir Martin, Joe Delaney, from the Grenfell Action Group, said he “seems a genuine guy” but “seems to want to keep the scope very narrow… while we are more looking at why was it started in the first place, why were residents ignored?”

Mr Delaney had earlier expressed concerns that a judge with a background in commercial law would be dealing with what he said was a “criminal matter”.

Olesea Matcovschi, chairwoman of the Lancaster West Residents Association, said: “We told him what we expected for the public inquiry, so we will see how it goes, it is too early to say if the public inquiry satisfies our concerns.”

Questions were raised in the aftermath of the disaster about the cladding used on Grenfell and other buildings. Cladding from 137 high rise buildings in 41 local authority areas of England has now failed fire safety tests.

Who is Sir Martin?

Born in Wales and educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, his career has spanned nearly five decades after being called to the Bar in 1969.

As a lawyer, he specialised in commercial law which involved dealing with disputes relating to maritime and land transport of goods.

Sir Martin went on to spend more than 20 years as a judge of the Commercial Court and Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2016.

Leading barrister Michael Mansfield QC, who has met survivors of the fire, said it was “unbelievable that lessons are not learned” from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which is now on its fourth chairman.

He said that inquiry “did not consult with the families and the survivors” and “the same thing seems to have happened all over again”.

Grenfell residents have already pointed to a case in November 2014, in which Sir Martin ruled Westminster City Council could rehouse a single mother-of-five more than 50 miles away in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes.

The decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in April 2015 – but addressing residents’ concerns over the ruling, Sir Martin said he was surprised at the focus on one of many cases he had heard.

He added: “One simply reaches the conclusion that you think is right, applying the law as you see it, and that is the work of a judge.”

He said the incident was of a type he was “very familiar with as a judge”, having dealt with disasters on sea and land.

Who are the Grenfell victims?

Eighteen people have been formally identified by the coroner, but not all names have been released.

The opening of inquests into seven of the victims heard six-month-old Leena Belkadi was found dead in her mother’s arms.

Most of those who died in the fire were said to be in 23 of the North Kensington tower block’s 129 flats.

Some residents tried to move up the building to escape the flames – and it is thought a number may have ended up in one flat.

Police are tracing victims via “every imaginable source” of information; from government agencies to fast food firms.

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