Thursday, 6 July 2017

Grenfell Tower ~ updates



There have been several developments relating to the response to the Grenfell Tower fire of 14th June.

Terms of reference:

The Inquiry Chairman - Sir Martin Moore-Bick - has launched a consultation into its terms of reference which will set out what the Inquiry will cover.  This is a very important development requiring a response particularly from those affected by the fire.  Sir Martin will consider all suggestions made to him when drawing up the terms of reference. He will then make a recommendation to the Prime Minister, who will take the final decision on the terms of reference.   Please read the full statement at - Grenfell Tower Inquiry website and please note the extended timescale to reply to the consultation.

From the outset,
the Prime Minister said that survivors and families of victims would be consulted about the terms of reference - Prime Minister's announcement.  Nevertheless, at an early stage, Sir Martin commented about the scope that the inquiry might take - Independent 29th June - Grenfell Tower fire: Judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick 'doubtful' public inquiry will satisfy residents.  He said: "I’ve been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development in order to make recommendations about how this sort of thing can be prevented in future."  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."

I do not know what motivated Sir Martin to say this but it resulted in a storm of adverse comment (e.g. see this report in The Telegraph 4th July) and some notable blogs rightly defended the appointment and independence of this well-respected judge - see, for example, Justice Gap Grenfell: In defence of judges and  Counsel of Perfection: Grenfell Tower - what lends legitimacy.  The newly appointed Lord Chancellor also issued a statement- Statement by the Lord Chancellor -  stating "Our judiciary is respected the world over as fair, free from improper influence, and truly independent from government and Parliament. As Lord Chancellor, I am clear that their motives and integrity should always be respected and not impugned by politicians. I have complete confidence that Sir Martin Moore-Bick will lead the inquiry into this tragedy with impartiality and with a determination to get to the truth and see justice done."

It was hardly surprising that Sir Martin's comment that the inquiry would be "pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development" failed to satisfy neither those who are very involved with the aftermath of this tragedy nor the public at large.  Setting the terms too narrowly would  mean that matters of great public importance would be out of scope - see the view expressed by George Monbiot in The Guardian 5th July.   It will be essential that an inquiry examines the whole history of changes made to matters such as fire safety regulation, relevant building regulations and the inquiry must not avoid consideration of political involvement in any relevant matters.  For example, we know already that certain recommendations made  by the Coroner who examined the 2009 Lakanal House Fire remain to be implemented - Lambeth Council - Lakanal House Coroner Inquest and Response of Eric Pickles MP to the Coroner's Recommendations.  See also BBC News 21st June 2017 - Four Ministers were warned about Tower Block fire risks.

Wide terms of reference can result in an inquiry becoming very lengthy.  Obviously, the Chairman will need to consider this carefully and, given that a wider inquiry is needed to address all the concerns, he may have to hold the inquiry in stages.  A clear structure is required and could perhaps commence with a first stage to consider the immediate reasons as to why the fire spread so rapidly and the responses to the disaster including civil contingency planning.  The aim must be prevention of similar disasters and that aim is consistent with the Inquiries Act 2005 section 2 which prevents an inquiry ruling on civil or criminal liability.

The fact that the inquiry is consulting about matters to be examined is a very welcome development and this may be a useful benchmark for any future inquires.  It will help to get the terms of reference "right" from the outset.  It is possible to amend terms of reference - Inquiries Act 2005 section 5 - but the Minister has to agree to this and may only do so "if the public interest so requires."

An interim report?

The inquiry is to report in two phases, with an interim report being published as quickly as possible.  The timescale remains unclear but one would hope for key safety recommendations to be made at the earliest possible stage.

Additional members of assessors?

It is also possible for an inquiry to have more than one Member and a member can be added during the inquiry - Inquiries Act 2005 section 7 .  Assessors may also be appointed either from the outset or during the inquiry - section 11.  Assessors will usually be appointed to assist with technical evidence.

Recovery Taskforce:

A separate development has been the response of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council.  The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP) announced that he is putting in place an independent Recovery Taskforce to help the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) deal with the longer term recovery of the Grenfell Tower fire - see DCLG announcement and Written Statement to Parliament

Identification of victims:

One serious issue has been the identification of victims.  It appears that there was no actual knowledge about who exactly was in the building during the fire and, in any event, it may be that there is no simple means of knowing this.  Details of those holding tenancies would be known to the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) but there have been reports of subletting and this resulted in DCLG (with the approval of the Attorney-General) issuing a statement intended to prevent prosecution of tenants for the offence under section 1 of the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013.   An amnesty relating to immigration status has also been announced - The Guardian 5th July.

The painstaking work of finding human remains and identifying victims continues.  See BBC News 10th July 2017.

DCLG Link:

The following DCLG website link is particularly useful for those who wish to keep abreast of developments - Grenfell Tower.

Previous posts:

4th July - Local authorities, Contingency Planning , Resilience

29th June - Grenfell Tower Inquiry Chairman

18th June - Corporate Manslaughter: Criminal Liability of Corporations

17th June - Mrs May is right to decide on an Inquiry into Grenfell Tower Fire - Note: this post looks at the question of suspending Coroner Inquests where an Inquiry is set up under the Inquiries Act and has a senior judge as its Chairman.

16th June - Civil Contingencies - A brief note

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