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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Our work on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

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On 14 June 2017, a dreadful fire swept through Grenfell Tower in North Kensington and at least 71 people lost their lives; the TV news pictures of the fire and its aftermath are shocking, and in addition to the loss of life, over 100 homes were destroyed; despite politicians’ promises, many of those left homeless are still living in temporary accommodation.

The local community, the general public and politicians expressed concerns not only about Grenfell tragedy itself, but about fire safety in tower blocks generally, and the Prime Minister set up a Public Inquiry chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired judge, to investigate. His remit includes investigating the local authority and owner, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, their tenant management organisation that ran Grenfell, and the design and construction of Grenfell and recent cladding works to it, and whether poor design & construction and inadequate safety provisions made a tragedy on this scale possible.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick said in his opening statement on 14 September 2017 that

  • the fire on 14 June was “a tragedy unprecedented in modern times” and he hoped the inquiry would eventually provide “a small measure of solace” for victims’ families.
  • The hearings would provide answers to “the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st-century London”.

Our partner James Saunders has a long association with North Kensington, and a long-standing client Lee Disson, lost his father Tony in the fire, and asked us to represent him.

We secured Core Participant status for Lee in the Inquiry, so that he has access to evidence obtained by the Inquiry and can make submissions to the Inquiry, with the Inquiry funding his legal costs. The stated purpose of the Inquiry is to establish what happened on 14 June 2017, why it happened and what can be done to prevent such a disaster occurring again. We made detailed representations to the Inquiry about the history of North Kensington, which can be viewed here.

A procedural hearing took place on 11 and 12 December 2017 and a second is scheduled to take place on 21 and 22 March 2018. The process of providing core participants with disclosure of documents gathered by the relevant agencies only began on 19 February 2018.   With some 800,000 pages of documents accumulated so far this is a mammoth task, but the parallel police enquiry into corporate manslaughter dwarfs that with 31 million pages.

In addition to those who survived the fire, residents of Grenfell or the immediate surrounding area and the bereaved, there are another 26 Core Participants which include the government, fire brigade and those involved in the construction, maintenance and management of Grenfell Tower.

The path of the Inquiry

The Inquiry plans to hear evidence in two phases. The first phase will address what occurred on the night of the fire itself and the physical causes of the fire. The second will look more widely at the causes of the fire, including the decisions, acts and omissions of government, public and commercial bodies involved in Grenfell’s construction and management.

Victim Core Participants and those representing them have raised concerns about the lack of diversity in the Inquiry’s leadership panel (it consisting solely of the Chair himself), the lack of progress to date, and not having those personally affected by the fire at the heart of the Inquiry.

In addition, at the first procedural hearing, victim Core Participants made submissions that the division of the two phases was arbitrary and unhelpful. It might require vulnerable witnesses to give evidence twice, artificially separating their evidence about the night of the fire and how such a fire was possible, when such evidence is likely to be inextricably intertwined.  Sir Martin has suggested that the division into phases was necessary to allow urgent recommendations to prevent another fire in another block, but the lack of progress made since the fire itself undermines this. It is now planned that the Inquiry will start taking evidence in May 2018.

It would of course be inappropriate for us to prejudice the police manslaughter investigations, but correspondence is now in the public domain in which Grenfell residents asked if there would have to be a tragedy before Grenfell was made safe.  The victims have a sense of unease around the decision to hold off examining the history for so long, potentially giving time for evidence unhelpful to the guilty to be buried.

Our challenge to the appointment of KPMG

In January 2018 it transpired, following a story in the Evening Standard, that that the Inquiry and the Cabinet Office had quietly hired KPMG, the massive outsourcing firm, in August 2017 to work for it on Grenfell, despite KPMG having undertaken work for –

  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea which owned Grenfell and
  • Rydon, the main contractors who installed the Grenfell’s cladding system and
  • Celotex, a company which manufactured cladding used on Grenfell

James Saunders challenged the Inquiry directly regarding the Evening Standard story, noting that, if it was true, the Inquiry “would have brought in to its heart the auditors of the main contractor, the manufacturers of flammable material used to clad the tower, and the local authority owners of the building, all potential suspects for wrongdoing”. The conflict of interest was “obvious” and statements that the victims and families would be at the heart of the Inquiry “rang pretty hollow” as a result. The revelations regarding KPMG were the latest in “a developing pattern of the victims being excluded from real participation in the inquiry as regards access to experts, rights of audience, attendance of Counsel at lawyer’s meetings, and disclosure” with the lack of transparency having a “corrosive” effect on the atmosphere of trust which the Inquiry was intended to promote.

Within two days of our representations KPMG stood down.   

A second procedural hearing is due to take place on 21 and 22 March 2018.   We are working closely with law firms representing others who survived the fire and were bereaved  We have instructed as counsel Michael Mansfield QC, who has extensive experience and played a central role in other high profile Inquiries including Stephen Lawrence and Hillsborough.

Inquiry Solicitors London

We undertake a range of Public Inquiries and Inquests, and are the lead solicitors for nearly 600 of the bereaved Hillsborough families and survivors in their Class Action against South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police. Contact us for more information.

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