Closing statements heard in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Almost five and a half years on from the devastating fire that destroyed Grenfell Tower and killed 72 people, overarching closing statements are this week being heard for the second and final phase of the Public Inquiry.
This important step marks the drawing together of detailed, and in many instances shocking, evidence revealed through thousands of hours of investigation and public hearings spread across 8 modules that have taken place since Phase 2 opened on 27 January 2020.
For many of the bereaved, survivors, residents and local community there is hope that this step closer to the final Inquiry report being published marks one step closer to the criminal investigations (which have been delayed pending the conclusion and report of the Public Inquiry) holding those responsible to account, and one step closer to some sense of justice for all they have had to, and continue to, endure. After all, whilst Public Inquiries in the UK do not have the power to make determinations of civil or criminal liability, they can and usually do make findings which play a vitally important role in paving the way for such actions to be brought.
It is impossible to overstate the litany of failings, missed opportunities and fraudulent and/or negligent malpractice at every level that have been exposed throughout the evidence, and the task of condensing and summarising all that has been laid bare in relatively short written and oral submissions is considerable.
Lawyers representing the Bereaved, Survivors and Residents (referred to in the Inquiry as “BSRs”) were first to make their closing submissions on Monday 7 November 2022. Central to all these submissions was a plea on behalf of the BSRs that the Inquiry Chair and Panel address as wide a range of contributory issues as possible in their report, including the impact of institutional racism and discrimination, and that steps are taken to ensure that the recommendations made are implemented in a timely and effective manner such that positive change takes place and the disaster marks a real turning point. There was unanimous support amongst the BSR submissions in the call for a national oversight mechanism, as advocated for by the charity INQUEST, to be set up. We at Saunders Law also echo and support this call.
Similarly unanimous were the renewed calls for the “merry go round of buck passing” to come to an end and for all those involved to make “an unequivocal, unambiguous and forthright apology for their part in the disaster”. Significant points were extracted from the overwhelming weight of evidence to argue in summary the many causative and contributive failings of players including central government, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, RBKC Building Control, Arconic, Studio E, Exova, Harley, Rydon, Celotex, Kingspan, PSB, the BRE and other testing and certification bodies.
At the heart of all these failings, it was submitted, is a culture of neglect and indifference, a complete lack of a duty of care with little consideration for “the fate of ordinary people”. The prioritisation of deregulation, cost-cutting, profit and commercial greed over life and fire safety, combined with a regulatory system and industry that enabled such indifferent and dangerous mindsets to endure, resulted in the creation of societal conditions in which such a “catastrophic incident that should never have happened, and was preventable” could took place.
The conclusions of each of the submissions on behalf of the BSRs were particularly poignant and bear repeating:
“those we consider primarily at fault for the disaster had or ought to have had specialist knowledge and were in a position to alter the outcome by deploying that knowledge in the interests of safety.”
Stephanie Barwise KC
“Grenfell was a human rights disaster, a systematic failure of state and private actors to protect the life, security and dignity of people. There are undoubted individual wrongdoers in this tragedy but there was also wider institutional and societal indifference that allowed them to act with impunity.”
Danny Friedman KC
“What does this justice look like? Our clients are clear. If nothing changes, their loved ones will have died in vain, and they are not prepared to accept that. They want wholesale change to the housing sector in this country so that there is safe and suitable housing for all, not just the white, able-bodied and wealthy. They want meaningful recommendations to come from this Inquiry and they want those recommendations implemented in full and in a timely manner. They want the law to change so that those who are considered criminally culpable are swiftly prosecuted and properly punished. They want those who are responsible for failures to be forced to accept responsibility at the outset, rather than playing the blame game as almost every party has done during the Inquiry. And when tragedies such as this occur -- and they will -- when everyone knows what happened and why it happened and who was at fault, they don't want the victims to have to wait for half a decade, as they have had to do here. They also want 14 June to become a national day to memorialise the Grenfell Tower fire so that it is a lasting and permanent legacy of something that is never forgotten, so that it cannot be forgotten.”
Imran Khan KC
“Whether it's called a human rights disaster or characterised in other ways, what happened was criminal, in the colloquial sense and in the legal sense… there has been demonstrable failure and deplorable characteristics of arrogance, complacency, lies, deceit, all the way through...We say this Inquiry should end, we hope, on a positive note, in which the families can stand alongside their tower and say they've achieved something for later generations.”
Michael Mansfield KC
“You are clearly going to have to make highly critical findings about a large number of people and organisations, but this is not just a story of incompetence or worse on the part of individuals and companies. They were all operating within a culture which did not encourage either competence or honesty, a market and a system in which there was a head long race to the bottom, and that culture had flourished because governments and regulators had not put in place adequate procedures to root out the fraudulent and the unskilled. The fire, therefore, was the result of catastrophic failures on a personal, corporate, regulatory and governmental scale, and we urge the Inquiry to so find in the strongest possible terms. The bereaved, survivors and residents expect the panel to so find, and they wait expectantly upon your report. They have waited patiently, but the time for waiting is now over.”
Adrian Williamson KC
Saunders Law represents multiple Bereaved, Survivors and former residents of Grenfell Tower in the Public Inquiry. We offer expert legal assistance and representation in all public inquiry cases, and we are well-known for our work and thorough approach to complex cases, please contact us on +44(0)207 632 4300, or fill in our online enquiry form if you would like our assistance and we would be happy to discuss your matter with you.