On Thursday in my role as shadow justice minister, I attended a packed meeting of Grenfell Tower fire survivors, their relatives and neighbours.
I was alarmed by the harrowing reports of the ongoing crisis in providing those affected with the on-the-ground services that they are entitled to.
Participant after participant described to the meeting – organised by my colleague shadow home secretary Diane Abbott with local MP Emma Dent Coad and David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, also in attendance – a situation which is in stark contrast to the official reports that we have received.
Many raised a lack of adequate accommodation, including – incredibly – of a lack of provision of any private spaces to meet and grieve with family members who have come from abroad to help bury their loved ones. Others described their difficulty in accessing funds – even those for food and clothes – and the woefully inadequate provision of social workers and of counselling services for children affected by this disaster. It was clear that there is also a failure to provide the community with even basic information about the services that do exist. All of this is simply unacceptable.
Another concern raised was that they would be excluded from playing a full role in the Grenfell public inquiry, announced by the prime minister earlier this month.
Just ahead of the meeting, Theresa May announced that she had appointed Sir Martin Moore-Bick to chair the public inquiry. Explaining what had been asked of him by the government regarding the scope of the inquiry, Sir Martin said that: “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.” He also explained that “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.”
It is very worrying that these statements appear to conflict with what the residents had previously been guaranteed by the government which has claimed “no stone will be left unturned”.
In her statement on 29 June the prime minister claimed that “Sir Martin will consult all those with an interest, including survivors and victims’ families, about the terms of reference.” Likewise the Queen’s Speech made the commitment that the “residents, the families of the deceased, the mayor of London and HM Opposition will be consulted on the terms of reference under which the inquiry proceed.”
Other senior government figures have publicly stated that those affected by the fire must be sure that the inquiry will do its job. The justice secretary told Radio 4’s Law in Action programme this week that “after the experience with the Hillsborough families it’s really important to make sure those who have been absolutely traumatically affected by this disaster have utter confidence that the inquiry will get to the truth.’
There can be no rowing back from this position. The government will be judged not on its words but its actions. And so far its actions appear to be damaging, rather than inspiring, community confidence in the inquiry. One of the residents of the tower told Newsnight that there was a “big concern” over the conflicting messages about the community’s involvement in this inquiry.
If we are to ensure that the local community has full confidence in the inquiry and its findings, then the government must end any confusion and ensure that the community’s voice shapes the public inquiry. That is an essential first step in ensuring that justice is done.
Richard Burgon is the shadow justice secretary and MP for Leeds East.