Theresa May has finally agreed to appoint a panel of experts to the Grenfell inquiry. This decision took a petition initiated by the survivors and bereaved families, thousands of signatures and an unrelenting campaign. This was a stress that the survivors and bereaved should not have had to face, and could have been spared if she had respected their wishes from the outset.
It is right to welcome the appointment of two members on the panel for phase two of the inquiry looking at the circumstances surrounding the fire as a step in the right direction – but it does not go far enough.
To ensure consistency and overview of the entire process, the panel should sit on both phases of the inquiry. The issues that culminated in this catastrophe are so entrenched that even the factors in phase one of the inquiry, which will look specifically at the fire on the night of June 14th, should be scrutinised by the panel.
Much has been said in the press regarding the flammable cladding that turned the tower into a horrific inferno in a matter of minutes. Every aspect of this inquiry is painful for those who suffered as a result, and the inquiry needs to give them respect and confidence.
There are still a number of outstanding questions. When will phase one conclude and phase two begin? Will the families’ lawyers see all evidence from the start and be allowed to question witnesses at the hearings? How quickly will there be disclosure of evidence to the families’ lawyers? Who will the additional panel members be and what will their areas of expertise be?
The Prime Minister’s sudden U-turn highlights the inadequate response from the government to the Grenfell community. Theresa May’s intransigence on this means the jury is out on whether her promise that “no stone will be left unturned in this inquiry” will be fulfilled.
The most successful inquiry in recent times was Macpherson. Its thorough investigation and far reaching outcomes brought home the painful reality of institutional racism. A key measure of its success is the support and acceptance it received from the immediate family of Stephen Lawrence, as well as the regard in which it is held by communities that suffer from institutional racism. The Grenfell community needs a similar result.
The woefully inadequate response from the government on Grenfell does not stop at concerns over recourse to justice. From permanent rehousing for survivors to fire safety lessons that could prevent another Grenfell, deep concerns remain almost a year later. The lesson of Theresa May’s U-turn is that she must listen to the demands of the survivors and bereaved of Grenfell.
Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.