Following a great deal of activity in its first few months, the Inquiry is now able to provide an update on a number of issues.
The update includes information about:
- the progress of the Inquiry
- community engagement activity
- Core Participants
- appointment of assessors to the Inquiry
- Inquiry phases
- evidence from residents
- a procedural hearing to take place on 11 and 12 December 2017
- the venue in which the Inquiry intends to conduct its work
Progress of the Inquiry
Following the formal establishment of the Inquiry in August, the Inquiry’s initial focus has been the designation of Core Participants (CP), the securing of necessary expert involvement and the gathering of documentary evidence.
The Inquiry received an unprecedented number of CP applications. The Inquiry has also appointed a number of leading experts in the field of forensic fire analysis and fire engineering. Analysis has begun of over 200,000 documents received to date, with more to follow.
The advice from our team of experts is that understanding the conditions within the Tower, including the generation and movement of fire and smoke, is of paramount importance. To enable the experts to reach firm conclusions, they need evidence of conditions at different levels within the building as the fire and smoke developed, as well as evidence of the development of flames on the outside of the building.
Obtaining accounts from both the former residents of Grenfell Tower and from the firefighters who responded is key to this. About 225 residents managed to escape from the building and approximately 260 firefighters attended the fire. There are therefore about 500 witnesses to interview, together with other people who have accounts which must be heard. Taking statements from such a large number of people, many of whom have been traumatised by their experience, is a time-consuming, but essential, process which has yet to be completed.
The pace of this process has been unavoidably affected by the existence of the concurrent police investigation, since it is vital that the work of the Inquiry must not undermine any future prosecution. This means that, in many instances, the police need to take statements from potential witnesses before statements can be taken for the Inquiry. This is to ensure that the integrity of the evidence given to the police cannot be called into question at any future criminal trial.
Once the process of obtaining relevant statements from former residents and firefighters is complete, a number of steps will need to be taken before evidential hearings can begin. These include: analysing the evidence that has been shared by witnesses; making it available to Core Participants for them to prepare their representations; obtaining reports from the experts instructed by the Inquiry and disclosing them to Core Participants; and deciding who should be called to give oral evidence, giving them adequate preparation time and preparing the Phase 1 evidence bundles.
Consequently, the Inquiry has advised Core Participants that the Inquiry will consider the structure and timetable for progressing the Inquiry at a procedural hearing on 11 and 12 December 2017.
The Inquiry is keen to continue ensuring that those most affected by the tragedy are able to easily access its team and understand its work.
The programme of community engagement which began during the period of consultation on the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference has therefore remained a priority, with regular drop-in sessions being held for the local community. This has allowed the Inquiry to provide information about its work and to engage on a one-to-one basis with survivors, families of the bereaved and local residents. The Inquiry’s community engagement team has also attended meetings of residents’ associations. From Thursday 16 November 2017, the Inquiry will be holding a weekly drop-in every Thursday at the Latymer Community Church.
Core Participants (CPs) are entitled to provide written opening statements, the main purpose of which is to highlight particular evidence or any aspect of the Inquiry’s investigation affecting that CP. There is further information in the Protocol for considering applications for Core Participant status.
The Inquiry has received 545 applications for CP status. A total of 393 applications have been granted, 111 have been refused and 41 have been deferred or are still being considered.
There were 129 numbered flats in Grenfell Tower. The number of flats on each of the 23 floors varied from one to six. In respect of 19 flats the Inquiry has received no applications for CP status, either from residents or bereaved families. The Inquiry continues to receive further CP applications from the residents of Grenfell Tower and the Walkways and the Chair will consider them as they come in.
25 organisations and professional bodies have been granted CP status.
Appointment of assessors to the Inquiry
Three assessors, each with specific experience and expertise felt to be of value to the Inquiry, have been appointed to assist the Chairman.
At the opening of the Inquiry, the Chairman outlined the two Phases of the Inquiry.
Due to the urgent public safety issues to be examined by the Inquiry and the Chairman’s obligation to produce an interim report as quickly as possible, Phase 1 will focus on the factual narrative of the events of the night of 14 June 2017. This Phase will not examine the reasons why things happened as they did or what should have happened, nor will it assess any arrangements, decisions, regulations or policies. Phase 1 is a purely fact-finding phase.
This means that the focus of Phase 1 will be the events of the night of 14 June 2017 and, in particular:
- The existing fire safety and prevention measures at Grenfell Tower;
- where and how the fire started;
- the development of the fire and smoke;
- how the fire and smoke spread from its original seat to other parts of the building;
- the chain of events before the decision was made that there was no further savable life in the building; and
- the evacuation of residents.
Phase 1 will also examine what the emergency services did by way of response, and when. The question of why they did what they did, and the adequacy of the emergency services’ response, including the appropriateness of the “stay put” policy, and the lessons to be learned, will be considered in Phase 2.
Phase 2 will address the remainder of the issues identified in the List of Issues which was published on the Inquiry’s website on 14 September 2017.
Evidence from residents
The fire was an extremely traumatic experience for those who survived it, for the families of those who did not and for residents of neighbouring buildings who were evacuated. The Inquiry is keen to ensure that those individuals provide their evidence with the greatest possible degree of support and in such a way that avoids causing any further distress.
As the Chairman stated in his Opening Statement, residents’ evidence is likely to be of great value and he very much hopes that many will come forward to tell him about their personal experiences. To give a voice to those who have been personally affected by the fire, the Inquiry intends to publish residents’ accounts as part of the formal record of the Inquiry, so that their experiences form a permanent testimony to the dreadful events of the night of 14 June 2017.
While the Inquiry initially stated that it would do all it could to spare residents from having to give evidence more than once, a number of residents have since expressed a strong wish to provide evidence in both Phases and as part of a desire to be fully engaged with all Phases of the Inquiry’s work. The Inquiry welcomes and appreciates their full engagement and involvement and will do its utmost to facilitate this.
Initially, the Inquiry will take written and oral evidence from those who feel ready and able to give direct accounts of what occurred on the night of the fire. It will do its best to ensure that any relevant documents reasonably required by each resident are shared as soon as possible.
Similarly, the Inquiry team recognises that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to taking statements from residents is not appropriate. Residents who need more time to prepare their statements will be afforded this.
Procedural hearing on 11 and 12 December 2017
The first procedural hearing will be held on 11 and 12 December 2017 at Holborn Bars. The Inquiry is keen to ensure the requirements of all core participants are taken into account when considering the structure and timetable for progressing the Inquiry. This procedural hearing will deal with standard case management issues such as considering the time required and arrangements for the undertaking of witness statements, disclosure of evidence (including expert evidence) and the receipt of representations.
Further information will be circulated to Core Participants and published on the Inquiry’s website.
The Inquiry hearings will be held at Holborn Bars, 138-142 Holborn, London EC1N 2NQ. The venue has been selected because of its central location, good transport links to the Latimer Road area and suitable disability provisions. It is large and well-provisioned enough for the operation of the Inquiry and the accommodation of a reasonable number of those wishing to attend the hearings. In addition to the hearing venue, the Inquiry will ensure its proceedings are widely accessible by streaming them online and providing a venue within the Borough where residents and survivors can come together to watch proceedings.