Latest: Heckles and criticsm fly as Grenfell Tower inquiry concludes first hearing

Update 1.30pm:The first hearing of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry concluded to a chorus of heckles after a prominent lawyer attempted to quiz the probe's chairman.

But the controversy which has dogged the probe was not far behind, as Michael Mansfield, who represents several survivors, attempted to challenge chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

Discontent had begun brewing when the inquiry head rejected calls for residents to be included as one of his team of assessors, telling the inquiry it would "risk undermining my impartiality".

As the meeting drew to a close, Mr Mansfield QC said: "Sir, before departing, I wonder if I may make a quick request on behalf of survivors."

He was ignored by the judge as he exited the room to shouts of "hello?" and "rubbish" from gathered residents.

Speaking afterwards, the lawyer dismissed Sir Martin's decision to opt for assessors and branded his departure "disrespectful".

He told the Press Association: "I was making a request on behalf of survivors for another preliminary meeting when they would be there as key participants, as they are all going to be core participants, with designated lawyers to sort out reservations and concerns that they have had from the beginning about this whole process.

"One of them can be encapsulated in the absence of any mention of the establishment of a panel or any panel to sit with him to take decisions, there are other issues, but that's a big one.

"Assessors are quite separate."

Asked about Sir Martin's decision to leave the room, he said: "I feel it is disrespectful to survivors."

Hamid, a former resident of the tower's 16th floor, was also among those watching Sir Martin's opening statement.

He said: "I think it is rubbish, nothing special, this is a serious matter, it is not good.

"Everything is missing, they never gave us a chance to make a point."

Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick also faced criticism for the "tasteless" choice of the Grand Connaught Rooms as a venue for the hearing.

Emma Dent Coad, MP for Kensington, described the hearings as a "cold and clinical process".

Speaking outside, she told the Press Association: "There has been huge anxiety about how this would happen.

"A lot of anxiety - and some people have literally come out here today for the first time. They've been stuck, they've been within their community.

"They made a huge effort to come here and then what do we have - it was a very cold, clinical process and then the judge got up and walked out.

"It was very odd, I found it quite strange."

Ms Dent Coad said while she believes Sir Martin will do a "meticulous" job, the inquiry into the blaze would not provide a "full answer" for those affected.

She said: "We are not going to get justice from this. This will come up with some answers, but this is not part of that legal process which will lead to justice."

The Labour MP described the venue - a grand room lit with chandeliers - as "tasteless".

She said: "It was very strange for us to come to a ballroom with glittering chandeliers to start this inquiry.

"I thought it was quite inappropriate and kind of set the tone between the 'us and them' aspect. I don't think that went down very well with a lot of people."

Yvette Williams, co-ordinater for Justice for Grenfell, said the hearing had been easy to follow and understand.

But she criticised Sir Martin for failing to appoint a community adviser to the panel's top team and ignoring a question from Michael Mansfield QC, who represents some survivors.

She said: "At the end, to not even give 15 minutes to questions is appalling.

"So I'm hoping that the civil service advisers have gone back to him now and said actually that was a bit of a faux pas."

Update 11.24pm: The chairman of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has reassured those affected by the disaster that the probe "can and will provide answers".

Sir Martin Moore-Bick told the packed Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn, central London, that he hoped the inquiry would "provide a measure of solace" to the survivors and the families of those caught up in the blaze, which claimed at least 80 lives.

Leading a minute's silence before opening the hearing, impeccably held by those present including those affected by the disaster on June 14, the former Court of Appeal Judge said: "The inquiry can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London."

Sir Martin Moore Bick

Sir Martin acknowledged the "great sense of anger and betrayal" felt by survivors of the fire and those touched by the tragedy - but indicated he would endeavour to examine evidence "calmly and rationally".

He said the probe's terms of reference had been "deliberately cast in broad terms in order to give me the scope to pursue any line of inquiry that seems fruitful".

Among the issues to be examined in detail are the causes of the fire, the response of the council and the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower which is suspected of exacerbating the blaze.

Sir Martin said: "My job isn't to decide which two or more parties had the best case.

"It is simply to get to the truth with the help of all those who have relevant evidence to give.

"The process should be seen as essentially co-operative."

He said: "I'm well aware that the past few months have turned the world of those who live in North Kensington upside down and that former residents of the tower and local people feel a great sense of anger and betrayal.

"That is entirely natural and understandable, but if the inquiry is to get to the truth of what happened, it must seek out all the evidence and examine it calmly and rationally. "

Signalling his intent to examine how flammable material was installed on Grenfell Tower, Sir Martin said the inquiry would examine what "motivated" decisions about its design.

It has been alleged that combustible cladding was wrapped around the 24-storey block to cut costs during the £8.6 million refit.

Sir Martin said he would not "shrink" from making findings which could affect criminal prosecutions or civil actions.

He said: "Section Two of the Enquiries Act 2005 prohibits me from ruling on or determining anyone's civil or criminal liability.

"However the same section also expressly provides that I am not to be inhibited by the likelihood of liability being inferred from any findings or recommendations that I may make.

"I shall therefore not shrink from making any findings or recommendations that are justified by the evidence simply because someone else may at a later date consider that they form the basis of civil or criminal liability.

"The police are of course conducting their own investigation into possible criminal offences."

Sir Martin said it "may take some time" to decide whether applications for core participant status - allowing them privileges such as access to evidence and asking questions during the inquiry - would be granted.

He issued a plea for those who may have evidence regarding the disaster to "do whatever they can to preserve the material and inform the inquiry team at once".

Earlier: The chairman of the public inquiry into the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire in London will deliver his opening statement in the first public hearing of the contentious probe.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the retired judge chosen by British Prime Minister Theresa May to lead the inquiry, will give his address at the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London.

The former UK Court of Appeal judge will not take questions following the hearing, which is expected to last around 45 minutes.

Survivors and victims' families will be able to watch live on a screen in Notting Hill Methodist Church, where they are likely to be listening intently to the language and tone of Sir Martin's opening.

The chairman faced anger from the community in a series of public meetings designed to help shape the terms of reference but, once these were announced, the inquiry was criticised for excluding an examination of wider social housing policy.

Campaigners had pressed for the probe to scrutinise the systemic issues underlying the cause of the tragedy on June 14, when at least 80 people died.

A silent march is planned for later on Thursday evening at the same church where the hearing will be screened.

The UK Labour party has warned the Government the inquiry should not be reason to delay improvement measures to tower blocks.

UK shadow housing minister John Healey, in a letter to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, said: "Thirteen weeks after the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, it is astonishing that ministers still cannot tell tenants and the public how many of the country's 4,000 high-rise tower blocks are not safe, that promises of financial support for urgent work have not been honoured, and that the support for Grenfell survivors is still hopelessly inadequate."

On the eve of the inquiry's opening, it emerged just one in 50 (2%) of the UK's social housing tower blocks has a full sprinkler system.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Breakfast also found that 68% of the council and housing association-owned blocks have just one staircase through which to evacuate.

London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton told the broadcaster she supported retrofitting towers built before 2007, when sprinklers were made compulsory in new-build high rises over 30 metres tall in England.

Mr Healey urged Mr Javid to fund retrofitting sprinkler systems in light of the research.


Join the conversation - comment here

House Rules for comments - FAQ - Important message for commenters


Most Read in World