World News

Grenfell Tower Inquiry Opens in London With Focus on Victims

Posted May 21, 2018 9:11 a.m. EDT

LONDON — An emotionally charged public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster opened Monday, almost one year after a fire at the 24-story block in West London turned into an inferno that claimed 72 lives.

The investigation’s formal agenda includes a wide array of technical issues relating to the circumstances and causes of the blaze, the design of the building, modifications to its structure since it was completed in 1974 and the “scope and adequacy” of building regulations.

The inquiry is expected to last months, possibly years, but its first nine days will be of a more personal nature, focusing on the human toll: Investigators will hear tributes to the dead, in the form of personal statements and videos by family and friends.

The judge opened the inquiry by asking those attending to stand for 72 seconds of silence to commemorate the victims.

The dead were “not just names, they were people,” Natasha Elcock, a survivor of the fire, told the BBC. “The public deserve to hear the wonderful characters that were in that block” and “what it is that we have lost as a community,” she added, “to try to get some understanding that this should never have happened.”

Typically, such inquiries examine minute details and call many witnesses for close cross-examination, but this one, led by Martin Moore-Bick, a retired appeals court judge, will be conducted in the context of a far deeper tangle of political maneuvering and passions.

Survivors have depicted the blaze as an emblem of official indifference toward ordinary people living — and dying — in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of London’s wealthiest areas.

“This should be a really seminal inquiry, and you can’t get it right unless you have the community at the heart of it,” said Diane Abbott, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party. “Grenfell is more than the sum of its parts. It is the technical aspects of how the fire started, but there are also broader issues that we need to touch on.”

Just last week, a separate inquiry by a government-appointed engineer, Judith Hackitt, concluded that Britain’s building safety regulations were lax and confused.

But Hackitt’s 159-page report stopped short of recommending a ban on flammable facades, particularly the kind of cladding that proved to be a critical element in the rapid spread of the Grenfell fire on June 14, 2017. .

“There are issues about Grenfell over and above the cladding and so on,” Abbott told the BBC. “We need to dig down and find out why those people weren’t listened to.”

“Had they been listened to before the fire, the fire would not have happened,” she continued. “It is all about giving people a voice. They said over and over that there would be this type of disaster.”