Will the Grenfell Inquiry be another Judicial Whitewash as per Hillsborough and Widgery?

Published on June 14, 2021

Published on June 14, 2021

As we remember the 72 people who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower today, 14.06.21,  Liam Kelly one of our social housing tenant volunteers asks what has happened in the four years since that avoidable tragedy. 

Will the Grenfell Inquiry be another judicial whitewash as per those of  Hillsborough & Widgery where the culprits, legally owed a duty of care for the victims, who were working class and were denied justice? I summarise progress to date of the Grenfell Inquiry and raise the issue of the prevalence of the stigma attached to residents in social housing as a contributory factor in the disaster, which could happen again.

In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, the government announced a public inquiry. The Inquiry has been separated into two phases. Phase 1 focused on what happened. Hearings began on 21/5/18 and concluded on 12/12/18. The Phase 1 report was published on 30/10/19, and Phase 2 will run until February 2022.

The Government also commissioned an independent review of the building regulations and fire safety (Hackitt report 17/5/18), which concluded that the system was ‘not fit for purpose’.

The London Tenant Federation (LTF) Manifesto (2021) makes helpful recommendations to improve building safety including:

  • Making available, to staff and tenants alike, an archive of health and safety reports. These would relate to the construction, improvements, major repairs and management and maintenance of tenants’ homes.
  • Supporting tenants in understanding the construction of their homes and providing them with resources to help them accurately identify and report issues.
  • Ensuring that all homes, regardless of building height, have essential fire safety measures in place.
  • Ensuring access to plans and procedures for any necessary evacuation, which all tenants are made aware of and have the opportunity to be involved in planning.
  • Having all blocks of flats and multi-occupied homes fitted with sprinklers, and fire detection systems in place.

What has the government done to date and are tenants finally being listened to?

Hackitt recommended major reform of the building regulatory system, especially in regard to fire safety. It was recommended that residents’ safety should be a greater priority through the entire life cycle of a building. However Hackitt failed to ban the use of desktop studies and only recommends changes to buildings of 10 storeys and above. Neither Dame Judith Hackitt nor the inquiry chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, saw fit to ban the use of combustible materials on all residential buildings, or to require the use of sprinklers in blocks of flats. Questions have been raised regarding the suitability of the selecting the former high court judge who was accused of facilitating “councils to engage in social cleansing of the poor on a mass scale” in a judgement he made in 2014, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

The Phase One report (which identified the principle cause as being the combustible external cladding) produced 46 recommendations, 31 for the LFB and 15 for landlords/owners. Of these  only 4 from the LFB and 3 Landlord have been implemented by February this year.

The brief for Phase two is to determine who was responsible. It has been divided into 8 modules. The first two (Feb-March 2021) examined the details of the refurbishments’ cladding products with testimonies from senior personnel from the companies responsible for testing/certification, and product marketing. These participants were allowed to give evidence from the comfort of their own homes. Watching the core participants throughout the entire hearing numerously responding with – “I can’t recall”, to questions pertinent to incompetence, mismanagement, dereliction of duty of care, potentially criminal negligence is beyond annoyance and indicates the outcome of the Inquiry could follow the whitewash pathway.

Module 3 of Grenfell Inquiry commenced just after Easter and is now hearing the experience of residents regarding communication, consultation and complaint handling with their landlord. Whether they will be listened to remains to be seen. Watch this space.