Anger at Grenfell inquiry judge at ‘disrespect’ for survivors
Barrister Michael Mansfield makes request at end of opening session but judge ignores him
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of the Grenfell public inquiry. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
A chandelier-decked ballroom in the Connaught Rooms, a banqueting and conference centre in Covent Garden, was an incongruous venue for the opening of a public inquiry into the fire at London’s Grenfell Tower.
The survivors sat towards the front of the room, with journalists and the public behind them, as Sir Martin Moore-Bick arrived.
“All rise!” an official-looking woman shouted as he came in, and everyone did.
Sir Martin was a controversial choice to head the inquiry, partly because some former Grenfell residents feared that such an emblem of the establishment would struggle to put himself in their shoes.
Others pointed to his ruling in 2014 in favour of Westminster City Council after they offered to rehouse 50 miles away a woman and her children who had been evicted by a private landlord in the borough.
As he delivered his 17-page opening statement in the Connaught Rooms, however, the survivors listened in respectful silence. He began well, with a simple, eloquent acknowledgement of the suffering they have borne since the fire and are enduring still. He promised to show sensitivity towards witnesses who had experienced unutterable trauma.
“I am 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 other 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 relevant evidence and examine it calmly and rationally,” he said.
At the end, Sir Martin thanked everyone for coming and got up to leave. As he did so, the barrister Michael Mansfield stood up and said he wanted to make a request on behalf of the survivors. The judge ignored him and continued to walk away as survivors shouted “hello” and “rubbish” after him.
Mansfield later accused Sir Martin of showing disrespect for the survivors, and Yvette Williams, a coordinator of Justice 4 Grenfell, which represents former residents of the tower, agreed.
‘Learn some manners’
“I think he needs to learn some manners and I hope he’s gone away right now to think that he may have made a great mistake there and maybe to offer some kind of apology,” she said.
“They’ve suffered so much. These people have lost their homes, their possessions and moreover, their loved ones. Some of them don’t even have the remains of their loved ones. And you can’t be bothered to take a question at the end, you just turn your back and walk out.”
Williams said she still believes the inquiry can find out how Grenfell happened and offer some solace to the survivors, and she praised the clear, straightforward way Sir Martin had explained the process.
“Actually I think he was getting there today so it’s a shame that he ruined it at the end,” she said.
“And I think people were really looking forward to getting the inquiry process going. So I think it’s a shame that he behaved the way he did at the end.”