Grenfell fire: Watchdog review due amid doubts on public inquiry

Survivors to be interviewed to assess whether authorities failed on rights obligations

In a photo rated as one of AFP’s pictures of the year 2017,  police guard  a security cordon as a huge fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower early on June 14th in west London. File photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

In a photo rated as one of AFP’s pictures of the year 2017, police guard a security cordon as a huge fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower early on June 14th in west London. File photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

 

Britain’s official equality watchdog is to launch its own review of the Grenfell Tower fire amid misgivings about the scope of a forthcoming public inquiry.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it intended to interview survivors and those affected by the disaster to assess whether authorities failed in their human rights obligations.

Whether the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owned the west London block, fell short in its duty to protect life, prevent inhuman treatment and provide safe housing will likely be a key focus of the work.

Seventy-one people died when a fire tore through the building on June 14th, its spread thought to have been aided by flammable material installed during a recent refurbishment.

EHRC chairman David Isaac suggested in an interview with the Observer that he was concerned the judge-led inquiry ordered by the government “currently overlooked” human rights.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the retired Court of Appeal judge leading the process, was criticised for omitting issues such as social housing policy from his terms of reference.

The EHRC was rejected in its application to be a core participant in the inquiry, but is expected to conclude its work by April 2018 and publish a summary of its findings complete with recommendations.

This could mean its investigation will surface ahead of Sir Martin’s interim report, which officials are concerned might not be ready by the spring, as was initially hoped.

But Mr Isaac denied that the watchdog’s work was intended to be adversarial.

He told the newspaper: “It’s to be complementary to it. We will be calling on experts, particularly legal experts, looking at the international human rights obligations, asking for submissions from a whole variety of stakeholders.

“It’s not a parallel inquiry. It’s to look at what we think is important and what’s missing from the official inquiry, which is the human rights and equalities perspective.”

Troubled inquiry

The move is still likely to reignite debate about the troubled inquiry, which has been beset by criticism since its launch in June.

Most recently, a petition demanding the inquiry be overhauled was issued by families of about 50 victims and Grenfell United, the body set up to represent survivors.

It called on British prime minister Theresa May to install a panel from a diverse range of backgrounds to sit alongside Sir Martin and was publicly backed by pop superstar Adele.

Mr Isaac continued: “We are the UK’s national human rights body and we have a statutory duty to promote equality and human rights

“We think the human rights dimension to Grenfell Tower is absolutely fundamental and is currently overlooked.

“Grenfell for most people in this country, particularly in the way the government has reacted, is a pretty defining moment in terms of how inequality is perceived.”

A panel of experts will determine whether the rights afforded to Grenfell residents under the Human Rights Act and international legislation was contravened.

Full details of the commission’s work on the issue will be published on Monday. – Press Association