Grenfell Tower fire inquiry promises 'answers'
London (AFP) –
An inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire disaster opened on Thursday with a minute's silence to remember the victims, as survivors demanded answers over the west London apartment block blaze that killed at least 80 people.
The inquiry "can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London," said Martin Moore-Bick, the retired judge heading up the probe.
Moore-Bick spoke of his "dismay and sadness" at the June 14 blaze and paid tribute to the "fortitude and resilience" of the local community, including child survivors who attended school the following day.
But he turned down a request from some survivors for a member of the local community to be appointed to his investigating team, saying that this would "risk undermining my impartiality".
- 'Lack of trust' -
Residents had complained for years about fire safety in the 24-storey social housing tower and have voiced anger at delays in assistance following the blaze as well as scepticism about whether the inquiry can help.
Resentment at the official response was particularly acute as Kensington and Chelsea, the borough where the tower is located, is the richest area of Britain.
"There's a lack of trust," said Reverend Mike Long of Notting Hill Methodist Church near the charred remains of Grenfell Tower, where the inquiry was being shown on a live feed for local residents.
Long told AFP there was "a bit of chaos" in the initial response and there was still "a long way to go" despite recent improvements in government aid.
But Thomasina Hessel, who was evacuated from her home near the tower, said she was still living in a hotel.
"We have to continue to scrutinise this inquiry... For me personally it means justice. We need the truth and people to be held to account," she said.
Marcia Haynes, whose daughter and grandson are also living in temporary accommodation, said she did "not expect anything" from the inquiry.
"This is the richest borough in London and look at the poverty," said Haynes, who wore a t-shirt with the word "MURDERERS" on a red background.
"My grandson is traumatised... He saw babies being thrown from the tower. He cannot sleep," she said.
- Hundreds traumatised -
Moore-Bick has said he expects to publish an interim report by the end of March or the beginning of April.
Key questions include whether a recent renovation by the local authority, in particular the cladding put on the building to improve its insulation and appearance, had turned the high-rise into a death trap.
National building and fire regulations will come under scrutiny, after tests on similar cladding installed elsewhere in the country found it was highly flammable.
The tower still looms over west London, while the gruesome task of identifying the remains of the victims progresses slowly.
A total of 58 victims have been identified, including a two-year-old boy, Jeremiah Deen, who was found with the body of his mother Zainab, 32, on the 14th floor.
A baby, Logan Gomes, who was stillborn in hospital on the day of the fire, has also been recorded as a victim.
For those who survived, many of them having escaped by walking over bodies piled on the single staircase, the memory of the inferno persists.
Six hundred people are receiving counselling over the fire, including 100 children and some of the firefighters who responded to the blaze.
Almost 200 households need new homes following the fire, but only two have moved into new permanent accommodation.
Residents -- many of them immigrants and most living on low incomes -- accuse the local council of failing to heed their concerns about fire safety in the block, which did not have a central sprinkler system.
There was anger when the terms of reference for the inquiry were announced, making clear that wider issues of how social housing is maintained would not be included.
Nancy Collins, a lawyer for some of the survivors, told BBC television, said residents' concerns should be put "at the very heart of the inquiry process".
"And that those concerns are put at the very heart of the inquiry process. It remains to be seen whether or not that will be achieved."
© 2017 AFP