Thursday, May 30

Minister defends appointment of ex-judge as Grenfell inquiry chair



The government has defended the appointment of a retired appeal court judge to lead the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire and hinted that his remit could be widened, after he faced calls to resign from two Labour MPs.

Five days after the appointment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick as head of the inquiry, the MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, and the new shadow fire minister, Chris Williamson, called for him to resign, citing scepticism about him from survivors and frustration at the apparently narrow remit of the inquiry.

The justice secretary and lord chancellor, David Lidington, defended Moore-Bick’s appointment and insisted he would consult residents before agreeing the scope of the inquiry.

All the latest news, views and opinion on the Grenfell tragedy

After meeting residents and survivors, Moore-Bick said he feared the inquiry would be too narrow to satisfy the community’s desire for a wide-ranging investigation into political neglect of housing.

But Lidington said the terms of the inquiry had yet to be fixed and Moore-Bick would consult residents before his remit was set.

The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has understandably been the subject of much commentary. People have every right to feel passionate about this. The community and the whole country – want answers following such a horrific tragedy, he said.

That is why it is right that there should be a judge-led inquiry into the disaster, and that the residents are consulted before the terms of reference are decided.

Last week Moore-Bick suggested a narrow remit had already been determined by the government. I’ve been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development, in order to make recommendations as to how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future, he said last Thursday.

He added: “I’m well aware that residents want a much broader investigation.”

Lidington criticised politicians who had questioned Moore-Bick’s appointment. As lord chancellor, I am clear that [judges’] motives and integrity should always be respected and not impugned by politicians.

I have complete confidence that Sir Martin Moore-Bick will lead the inquiry into this tragedy with impartiality and with a determination to get to the truth and see justice done.

Earlier, Dent Coad, a former Kensington and Chelsea opposition councillor who was elected as MP for the Kensington parliamentary seat last month, said Moore-Bick would not be able to win the trust of a community that felt betrayed.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: I’ve been speaking to hundreds of people who have been affected … they need somebody they can talk to, somebody with a bit of a human face … I don’t think he should do it.

The appointment of Moore-Bick, a former appeal court judge respected for his command of detail in a string of complex commercial cases, has been greeted with scepticism by Grenfell survivors.

Dent Coad said: How anybody like that could have any empathy for what these people have been through I just don’t understand. We need somebody we can trust there.

A technocrat is maybe not really what we need right now. Yes, we need somebody who can do the detail, but we need somebody who can actually understand human beings and what they have been through.

Emma Dent Coad: ‘We need somebody who can actually understand human beings and what they have been through.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Chris Williamson, who was appointed as shadow fire minister on Monday, also called for Moore-Bick to step aside. He told BBC Radio Derby:

It important that we have a chair of the inquiry who does have the confidence of the community at the centre of this tragedy.

Williamson questioned some of Moore-Bick’s judgments, citing his decision to allow Westminster council to rehouse a family 50 miles away in Milton Keynes.

He added: I know that the survivors are unhappy about the choice of Sir Martin Moore-Bick as the chair. They are also incredibly unhappy as I am about the terms of reference for the inquiry, which is very restricted to simply looking at the causes [of the fire] and why it spread so quickly.

What we need is a much wider inquiry looking at all the issues and some of the political decisions that were taken in order to enable us to learn those lessons.

Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer advising many of the survivors, has urged them to boycott the inquiry because its remit is too narrow.

Writing in the Guardian, he said: We must not connive in an inquiry that fails to be inquisitive. If the government, for its own political convenience or otherwise, determines to push ahead regardless, and insists on an inquiry likely to produce only a superficial analysis of structural problems, then the residents of Grenfell should boycott it.

Dent Coad said an inquiry headed by Moore-Bick was doomed to fail. I don’t think there will be any credibility and some people are saying they won’t cooperate with it so it is not going to work.

She also criticised Kensington and Chelsea council’s response to the fire after holding a four-hour surgery with constituents on Monday.

She said she had been shocked to hear that one of her constituents, who survived the fire with his disabled mother, had been offered a new home on another estate that was about to be demolished.

She urged the council to use its reserves to buy up properties to rehouse survivors. She said: They have still got a third of a billion pounds in reserves. They could reach out and buy properties for them … They have to.

People have lost everything down to absolutely no fault of their own. It is the council’s responsibility to look after them and they need a like-for-like replacement of somewhere decent to go.