Remy Mohamed is a solicitor and the Grenfell project coordinator. Two years have passed since the Grenfell Tower Fire on 14 June 2017 that resulted in the loss of 72 lives and made hundreds homeless.
Such was the shock, disbelief, outrage and demand for answers, that a Public Inquiry was announced by the prime minister the next day.
Public Inquiries in the UK are a means to get to the truth of what happened, restore public confidence, determine accountability and learn lessons so that mistakes are not repeated. There was a sense of real urgency around the need for an Inquiry into Grenfell based on the hundreds of tower blocks in the UK with similar cladding and therefore the thousands of lives at risk.
The Grenfell public inquiry is a statutory inquiry set up under the Inquiries Act 2005. The Inquiry has been split into two phases: phase one to look at the night of the fire and phase two to look at the refurbishment of the tower in the lead up to the fire and the aftermath of the fire. The oral hearings for phase one took place in 2018 and the report was due to be published in spring 2019 but unfortunately, has been delayed until October 2019.
Following a 12 year career practicing criminal defence and prison law, I joined the independent charity INQUEST. I am the Grenfell project coordinator and our focus at INQUEST is ensuring bereaved families are empowered through the provision of information about Inquests and public inquiries and upholding the rights of bereaved families as victims to be treated with dignity and respect.
From the outset, we at INQUEST have called for these families most affected by Grenfell to be at the very heart of the public inquiry process.
In the past, inquiries seem to have taken place about victims, but not with them playing a meaningful role in the actual process. Using families' important and relevant lived experience can only add value and meaning to the inquiry process. In recent years, there has been greater recognition of the role that families must play and a shift towards meaningful participation and ensuring families are at the centre of the process.
Funding for the Inquiry
One silver lining for the Grenfell families who are core participants in the Inquiry is that funding hasn't been an issue; it has been provided for by the state. Unfortunately, that is not the case for every bereaved family and that is why INQUEST is calling for automatic non-means tested public funding at state related inquests.
Pen portraits: commemorating those that were lost
The Grenfell public inquiry phase one oral hearings began with commemoration hearings, also known as pen portraits, which are statements by bereaved families about their loved ones. These humanised the process and that is crucial as there is a human element that is often ignored during inquiries that can very quickly become technical. For seven days those that had perished in the fire were given an all-important voice and those who were bereaved were allowed to have a voice too. These hearings engaged bereaved families and did strengthen families trust in the Inquiry process.
There are now a growing number of state related inquests and inquiries that have recognised the importance of beginning with pen portraits.
Family reflections on Grenfell: No voice left unheard
Earlier this year INQUEST conducted a consultation with families bereaved by the Grenfell disaster. We asked families about the aftermath of the fire and the process of phase one of the inquiry and how things might be done differently in the future. The resulting report, Family Reflections on Grenfell; No Voice Left Unheard, is powerful, insightful and crucial. An evidence based report with the family voice at its heart. The report is essential reading and I urge you all to read it. Only by listening to the lived experiences of families can efforts be made to improve these processes in the future.
The report makes for difficult and uncomfortable reading at times but it is apparent that families feel more must be done to include them and ensure they are at the heart of the process and not an afterthought. As one bereaved family member said 'Participation in a meaningful way is what would give the inquiry credibility. Justice must be seen to be done'.
The road to justice
The road to justice is a long and uncertain one. The families we work with want to see the truth, justice, accountability, and change. The police investigation has been running in parallel to the inquiry but the police have announced that they would not be sending their file to the Crown Prosecution Service until the public inquiry has concluded and the final report published. This is unlikely to be before 2021.
The families and the future
The bereaved and survivors inspire me daily with their dignity, defiance and commitment to preventing future disasters. They and the campaign groups have managed to push for and achieve some change for the safety of us all. I hope the inquiry will make the necessary recommendations to achieve greater public safety. Then attention can turn to the government and their plans for implementation. Grenfell is a terrible chapter of our history, one we must never forget and one which must never happen again.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
Download the report Family Reflections on Grenfell: No voice left unheard
Legal aid for Inquests
Watch the Tedx Dignity and Defiance after Disasters