AML support the Grenfell Tower fire victims and write to the Prime Minister

Mrs Theresa May
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

July 2017

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Grenfell Tower Fire 14 June 2017

We are an umbrella action group incorporating leading BME Lawyer groups, BME Community Organisations, survivors, residents and supporters, created to assist those who have survived the fire and those who live within the vicinity of Grenfell Tower.

We arranged a meeting, called by the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott M.P, at the House of Commons 29 June 2017. This meeting was also addressed by the Shadow Justice Minister, Richard Burgon MP, Emma Dent Coad MP and David Lammy M.P. Also in attendance were 150 Residents, who articulately expressed how distressed and troubled they were in relation to the chaos that has ensued since the tragic events of 14 June.

The Residents expressed extreme concern about the handling of this matter from the outset. Troublingly, despite these having been voiced via numerous channels, this has not been improved upon but, instead, continues to be repeatedly compounded. We cannot emphasise the degree to which the failure of the Government and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to provide answers and failure to accede to reasonable requests has undermined the trust and confidence not only of this community but of people across the country. We address the most pertinent below:

Appointment of Judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick

There must of course be a Public Inquiry held in accordance with the Inquiries Act 2005. You promised a consultation in relation to the appointment of the Chair to this Inquiry. There was none. Why? Your lack of consultation has increased the mistrust of both the Grenfell community and the wider community and led to firm opposition of the appointment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

We do not doubt Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s vast experience or aptitude and. We do however, along with others, and with no disrespect to him, question the appropriateness of his appointment. The fire at Grenfell Tower raises far wider issues than health and safety assessments and compliance, the recommendations following the fire at Lakanal Tower and so on. It shines a light on the socioeconomic, cultural and diversity factors that were clearly at play. Just as the Macpherson Inquiry was ultimately about more than the senseless and brutal murder of a young black man, any Inquiry into this fire is bound to question more than the technical issues alone. Its impact will be far reaching for the Grenfell community and for our society as a whole.

It is therefore astonishing that you have, without appropriate consultation appointed someone with a commercial background in banking and insurance cases and a history of being successfully appealed in cases where he has demonstrated a hardline approach toward people from BME communities. This has already caused considerable concern within the Grenfell community, the wider community and in the media generally.

We therefore urge you to withdraw this appointment and, after appropriate consultation, appoint a more suitable High Court Judge. You will, of course, be well aware that the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Bradford Inquirey and Scarman Report only managed to build the confidence of the local community by conducting a detailed consultation sitting with a diverse panel of advisers who helped them develop the necessary trust and establish legitimacy. 

Terms of Reference

In order to have legitimacy, the Public inquiry must undertake a full and proper consultation as to the terms of reference. The initial remarks by Sir Martin Moore-Bick on the first day of his appointment demonstrated an extremely narrow remit which may well have been imposed by him but which has been understood by many to demonstrate his approach. They also demonstrated a lack of awareness of the concerns of the Grenfell survivors, bereaved and the wider community.

The Residents must be provided with a clear and unambiguous opportunity to contribute to setting the terms of references of the Public Inquiry and to remain involved in a meaningful manner. Justice must be seen to be done. In addition to the need to hear from expert advisors on fire, safety, regulatory frameworks and local social housing provision and maintenance, there is also a need for the appointment of a diverse panel of experts that has an understanding socioeconomic, cultural and diversity factors and understands the needs of the community. All of this is essential to the success of the Inquiry.

The Inquiry must also examine the failure of central and local Government to react appropriately in the first two weeks after the disaster so that lessons are learnt for the future. It must of course also set an urgent timetable to address fire safety concerns about other similar buildings.

We call upon you to set a clear timetable for consultation that provides a full opportunity for those directly affected to participate in setting its course and composition. Anything less would be a betrayal of their suffering and those who needlessly lost their lives. We also call upon you to set up a diverse panel of experts to assist and support the Public Inquiry.

We emphasis the need for the enquiry to be thorough, to examine all the steps that were, or were not, taken leading up to and contributing to the tragedy. We further emphasise the need for the Inquiry to be efficient and expedient. There should be no repetition of the delays that occurred after the Lakanal fire or the failure to consider and act upon any recommendations, including interim recommendations.

Residents’ recommendations

We also take this opportunity to inform you that following on from the House of Commons meeting, the residents listed concerns which we urge the Government to address immediately:-

1. The Home Secretary and Lord Chief Justice to state immediately why the Grenfell Residents were not consulted prior to the appointment of the retired Court of Appeal Judge;

2. The Home Secretary to explain what consultation is to occur before the Terms of Reference are finalised and to invite the Lord Chief Justice to attend a meeting on 19th July of BME Lawyers4 Grenfell to be held at the BBC to explain to survivors how they can influence the scope of the Inquiry;

3. To withdraw the appointment of Sir Moore-Bick and find a High Court Judge with a history of appreciating the needs of social housing in this diverse community which has all too often ignored by the wealthiest Borough in the country;

4. To ensure that the Government coordinated response team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and accessible in person, by telephone and email so that people are not greeted by answerphone messages and that interpretation services and emergency contacts are accessible;

5. The Home Secretary to confirm in writing within 28 days that undocumented survivors are given full UK citizenship forthwith;

6. The offering of full counselling services to all survivors, family members of survivors, volunteers, eye witnesses and local residents / community and mental health support provided for those who require it;

7. To provide a comprehensive undertaking not to house people outside the Borough or in temporary housing for longer than three months, keeping any necessary interim moves to an absolute minimum;
8. To give assurances in writing that anyone provided with negligent advice by the RBKC must not be disadvantaged in their right to social housing in the future;

9. To release the total numbers of survivors and the number of missing as opposed to the numbers believed to be dead within 14 days of the date of this letter.

10. To guarantee that the Inquiry Chair will adopt a wide Terms of Reference that goes beyond the narrow one outlined in his recent statement;

11. To guarantee the interim findings of the Inquiry will be made public within four months of the Inquiry commencing; and

12. To ensure a properly diverse expert panel with suitable experience of equality, diversity and social welfare considerations sit alongside experts on fire, housing needs, health and safety, construction and so on.

Yours sincerely,

For and on behalf BME LAWYERS 4 GRENFELL:

Ismet P Rawat [Mrs], President, Association of Muslim Lawyers
Peter Herbert, Chair, Society of Black Lawyers
Ghino Parker [Mrs], Resident and Grenfell community representative.
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