Heckles as Grenfell inquiry opens with pledge to get answers

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The first hearing of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry concluded to a chorus of heckles after a prominent lawyer attempted to quiz the probe’s chairman.

In an opening statement, Sir Martin Moore-Bick told the packed Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn, central London, that his investigation “can and will provide answers”.

Kensington and Chelsea Council's leader Elizabeth Campbell leaves after attending the opening statements for the Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. Picture: CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images

Kensington and Chelsea Council's leader Elizabeth Campbell leaves after attending the opening statements for the Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. Picture: CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images

The retired Court of Appeal judge said he would not “shrink” from making findings which could affect criminal prosecutions or civil actions, during a hearing lasting more than 45 minutes.

A minute’s silence was held at the start of proceedings for the estimated 80 victims of the 14 June inferno, observed by the survivors and bereaved families in attendance.

But the controversy which has dogged the probe was not far behind, as Michael Mansfield QC, who represents several survivors, attempted to challenge Sir Martin.

Discontent had begun brewing when the inquiry head rejected calls for residents to be included as one of his team of assessors, Sir Martin telling the inquiry it would “risk undermining my impartiality”.

As the meeting drew to a close, Mr Mansfield said: “Sir, before departing, I wonder if I may make a quick request on behalf of survivors.”

He was ignored by the judge as he exited the room to shouts of “hello?” and “rubbish” from gathered residents.

Speaking afterwards, the lawyer dismissed Sir Martin’s decision to opt for assessors and branded his departure “disrespectful”.

He said: “I was making a request on behalf of survivors for another preliminary meeting when they would be there as key participants, as they are all going to be core participants, with designated lawyers to sort out reservations and concerns that they have had from the beginning about this whole process.”

Asked about Sir Martin’s decision to leave the room, he said: “I feel it is disrespectful to survivors.”

Earlier, Sir Martin acknowledged the “great sense of anger and betrayal” felt by survivors of the fire and those touched by the tragedy but indicated he would endeavour to examine evidence “calmly and rationally”.

He expressed hope the inquiry would “provide a measure of solace”, adding: “The inquiry can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London.”

Downing Street said the inquiry would “get to the truth of what happened”.