Campaigners have asked the inquiry team examining the circumstances leading up to and surrounding last year's fire at Grenfell Tower in west London to allow lawyers representing bereaved families, survivors and residents to ask questions in person as and when they need to.
The inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired Court of Appeal judge, resumes next month following a summer adjournment. Campaign and community groups Inquest, Grenfell United, Justice4Grenfell and Relative Justice Humanity for Grenfell have told the team that bereaved relatives, survivors and residents are concerned that their lawyers have so far been unable to ask questions in person on their behalf.
They say in their letter, sent this week: 'They are keen that where it becomes appropriate for lawyers to put questions directly, this is allowed. Not allowing this will again raise the issue of effective participation and trust in the process risks further diminishing.'
The letter also raises disclosure concerns. The groups say: 'Justice can only be achieved by transparency and proper disclosure. There are notorious examples of where a failure of disclosure has resulted in miscarriages of justice. Full disclosure enables lawyers representing the bereaved, survivors and residents to raise proper questions of witnesses and facilitates a collaborative inquiry where those most affected can effectively participate. Full disclosure also helps allay unjustified rumours and suspicions and aids the efficiency of the process.'
According to a chair's statement issued earlier this month, since the start of 'phase 1' hearings 'there has been substantial further disclosure of documents and photographs to the inquiry by the [London Fire Brigade] via the Metropolitan Police, and that the police have disclosed further firefighter statements and exhibits. The new material has had to be considered by the inquiry team and disclosed to CPS and then put to witnesses where necessary. This has increased the time taken to examine witnesses, and in some cases has made it necessary to call further witnesses'.
Inquiry hearings are taking place at Holborn Bars in central London. According to an updated timetable, firefighters will continue to give evidence in September. The following month the inquiry will hear accounts from the night of the fire from the bereaved, survivors and residents. Evidence from expert witnesses will not begin until mid-November. Closing statements from counsel to the inquiry and counsel to the individual and organisational core participants will be heard in December.
Deborah Coles, director of campaign group Inquest, said: 'Many of the bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell feel that there is a disconnection between them and the inquiry process. This needs to be rectified. Effective participation can be aided by moving the inquiry to a more suitable local venue, and ensuring full disclosure of all relevant material before the inquiry resumes.
'We have stated from the outset that those most affected must be at the heart of proceedings. Meaningful engagement will enable the inquiry to get to the truth and will ensure legitimacy of this process.'