It has been over five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, which Danny Friedman KC called ‘a human rights disaster, a systematic failure of state and private actors to protect the life, security and dignity of people.’
The four-year long inquiry is in its final week of closing statements, hearing the key failings that led to the fire on 14 June 2017 that killed 72 people.
The closing statements on 7 November highlighted the systemic discrimination that exists in the public sector. Imran Khan KC said that ‘institutional racism infected every aspect of the disaster’ and drew attention to the fact that the inquiry panel ‘persistently’ did not consider its significance.
‘The fire disproportionately killed people with disabilities, those of […] migrant background, and those living in social housing,’ explained Mr Friedman KC. He went on to criticise the government for rejecting the inquiry’s recommendations relating to evacuation plans for residents with disabilities, highlighting that the needs of some of the most vulnerable continue to not be recognised.
The impact of austerity is clear as Martin Seaward KC, representing the Fire Brigades Union, described the ways in which financial cuts to the fire service ‘directly impacted’ the disaster. Mr Friedman KC drew attention to the political climate that created a civil service that was ‘overly beholden to the private sector’, where ‘the common feature … is how little the fate of ordinary people mattered when key decisions were taken.’
The Guardian reports that there continues to be no criminal consequences for the failures that led to this incident, with ‘no significant arrests, charges, trials or convictions.’ Mr Khan KC highlighted in his submissions that the families have spent half a decade suffering the ‘indignity and pain of having to fight for justice’ both within the inquiry, with the police and others who were legally responsible. The bereaved are clear that they want ‘wholesale change’ otherwise their ‘loved ones would have died in vain.’ The families put forward numerous recommendations including safe and suitable housing for all, for the law to change so that those who are criminally culpable are swiftly prosecuted and to ensure those responsible are ‘forced to accept responsibility… rather than playing the blame game.’
The closing submissions show a lack of trust and general disappointment in the inquiry process from the Grenfell community, with Mr Khan’s clients saying the inquiry was a ‘waste of time’ because they don’t believe that ‘anything will change’. He warned that public inquiries can ‘give the appearance of change without any change’.
The closing speeches will continue all week, with videos and transcripts available online at the end of each day.