14 June 2023

By Aniesha Obuobie, Grenfell Project Coordinator

Each and every one of the deaths that occurred in Grenfell Tower, on the 14th June 2017 was avoidable.

  – Richard Millet KC

In November 2022, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard closing submissions. The hearings opened with submissions on behalf of the Bereaved, Survivors and Residents of the tower, in which Stephanie Barwise KC said, ’the leitmotif of Grenfell is the failure of anyone to take responsibility, either then or now.’

Six years after the fire, the lack of accountability and transparency for the deaths of 72 people is astounding. Counsel to the Inquiry, Richard Millet KC concluded the Inquiry hearings with a powerful image of the oft referenced ‘merry-go-round of buck-passing’ between corporate and public bodies.

There were calls for the inquiry to address the impact of the pervasive institutional racial and socioeconomic discrimination on residents and families, before the fire, in response to the fire and in the aftermath in its phase two report. This has been highlighted time and time again, since the beginning of the inquiry, and the absence of engagement with such a clear issue was said to be a failure and a missed opportunity.

The question now is: what happens next?

Throughout the closing hearings, the resounding question was around the incoming recommendations. it was highlighted that the government are yet to implement a single recommendation from phase one of the inquiry. This includes key recommendations on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans, to which the government have responded with a proposal for Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing; continuing to put residents with disabilities and mobility impairments at risk in their own homes.

The high number of deaths amongst disabled residents at Grenfell is a landmark fact of this disaster, but it is yet to be acted on.

– Danny Friedman KC

Repeatedly, concerns were raised that the inquiry will not lead to real change and, like so many inquiries before it, will merely give the appearance of change without learning lessons and ensuring that no one else suffers the same trauma.

Currently, there is nothing in place to track, monitor and ensure that these recommendations, and therefore learning and changes, are implemented. There is an opportunity to make real change to end dangerous practices and procedures, improve emergency evacuation processes and prevent future deaths. However, it will take a robust system of monitoring recommendations to ensure that they are implemented in a timely manner. Where rejected, there must be an explanation and the opportunity for scrutiny.

INQUEST is campaigning for a national oversight mechanism to change this. The national oversight mechanism would collate, analyse and follow up on recommendations, hold public bodies accountable for their decisions in response to recommendations and put a stop to meaningful lessons being forgotten.

Simply put by Imran Khan KC on behalf of the Bereaved, Survivors and Residents, "lives will be lost unless change occurs." He went on to say,

"Our clients believe that the fire will forever be remembered, we hope, in the history of this country, and depending upon what you and your colleagues, Chair, do, this Inquiry and its recommendations could either be recorded in that history as a forgotten footnote to the disaster, or the one single moment in time which changed everything. The choice is yours."

The inquiry cannot be a box-ticking exercise. It has the potential to be transformative and to be a vehicle for fundamental and systemic change.

As we await the phase two report and recommendations, which are due to be published in 2024, we must continue to demand justice, accountability and change.

72 people passed away and we can’t bring our loved ones back. The impact it’s had on our families and our community could have been prevented. We can’t change that now, but we can change the lives of those we’ve lost to count, for their deaths not to have been in vain. There has to be change. We have to learn from this.

- Hanan Wahabi, Grenfell Tower survivor & bereaved family member

Grenfell, forever in our hearts.