Grenfell Tower: Retired judge to lead disaster inquiry

Martin Moore-BickImage copyright
British High Commission in Brunei

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Sir Martin spent more than 20 years as a judge of the Commercial Court and Court of Appeal

Retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been chosen to lead the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, sources say.

The government is likely to confirm the appointment of Sir Martin, described as “highly respected”, on Thursday.

Police said 80 people are now presumed dead after the disaster in west London on 14 June.

But they warned the final death toll will not be known until at least the end of the year.

Who is Sir Martin?

Born in Wales and educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, the 70-year-old’s career has spanned nearly five decades after being called to the Bar in 1969.

As a lawyer, he specialised in commercial law which involved dealing with disputes relating to maritime and land transport of goods.

Sir Martin went on to spend more than 20 years as a judge of the Commercial Court and Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2016.

A legal source who has worked with him said he was “highly respected” in the profession and “intellectually superb”.

But leading barrister Michael Mansfield QC, who has met survivors of the fire, has said it was “unbelievable that lessons are not learned” from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which is now on its fourth chairman.

He said that inquiry “did not consult with the families and the survivors” and “the same thing seems to have happened all over again”.

In November 2014, Sir Martin oversaw a case in which he ruled a London tenant could be rehoused 50 miles away.

His decision that Westminster City Council could rehouse single mother-of-five Titina Nzolameso in Bletchley near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was overturned by the Supreme Court in April 2015.

Sir Martin said it was not necessary for the council to explain what accommodation was available.

Ms Nzolameso said moving so far would deprive her of the network of friends who supported her when she was unwell, while her solicitor said his decision “gives the green light for social cleansing”.

Who are the Grenfell victims?

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Some of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire

Eighteen people have been formally identified by the coroner, but not all names have been released.

The opening of inquests into seven of the victims heard six-month-old Leena Belkadi was found dead in her mother’s arms.

Most of those who died in the fire were said to be in 23 of the North Kensington tower block’s 129 flats.

Some residents tried to move up the building to escape the flames – and it is thought a number may have ended up in one flat.

Police are tracing victims via “every imaginable source” of information; from government agencies to fast food firms.

Victims will have state funding for legal representation at the inquiry.

Residents’ frustration

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Media captionGrenfell residents challenge the housing minister live on the Victoria Derbyshire programme

Survivors and relatives of those who died have expressed frustration at the progress of the investigation.

They confronted housing minister Alok Sharma MP on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Wednesday, two weeks on from the fire.

During the TV programme, residents and survivors described the problems they had faced since the blaze.

“I am not moving my child from here, to here, to here, to here – I want permanent accommodation,” Oluwaseun Talabi, who escaped the fire with his wife and young daughter, told Mr Sharma.

The group described the practical problems they have faced in being rehoused; trying to replace burned documents; accessing funding; being unable to return to work without a permanent base; and their dealings with the authorities.

The minister told them people would be offered a suitable place to live within three weeks of the fire.

High-rises fail fire tests

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All of the cladding samples submitted for fire safety tests have failed

Questions were raised about the cladding used on Grenfell in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, which led to a nation-wide operation to test buildings with similar cladding.

Prime Minister Theresa May told the Commons on Wednesday that cladding from 120 high-rise buildings in 37 local authority areas in England has failed fire safety tests.

This was a 100% failure rate, she told MPs, as all of the samples submitted so far since the Grenfell Tower fire had failed.

Mrs May has urged councils and housing associations to “get on with the fire safety checks”.

An expert panel to advise on immediate safety action has been appointed following the safety failures.

However, National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr has argued it is time to stop tests on cladding.

He told Newsnight’s Evan Davis it was now time to prioritise what we do to make people feel safe in their homes.

What is a public inquiry?

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By Brian Wheeler, BBC News

Public inquiries are set up for many reasons. Sometimes they are designed to expose the truth after a controversy, or apportion blame to individuals.

More often, they simply produce recommendations, which the government can choose to follow or not. Recent examples include Leveson, into press standards, and Chilcot, into the Iraq War.

They differ from police investigations because they are conducted, in part at least, in public. They might even be televised.

They can be run by a judge, with witnesses giving evidence under oath, but there is no fixed model. Much depends on the “terms of reference”.

They can also drag on for years and cost millions of pounds – although the government says it wants the Grenfell Tower inquiry to “move with speed”.

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