NEWPORT, WALES — Industry figures fear the Grenfell Tower inquiry could become “housing’s Hillsborough,” with damaging parallels to the heavily-criticised inquiry into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
A June fire at Grenfell Tower, a high-rise housing block in west London, claimed at least 80 lives when flames spread rapidly through recently-installed cladding.
“There is a danger of this inquiry becoming housing’s Hillsborough,” said Peter Bill, a former surveyor and former editor of trade magazine Property Week, at property conference ResiConf on Thursday.
“We could be arguing about this in 10 years’ time unless it is dealt with efficaciously. At the moment I’m not sure it’s going to be,” he said.
Launching the Grenfell inquiry on Thursday, the investigation’s head Martin Moore-Bick said he would “not shrink” from making recommendations which could lead to criminal or civil prosecution.
Bill said that Moore-Bick appeared to be “doing his best to corral the arguments to those that are relevant to the problem” but said conflicting agendas of those the inquiry will examine could derail the investigation.
“There is a bandwagon, there are people on the bandwagon already, and there are people grinding their own axes away,” he said.
An inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster, when 96 people died at a football match in 1989, only concluded in June — 28 years after the incident — when criminal charges were brought against 6 police officers and officials involved.
The day-old Grenfell inquiry has already been criticised by local residents affected by the fire following Moore-Bick’s opening remarks.
One resident told the Guardian on Thursday: “I wanted more compassion to come out […] he doesn’t want [any local residents on the advisory panel] . He seems to be choosing his own people.
“It was bad. We are not going to give up. He should at least have stayed for another 10 minutes to speak to our lawyers. I wanted more passion.”
“A devastating vacuum of leadership”
In a wide-ranging discussion on the Grenfell fire, panelists also criticised the lack of leadership shown by council and government figures in the immediate aftermath of the fire.
Angela McConville, chief executive of Westway Trust, a charity which provided refuge to survivors at Grenfell, said: “I think there was a devastating vacuum of leadership. It prevailed for days [after the fire].
“We had direct lines to political and senior leadership in the authority and still it felt like it took days for someone to say: ‘We need to activate a disaster response here,’ by which stage those of us on the ground were overwhelmed by thousands of volunteers and truckloads of donations arriving.”
“There were a lot of lovely people who came and said lovely things, but that’s not the job of leadership in a situation like that.
“It frustrates me that the performance of the voluntary sector and the community sector and the faith sector is still described in this very patrician, somewhat patronising way: ‘Didn’t the voluntary sector do well?’ Actually, that’s where the leadership was,” she said.