How could a 24-storey high-rise succumb to a blaze within minutes in a health and safety conscious city like London in the richest borough in the country? Was there a stay-put policy which advised residents of the stricken block to remain inside their doomed property?
Why was numerous warnings from residents not heeded? Did the claddings used in the building’s refurbishment cause the so-called ‘chimney effect’ that licked the edifice so rapidly? Why did so many perish and hundreds more continue to languish in the aftermath of the tragedy?
Grenfell Tower’s gruesome truths will finally begin to emerge as inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick vowed to unravel the causes of what he called “a tragedy unprecedented in modern times”.
The retired judge solemnly read out his opening remarks laced with legalese and procedural jargon at a central London Hotel three months after a fire in west London killed at least 80 people on June 14.
Moore-Bick has had to develop a thick skin to continue in his dogged quest for truth as victims of the fire have heckled him and told him they do not trust him to get to the bottom of officialdom they blame for the disaster.
The 24-storey social housing block, home to a deprived and multi-ethnic community, was destroyed in an inferno that started in a fourth-floor apartment in the middle of the night and quickly engulfed the building.
The session started with a minute’s silence to honour the victims, whose exact number of fatalities remain guesswork due to the devastation inside the tower.
“The inquiry can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London, and thereby I hope provide a small measure of solace,” the Moore-Bick, said in his opening statement.
Grenfell Tower was part of a deprived housing estate in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the richest boroughs in London, and the disaster has prompted a national debate about social inequalities and the neglect of poor communities.
The inquiry will examine the cause and spread of the fire, the design, construction and refurbishment of the tower, whether fire regulations relating to high-rise buildings are adequate, whether they were complied with at Grenfell Tower, and the actions of the authorities before and after the tragedy.
But it has faced criticism from survivors of the fire and relatives of the dead, as well as from opposition politicians and campaign groups, who say its remit fails to address the social and political issues underlying the tragedy.
Many of those affected have also expressed disquiet about the fact that Moore-Bick and the other lawyers appointed to run the inquiry are all white and from establishment backgrounds, whereas the Grenfell community is largely made up of people from ethnic minorities and immigrant backgrounds.
“The experience of many residents of that tower is that they were ignored because of their immigration status, because they were not really British, whatever that means,” lawyer Jolyon Maugham, who is advising some residents, told the BBC.
“We need someone on the inquiry team that can speak to that experience and at the moment on the panel we have a bunch of white privileged barristers,” he said.