The next phase of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire could be delayed until 2020, according to counsel for one of the core participants, raising concerns that it could be at least three years after the disaster claimed 72 lives that it will report back fully.
The investigation into what led to the 24-storey tower in west London to be wrapped in combustible cladding had been expected to start early next year. But Rajiv Menon QC, acting for Behailu Kebede, the resident of flat 16 where the fire started in a fridge, said it would not begin until next autumn at the earliest or 2020.
The chairman of the inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is expected to address the timetable on Wednesday, at the end of the last day of more than six months of the first phase of evidence about what happened in the early hours of 14 June 2017.
The delay is being partly caused by hearings into each of the people who died to satisfy the needs of the European convention on human rights. Coroners inquests into all of those who died were opened and adjourned, which is standard practice when other investigations are going on. But the inquiry has heard considerable evidence and that will be gathered in special hearings before the start of the second stage.
In September, the counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, accepted that lawyers acting for the bereaved should marshall evidence surrounding the circumstances in which their loved ones died and that time should be set aside for a hearing at which the evidence relating to each deceased could be publicly drawn together and presented.
Moore-Bick also has to produce an interim report on the evidence heard so far and is facing calls from the bereaved, survivors and residents to conclude that the highrise breached building regulations and to be strongly critical of the London fire brigade’s preparedness and response. A schedule produced earlier this year suggested Moore-Bick would take submissions on his recommendations in early February 2019. He had initially hoped to have produced an interim report by Easter 2018, but the hearings did not begin until June 2018.
It is also understood that about 200,000 documents have been submitted relating to the second phase of the inquiry which are likely to take months to process before hearings can begin.
Jonathan O'Neill, OBE, managing director of the Fire Protection Association said: “The Fire Protection Association welcomes the thorough job being done by the Grenfell Inquiry, but we believe the latest timescale* is wholly unacceptable for the Grenfell residents, who need closure as soon as possible. We recommend additional resources are found, as a matter of urgency."