Anger at change to Grenfell inquiry ‘snuck out just before Christmas’

Grenfell United said the panel has lost its expert with ‘community expertise’ (Picture: Getty/PA)

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have slammed authorities for wiping community figures from the inquiry panel two days before Christmas.

While the first stage of the inquiry into the night of the fire was led by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the second will have a panel working alongside him.

The panel will help Sir Martin look at the causes and circumstances of the blaze, starting in two weeks’ time.

But an expert described as the only panellist with experience in the community was replaced on Monday.

Nabeel Hamdi, a housing professor known as a ‘participatory planning pioneer’ who has written books on grassroots development, had been appointed by Sir Martin in May.

But a letter from Boris Johnson to Sir Martin on December 20 said Professor Hamdi was ‘sadly … unable to proceed with the appointment’.

It recommended the appointment of Benita Mehra, an experienced chartered engineer, which Sir Martin agreed to three days later.

A panel wil help retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick with the second phase of the inquiry (Picture: PA Archive)

The move has been criticised by survivors and bereaved families’ group Grenfell United, which campaigned for months to have a panel added to the inquiry.

The group’s chair Natasha Elcock said: ‘The change of the panel, with an announcement snuck out just before Christmas, is hugely disappointing.’

‘We have faith that Sir Martin Moore Bick’s background means he will be able to address the technical aspects of what happened at Grenfell but the inquiry is lacking experience of what it’s like to live in a community like ours and the culture at the heart of how people living in social housing are treated.’

‘We have now lost the panellist with community expertise. He has been replaced with an engineer, which is not what we asked for.’

The group has not been given an explanation for the change, added Natasha, who was trapped on the 11th floor with her six-year-old daughter and partner before managing to escape.

She continued: ‘With just weeks to go until phase two starts, it feels like yet again the wishes of survivors and bereaved have been sidelined.

‘We have not yet met the panellists, we can only hope our concerns will be proved wrong when we do.’

Survivors campaigned for a panel to be added to the inquiry (Picture: Getty Images Europe)

Mr Johnson would not have been able to recommend the appointment during the six-week election period.

While the government remains in power during elections, ‘purdah’ rules severely restrict what it can do.

The PM’s letter also said the government will bring forward a bill next year to implement the recommendations already made by the panel.

Ms Mehra, who is the president of the Women’s Engineering Society, has 16 years’ experience working with the British Airports Authority in areas such as risk assessment and property management.

A government spokesperson highlighted her ‘broad public and private sector experience’ and said she ‘will be an equally great asset to the inquiry’.

Survivors also slammed a leaving parade for London fire chief Dany Cotton on Monday (Picture: PA)

A second expert appointed to the panel with Professor Hamdi, Thouria Istephan, is in charge of building regulations compliance on health and safety issues at Lord Norman Foster’s architectural firm.

Grenfell United welcomed her appointment at the time.

December 23 also saw thousands of firefighters line the streets to pay tribute to outgoing London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton.

Ms Cotton is standing down early after coming under fire for the LFB’s response to the blaze and her statement at the inquiry.

The Grenfell inquiry’s 1,000 page report found fewer people would have died if the fire service had been better prepared.

The Grenfell Action Group dismissed the tribute as a ‘street party’.

Paulos Tekle, who lost his five-year-old son Isaac, told The Telegraph: ‘The reason why Dany Cotton left early is because of the failure that night.

‘I lost my little boy.  It is very sad that she is still not showing any sympathy just as she failed to do in the inquiry.’


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