UK

Grenfell inquiry: Survivors and bereaved to pay tribute to victims

Messages of condolence for the victims of Grenfell Tower

The families of the 71 people killed in the Grenfell Tower fire will be able to submit a memorial that will be heard at the opening of the inquiry into the blaze.

The bereaved have been told they can pay tribute however they wish and are able to use video and audio recordings.

A hearing took place in central London to lay out procedures for the inquiry, which begins on 21 May.

A fire alert cut short the morning session, but there was no evacuation.

An alarm sounded at Holborn Bars in central London at 12:35 GMT saying a fire had been reported and was being investigated, but people were urged to stay where they were.

Richard Millet QC, counsel to the inquiry, said it was agreed that survivors and family members should be able to memorialise their loved ones "calmly and with dignity" ahead of the oral evidence.

"By starting the public hearings of this inquiry in this way, we can ensure that, however technical and scientific the issues may then become, however dry, however legal, we will never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it," he said.

The tower block fire in west London killed 71 people last June.

Wednesday's hearing also heard that 150 venues were considered before it was decided to hold the inquiry at Holborn Bars.

It will be screened at Notting Hill Community Church, close to the Grenfell Tower site, where affected people can watch it together.

'Touched a nerve'

Aiasha Mohamed, 16, whose aunt and two cousins died in the fire, told the BBC that representatives at the inquiry should consider speaking in plainer English as she found it difficult for someone her age to follow.

She also suggested translators were on hand for those who do not speak English, like her mother, Sayeda.

Sayeda, who only speaks Arabic, told the BBC some of the statements were too short and they deserved to hear more.

Grenfell Tower resident Nicholas Burton, whose wife died in January, said Wednesday's hearing was like being in the dentist's chair.

"It was when they touched a nerve, you heard the sound go up," he told the BBC.

He said he was afraid the inquiry might be too much for one man, referring to chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

"All that weight is on Sir Martin's shoulders - it's a huge responsibility. He needs more support," he said.

Image caption Seventy-one people were killed in the fire last June

Michael Mansfield QC, who is representing 11 firms, asked the inquiry chairman to consider looking at toxicity.

Five people have been treated in hospital for cyanide poisoning in the wake of the fire, he told the hearing.

Others living near the fire were worried they may have been contaminated after touching cladding and insulation that fell from the building, he added.

Concerns over documents

The inquiry is expected to receive more than 400,000 documents over the course of the hearings.

Among those are 415 statements from firefighters who were involved in the search and rescue operation.

There are also 560 audio recordings of 999 calls made on the night - although some are duplicates.

Mr Millett, counsel to the inquiry, said this was an important body of evidence which could show what fire survival guidance was given to residents trapped in the tower.

He acknowledged it would be distressing to hear, but stressed this was "a mass fatality" and evidence could not be "sanitised".

Pete Weatherby QC, representing 50 of the bereaved and survivors, said he was concerned that fewer than 2,000 documents of some 330,000 had been disclosed to them so far.

"It means our clients won't be able to effectively participate," he said.

Firefighters anxious

Martin Seaward, from the Fire Brigades Union, urged the inquiry chairman to let firefighters know as soon as possible if they were expected to give evidence.

The inquiry itself was raising anxiety among firefighters, many of whom were traumatised by their experience at Grenfell Tower, he added.

Stephen Walsh, representing the London Fire Brigade, said it was expected firefighters would need counselling and support before, during and after giving evidence.

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