The opening of the Grenfell inquiry was screened live to Grenfell residents gathered in the hall of Notting Hill Methodist church, which has become a focal point for survivors’ families since the fire. Residents filed in past fresh bunches of flowers, recently laid on the pavement outside the church in honour of the dead.
After an opening statement from the chair of the inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the response from around 30 local residents was subdued. Many expressed disappointment that Moore-Bick had decided not to give any of the survivors a formal role in the inquiry. Some found his delivery style cold. Others were dismayed that publication of even the first phase of the report would not be until next Easter.
Sharon Leci, who escaped from the ninth floor of the tower with her seven-year-old daughter, sat by herself at the side of the room, near a vast window looking directly over the ruined building. She came because she wanted to make sure she was well informed, but admitted feeling pessimistic.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in the inquiry. I know it’s a separate process, but based on what I have experienced so far in the months since the fire, I don’t have confidence in anything at the moment. My level of trust and confidence in them all is very low,” she said.
Mostly her mistrust was fuelled by the difficulties she has had finding permanent housing since the fire. She is currently back in temporary accommodation and going through the process of trying to find a new council flat. “I am worried about the rehousing process.”
She said she was glad the actions of the fire services would be investigated. “The fire brigade saved our lives. We were asleep until they banged on the door. They did a really good job for us, but for other people higher up the building, they didn’t get such good information about what they should be doing.” She also welcomed the focus on the refurbishment. “I came here today to inform myself about the lines of inquiry. We are just going to have to keep watching the process to see what it delivers.”
Several local residents arrived wearing T-shirts or badges decorated with the Grenfell heart logo. Marcia Haynes, who knew one of the victims, wore a black dress decorated with a huge image of the burning tower, beneath the word “Murderers”.
She was angry that no one from the community was to be given a formal role as an assessor on the inquiry, and she was not convinced by Moore-Bick’s explanation that to appoint anyone who had had direct involvement in the fire would risk undermining his impartiality.
“It means there is no one who will represent us,” she said. Confidence in the process was low, even before the inquiry began, she said. “We are used to inquiries in this country. They drag them out for years. We’re not going to let that happen. This community won’t allow it.”
The local Labour councillor Robert Atkinson said the judge’s understated, unemotional delivery should not be criticised. “People should not expect a judge to be empathetic. His role is to get to the truth – not to prosecute people or to allocate money,” he said.
Some local residents stayed behind at the church after the statement, discussing services being provided for the community by the NHS and the council, and the conversation became heated and left one person in tears.
The Methodist minister Mike Long said people in the whole area were “exhausted and frustrated”. “The atmosphere is calmer, but people here are no less angry. There is still widespread distress in the community,” he said. In particular, residents found the continued presence of the uncovered building “a very distressing, emotionally difficult and damaging experience,” he said. “It is still a profoundly shocking sight; it is a raw and horrific thing to see.”