Grenfell inquiry to open with victim tributes after venue changed to prevent survivors being traumatised by Tube journey

Telegraph Reporters
Grenfell residents were trapped 'screaming for their lives' as flames raged through the 27-storey tower block - Eyevine

Two weeks of poignant tributes from family and friends remembering Grenfell Tower fire victims will be heard by the public inquiry into the disaster as its first phase gets under way.

Seventy-one people died in the fire that swept through Grenfell Tower in west London on June 14 last year.

The venue for the Inquiry's first stage was moved after lawyers for the victims argued that the Inquiry should be moved “closer to where the disaster occurred”, during two days of procedural hearings in Holborn, near the inns of court, in December last year.

Campaigners had complained that the central location was not suitable as it meant survivors would have to undergo further trauma by travelling in "deep claustrophobic tube tunnels" each day.

Bereaved family and friends will join together and paint a picture of the loved ones they lost in front of the retired judge chairing the probe, Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

Family and Friends of Jessica Urbano Ramirez, who died in the blaze, desperately trying to locate her. Credit: Paul Grover/Telegraph

Speaking ahead of the inquiry's launch, Diane Abbot, the shadow home secretary, said she had "confidence" in Sir Martin, adding that he had the opportunity to make it a "really seminal" examination of what went wrong. 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Abbott said: "There are broader issues that we need to touch on.

"I think there are issues about Grenfell, over and above the cladding and so on. Why that community on that estate...why no one listened to them, why they were almost abandoned?

"We need to dig down and find out why they were not listened to. If you lose touch with what it meant to that community...then you lose touch with what that inquiry’s about.

" The bereaved and the survivors want the fact finding, they want to know what happened, they want answers to questions, they want to know who should take responsibility. But none of us can forget what that horrible horrible event meant to that community."

The huge fire consumed Grenfell Tower near Latimer Road, West London Credit: Guilhem Baker/Pressframe

A series of pre-recorded videos and statements will be now delivered during commemorations that will place at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in south Kensington, closer to the Grenfell community.

The Curve - a community support centre set up for the victims of the fire, and which  offers a range of services including NHS, benefits, Post Office, social care, creche, Citizens Advice and housing assistance -  was temporarily based at the same hotel during August's Notting Hill Carnival.

The rest of phase one of the inquiry will take place at Holborn Bars in central London, where several procedural hearings have already happened.

Families have been invited to speak about the bereaved, read poems, sing or provide pre-recorded video messages on the Inquiry's opening day, in a move to ensure that "we will never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it", lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett said.

While all the victims' names will be read out, it is understood that not all families will give a tribute.

Survivor Nicholas Burton will be able to pay tribute to his wife Maria Del Pilar Burton, 74, who died in January after seven months in hospital following the fire.

Mrs Burton, known as Pily, had suffered from serious long-term health conditions prior to the disaster, in which her home was destroyed and her dog died.

The commemorations follow a week of significant victories for Grenfell United, the main campaign group representing survivors and the bereaved.

Their wish for a diverse panel to sit alongside Sir Martin was finally granted by Prime Minister Theresa May after months of campaigning and a petition backed by grime artist Stormzy and more than 150,000 supporters.

Theresa May and then Housing minister Sajid Javid at a memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral for Grenfell Tower victims Credit: pixel8000

Panel members will be appointed for the second phase of the inquiry, due to start later this year, so as not to delay the first part.

The Government also promised to consult on banning flammable cladding from high-rise buildings. Slater and Gordon barrister Kieran Mitchell, who is representing three victims' families, said the opportunity for them to have their voices listened to had been "a long time coming".

He said: "Starting this inquest process with statements and images means we have an stark understanding of how this horrific event has obliterated so many lives.

"On behalf of our clients, we are grateful they are have been granted this opportunity to finally reveal the impact these truly terrible events have had on them.

The Community-led organisation, Justice4Grenfell, parades three billboards near St. Paul's Cathedral. They called for justice for the victims of the deadly June 2017 deadly apartment fire. Credit: Jeff Moore

"However, this is just the beginning. We must get the answers everyone craves and understand how this tragedy could ever have been allowed to happen.

"Ultimately our clients want justice and we will not rest until those culpable are held accountable."

On Monday before the tributes begin, Sir Martin will briefly address the room, followed by a statement from Mr Millett.

Private rooms, quiet areas and a prayer room will be available for the bereaved, survivors and residents, while there will be counselling and NHS support.

Residents leave the Taplow tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow "urgent fire safety works" to take place Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

As the hearings are taking place during Ramadan, the morning sessions are expected to adjourn for lunch at 12.45pm to allow Muslims to prepare for the 1pm prayer.

The probe is believed to have the largest number of core participants to date, with more than 500 survivors, bereaved families and friends, and members of the North Kensington community participating.

As of Thursday, some 533 people have been made core participants in the inquiry, including 21 children. Twenty-nine organisations are core participants.

The main hearing room has a capacity for 500 people and bereaved, survivors and residents will be reserved seats at the front each day.