Grenfell Tower fire: lawyers warn Theresa May she may be breaching inquiry laws

Diane Taylor
An inquest into the death of Hesham Rahman, who lived on the top floor of Grenfell Tower, opened last week. Photograph: Karim Mussilhy/PA

Lawyers acting for the family of one of the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster have written to the prime minister, warning her that she may be in breach of key laws relating to the public inquiry.

They have given the prime minister until Thursday afternoon to respond to their concerns.

Hesham Rahman, 57, who lived on the top floor of Grenfell Tower, was identified using dental records and DNA. He suffered from diabetes and had difficulty using the stairs. An inquest into his death opened last week at Westminster coroner’s court, where coroner Fiona Wilcox heard that his death was consistent with the effects of fire.

The letter to the prime minister expresses concern about her failure to abide by clauses in the Inquiries Act 2005 requiring her to announce membership of the panel advising the inquiry.

While the inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who has been copied into the letter, has proposed appointing people whose experience extends to occupation and management of social housing and the administration of local government, as well as matters of a more technical scientific nature, there is no mention of panel members who reflect the religious and racial diversity of those who died in the fire and those who survived it.

The lawyers have also reminded the prime minister of her duty under the Equality Act 2010 – the public sector equality duty. This requires her to have “due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it”.

The letter states: “Given the context, and the background of a large number of the victims, we consider that you can only achieve this by appointing an ethnically and religiously diverse panel who have the relevant expertise to assist the chair and ensure public trust and confidence in the inquiry.”

It adds: “As you are aware, there has been notable criticism of the appointment of the chair to the inquiry. It is important that there is trust and confidence in the inquiry by the bereaved families, survivors and affected local residents, otherwise this could undermine the inquiry, its findings and any recommendations. Given the concerns already expressed by those affected we are sure that you would wish to avoid any further criticisms we ask that you appoint panel members who have the ability to reflect the diverse multi-faith community who will make up the majority of the core participants for the inquiry.”

The lawyers’ letter is supported by BME Lawyers 4 Grenfell, an umbrella organisation that includes leading British BME lawyers and community justice groups, backed by survivors, residents, the community and volunteers.

Peter Herbert OBE, from BME Lawyers 4 Grenfell, said: “We welcome this letter from a prominent firm acting for the family of Hesham Rahman who sadly perished in the Grenfell Tower fire. The letter has echoed the concerns of survivors, families and the communities about the failures to consult and the importance of ensuring trust and confidence in the Inquiry in order to achieve justice. We fully endorse and support its recommendations and urge the prime minister and the chair to the inquiry, Sir Martin-Moore Bick, to respond and act swiftly.”

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