The Guardian view on the Grenfell inquiry: not enough trust | Editorial

Editorial
‘Of the Grenfell bereaved, only 31 next of kin have received any payment, just increased to £40,000, and only 45 survivors.’ Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA

It was not only the fire that destroyed confidence in the local council among the people who lived in Grenfell Tower; nor was it just the council’s chaotic response in the days afterwards, nor its apparent reluctance to take responsibility or express regret for the tragedy that unfolded in the early hours of 14 June. It was the culmination of long years of being marginalised and discriminated against by most representatives of established authority. In that context, the task facing Sir Martin Moore-Bick as he begins work on the inquiry is much deeper than the challenge of overcoming the image of a white man with a double-barrelled name and an old-fashioned manner.

The terms of reference are now set. Sir Martin’s focus will be fundamentally technical, and he wants a preliminary report ready by Easter next year. His critics say this is not enough. They argue that the building and fire regulations and the way that they were applied in the case of the Grenfell refurbishment are the product of a particular political and economic environment, and that without investigating that he will not reach the truth. But although regulations, sprinkler systems and fire doors are only part of the story, the part they play is important.

Facts are the raw material of politics. More to the point, Sir Martin has accepted the case for investigating social housing policy more generally, but doesn’t think his inquiry is the place to do it. He wants a parallel inquiry led by a more appropriate person. Theresa May appears to have sidelined his suggestion because the housing minister, Alok Sharma, is conducting an internal investigation. That will not do: the very suggestion shows she still doesn’t grasp the depth of the mistrust among the Grenfell victims – unlike Sir Martin, who observed in his letter to her that he fears there are valuable witnesses who are reluctant to cooperate. It also indicates that Mrs May is still in denial about the much wider anger over the harsh and unfair way that austerity bites, and the impact that anger had on the general election less than a week before the fire. Restoring trust demands that second inquiry. Without it, the first might fail too.

Survivors have another reason to be frustrated: the pace at which the millions of pounds donated in the aftermath of the fire is being distributed. Of the Grenfell bereaved, only 31 next of kin have received any payment, just increased to £40,000, and only 45 survivors. The distribution process itself is opaque. Almost £18m was donated through three organisations – the Red Cross, the Evening Standard and the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation – and some but not all is being distributed through the London Emergencies Trust. But there is also more cash in a dozen other funds. Contrast with the We Love Manchester fund, set up to handle donations after the Manchester Arena bomb on 22 May, just three weeks before the Grenfell fire. It has now made final distributions to the next of kin of £250,000 each. Other victims have also had some cash; they may receive more once their continuing needs can be assessed.

Grenfell is much more complex than Manchester: most people in the tower lost their identity documents as well as everything else, so establishing formal identity is painfully slow. At the last count, only 49 of the 80 who are thought to have died are known, and some of the bereaved are children for whom other legal arrangements must be made. The Red Cross and other organisations are now trying to reach more people through family liaison officers. They have a duty to their donors to manage money accountably. Yet in this poisoned atmosphere even due process feels less friend than enemy.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes