Conservative MPs voted against a Labour amendment to implement the recommendations of the interim report of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire this week. Community group Grenfell United said it was “outraged” and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called it “a shameful dereliction of duty”.
The move is being seen as yet another of many delays to making progress on outstanding fire safety issues and providing justice for those effected by the fire.
Following a faltering process, Grenfell survivors have noted that “a slow justice is a painful justice”, so just how slow and painful a process is it? Here’s a brief timeline of a long, long wait for progress.
The day after the fire at Grenfell Tower, Theresa May announces an inquiry. “Right now people want answers, and it’s absolutely right, and that’s why I am today ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster,” she says. “We need to know what happened; we need to have an explanation of this, we owe that to the families. To the people who have lost loved ones, friends, and the homes in which they lived.”
May announces the inquiry will be chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, saying “we cannot wait for ages to learn the immediate lessons”, expecting an interim report to be published “as early as possible”.
The inquiry’s terms of reference are announced, amid criticism that they are too narrow to look into how the regulatory regime which ultimately led to the fire developed, essentially letting the government off the hook.
Moore-Bick had hoped to have produced an interim report by this point, but the first hearings haven’t even started.
First hearing of the inquiry commences with emotional testimony about the human cost of the fire. Housing secretary James Brokenshire and housing minister Dominic Raab do not attend this initial phase.
After months of imploring private owners of high-rise buildings to remove cladding, the government announces that it will give councils powers to take it down.
It is suggested that the second phase of the inquiry, expected to begin in early 2019, might not happen until 2020.
The police announce that no criminal charges are expected until 2021. “Vague reassurances are wearing thin,” says community group Grenfell United.
A report by the inquiry is delayed until October, months behind schedule. Making recommendations is “far more complex and time-consuming task than originally anticipated,” says Caroline Featherstone, the solicitor to the inquiry.
Natasha Elcock, chairperson of Grenfell United and a former resident in the tower says: “That we are only finding this out now, when we were expecting the report to be published ahead of the two-year anniversary, shows how they continue to disregard survivors and bereaved through this process.”
The long-delayed report is released the day before Britain is due to the EU, prompting fears that it will be buried. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick tells Parliament that the government will accept the findings of Moore-Bick’s report “in full” and “implement them without delay”.
Grenfell United writes to party leaders during the election campaign, warning that people will die unless unsafe housing blocks are fixed. “Two and a half years since the Grenfell fire, there has been no effort to identify the buildings most at risk or to prioritise work on the basis of safety… Action is needed now,” says the campaign.
Second phase of the inquiry opens. Richard Millett QC accuses the stakeholders of a “merry-go-round of buck passing” as seemingly none of the contractors or consultants, with the exception of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea building control department, have so far been willing to admit they had done anything wrong.
The inquiry is further delayed as corporate witnesses say they will refuse to give evidence, unless guarantees are made that the evidence won’t be used in criminal prosecutions against them. Survivors say the request “bears the hallmarks of sabotage.”
The Government launches a £1 billion fund the remove remaining cladding on residential buildings, shortly after conceding that it will miss its deadline of having all remaining cladding removed by June. The Fire Brigades Union labels this “an utter disgrace”.
The housing, communities and local government select committee warns that fixing the fire safety issues in the 2,000 high-risk buildings still covered in cladding will cost £15 billion. The government’s £1 billion fund will cover just one third of the highest risk blocks. Labour Party analysis reveals that 56,000 people are still living in blocks with Grenfell-style cladding. Many residents – now confined to their death trap homes under coronavirus lockdown – are having to foot the bill for associated costs.
On the third anniversary of the fire, survivors believe that nothing has changed. Tiago Alves, who survived the fire, tells the BBC: "We knew this wasn't going to be an easy fight. Did I think we'd still be here three years on still talking about the removal of cladding? I think that's a bit absurd."
But something has changed. Robert Jenrick’s promise to implement the recommendations of Moore-Bick’s report “in full” seems to have evaporated, as the government tries to water down a recommendation to have mandatory fire-safety checks for fire doors in blocks of flats every three months. The government also says a recommendation that a recommendation that all high-rise residents who would have difficulty self-evacuating have a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) would be impractical.
As the inquiry restarts after the summer recess, COVID regulations mean that survivors and the bereaved are barred from attending, meaning that they can go to the pub but not the inquiry.
Almost a year after the inquiry published its interim report, Conservative MPs, including Kensington MP Felicity Buchan, vote against a Labour amendment in the House of Commons to implement some of its recommendations, requiring building owners to share information with fire services, regularly inspect flats, and share fire safety information and evacuations with residents. Robert Jenrick insists that the recommendations are “definitely going to happen”, but not before the housing industry and residents of social housing have been consulted.