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‘Race at heart of Grenfell Tower fire disaster’

Lawyer says inquiry is ‘fundamentally flawed’ by ignoring key question

31 July, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

A GRENFELL lawyer says the inquiry is “fundamentally flawed” for failing to investigate whether racial discrimination played a part in the tower fire disaster.

Cyrilia Davies Knight is one of several lawyers representing survivors and bereaved family members who have requested race be properly considered.

Of the 72 who died in the disaster, 67 residents – 85 per cent – were from minority ethnic groups.

Ms Knight said: “It is time to break the circle of inaction, race and poverty must no longer be ignored by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.”

The inquiry has so far rejected these calls but ­pressure is mounting with politicians and survivors weighing-in.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said on Wednesday the investigation into the disaster had so far been “sorely lacking”. He has written to inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick demanding a greater focus on “discrimination and inequality” and “social housing and treatment of tenants”.

The Extra reported last month on a meeting about Grenfell and racism in the housing system. Abaas Dadou, chairman of the Lancaster West Residents’ Association, which included the Grenfell Tower, said: “If it was a different sort of people living here, we would have had a criminal investigation instantly taking place. But some lives don’t matter as much.”

Four of the 72 who died were visitors and stillborn baby Logan Gomes are counted among the deceased. Of the remaining 67, 57 were from BAME communities.

The inquiry, which restarted this month after a four-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic, concluded yesterday (Thursday) and will adjourn again for August to restart in September.

Ms Knight said: “Relative to the general population, and the population in Kensington and Chelsea, the numbers show that people from minority ethnic groups were substantially over-represented among the Grenfell Tower tenants and most importantly among those who were injured or killed in the disaster.

“We believe a failure to consider and investigate the possible contribution of race to those deaths, and whether there was any link between the failure to adequately maintain the tower and the fact that its residents were disproportionately from minority ethnic backgrounds, would be a violation of the state’s investigative duty and potentially its substantive duties under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The Grenfell Next of Kin group has called for the inquiry to “investigate the extent of institutional racism as a factor” in the 2017 fire.

Earlier this month Leslie Thomas QC, also representing bereaved families, said: “The Grenfell fire did not happen in a vacuum. A majority of the Grenfell residents who died were people of colour. Grenfell is inextricably linked with race. It is the elephant in the room.”

Mr Thomas went on in his statement to say the Grenfell disaster had “parallel themes” with the killing of George Floyd by police in the US and the “disproportionate” number of coronavirus deaths among BAME people.

He added: “Race and state obligation are at the heart of all three cases.”

The inquiry has faced a number of criticisms including those made about the individuals selected to sit on its panel. A statement from the Grenfell inquiry said: “The inquiry recognises that there are those who feel strongly that factors such as social background and race played a significant role in the Grenfell Tower fire.

“Although the chairman shared the concerns of those who felt these were important questions which required urgent examination, on careful reflection he came to the conclusion when recommending the inquiry’s terms of reference that the inquiry was not the best way to answer them. However, if in the course of its investigations the panel finds that factors of that kind played a part in any of the decisions under consideration, it will make that clear in its report.”

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