The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster continues to generate headlines and controversy, as questions not only remain unanswered, but more are generated by the actions of those in power. And all the while, the death toll nudges upwards, with the suspicion that what is officially revealed is far short of reality.
From such suspicions come the easily sown thought that some kind of cover-up may be beginning. Councillors, local Government officers, civil servants, members of the Westminster Parliament, those involved in devising, monitoring and enforcing safety standards and regulations, all are now watched as never before for evidence of bodyswerving, backside-covering, or other creative methods of blame avoidance.
Into this febrile atmosphere has been pitched retired Judge Martin Moore-Bick, chosen to lead a public inquiry into the disaster. His initial reaction bears careful study: “I can honestly say I have never seen anything like that building which is now completely gutted … I'm well aware the residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that”.
But then he cast doubt on that aspiration: “Whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I'm more doubtful and I will give that some thought and in due course make a recommendation … But there may be other ways in which the desire for that investigation could be satisfied”. He is at least being candid about the limitations of the inquiry which he will chair. But if his inquiry will not provide the answers, what will?
Certainly not the evasion exhibited by the local council, which held a meeting yesterday evening from which the public and media were intended to be excluded. When an order was made that media representatives must be allowed in, council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown decided that the meeting could not continue, as he alleged that this might “prejudice” the public inquiry. This was feeble in the extreme. It was also untrue.
It is not possible to prejudice an inquiry which is sitting without a jury, and Moore-Bick will be sitting without a jury. But it is possible for the actions of Paget-Brown and his pals to fuel the belief that a cover-up is under way, that those with an interest in keeping information out of the public domain are already working to do so.
What might they not want to come to light? Consider the new information coming to light on the Grenfell Tower cladding. As the BBC has noted, “Cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version … Documents show the zinc cladding originally proposed was replaced with an aluminium type, which was less fire resistant, saving nearly £300,000”. And on whose watch did that happen?
The Beeb again: “the local tenant management organisation had sent an ‘urgent nudge email’ to project management consultants involved in the refurbishment … It says the email urged them to provide ‘good costs’ on cladding that could be shown to the councillor overseeing the work”. The councillor overseeing the work.
Whose fellow councillors are now running for cover. Survivors and their supporters must beware any tendency to cover-up. Because, as the death toll rises, that will follow.