A leading human rights lawyer has called on the Grenfell Tower residents to insist that they were not ‘excluded’ from any forthcoming inquiry. Michael Mansfield QC called on victims of the Kensington tower-block blaze which killed at least 79 people to act immediately: ‘Those who’ve got the strength have got to come together to put in representations about what this inquiry should be doing. Believe you me, if you don’t, they [the government] will. And if they do, they’ll make sure that you’re excluded.’
Mansfield continued: ‘You need to get it [the inquiry] on your terms – you need to get it to answer the questions you’ve got.’
Mansfield later told Legal Voice that the government will already have appointed a senior judge to carry out the inquiry and will already be setting out the terms of reference. The veteran barrister, who represented some of the families of the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, told the meeting held in the shadow of Grenfell Tower: ‘It’s not a matter of “do we have an inquiry or do we have an inquest” – you have both for goodness sake.’
On the benefit of a public inquiry, he told the survivors: ‘Inquests are dealing with the dead. Inquiries are much wider and are dealing with survivors, as well as those who have died and are missing.’
He said the priority was for the inquiry to identify the problem that caused the fire to spread so rapidly and change it straight away, so that it could not happen again.
‘As well as getting to the truth of what happened and ensuring accountability for what happened, you also – for your own benefit and all the other people who occupy towers or buildings of a similar kind – have to get things changed now.’
Demonstrating that the inquiry could achieve this quickly, he pointed to the Taylor Report, set up following the Hillsborough disaster, which reported within nine months, and identified all stadiums that posed a similar risk before the start of the next football season.
Another question to ask, he said, concerned the response to the fire – ‘where’s the infrastructure dealing with relief? Where’s the plan?’
Mansfield, who has been in practice for 50 years, said: ‘During that time unfortunately this situation has occurred too often – a situation in which ordinary people have been ignored; ordinary people’s voices have not been heard. And it is time that that should change – and it is changing – politically and right here now’.
He called for unity and suggested there should be one umbrella organisation, similar to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, to come together as soon as possible to speak with one voice on behalf of the victims. ‘In all the cases I’ve had, at the end of the day, it was solidarity that shone through,’ he said.
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