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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Sir Martin Moore-Bick to lead Grenfell inquiry

Sir Martin Moore-Bick to lead Grenfell inquiry


Retired judge 'doubtful' inquiry will be as wide-ranging as residents hope

Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick is to lead the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, the prime minister has announced.

The retired judge, who was vice-president of the appeal court’s civil division until last December, was appointed by Theresa May following advice from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

Sir Martin’s appointment has caused some controversy, however. In 2014, the judge backed a decision by Westminster Council to rehouse a single mother 50 miles away in Milton Keynes.

Titina Nzolameso and her family were evicted from their home in November 2012 due to rent arrears arising from government cuts to housing benefit.

Nzolameso had argued in the Court of Appeal that the council had failed to examine all available housing in or near the borough when it made its decision and therefore acted unlawfully.

However, Sir Martin ruled the borough was allowed to take ‘a broad range of factors’ into account, including the ‘pressures’ on the council, when deciding what housing was available.

Following the court’s decision, Nzolameso was made homeless after the local authority ceased to provide her with temporary accommodation. Her five children were separated into three care homes.

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the ruling in April 2015. Lady Hale said the authority could not show that their offer of rehousing was ‘sufficient to discharge their legal obligations’ under the Housing 1996 Act or under section 11 of the Children Act 2004.

The decision to appoint Sir Martin has, as a result of the Nzolameso case, caused some concern among survivors of the Grenfell fire who are demanding to be rehoused in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Moreover, the former judge has said he is doubtful the inquiry would be as wide-ranging as many residents hope.

‘I’ve been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development, in order to make recommendations as to how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future,’ Sir Martin told residents.

He said he was ‘well aware’ that residents want a broader investigation into the blaze that has left at least 80 people dead, but added, ‘Whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I’m more doubtful. There may be other ways in which that desire for an investigation can be satisfied’.

Instead, Sir Martin said he hoped to answer ‘basic factual questions’, including how the fire started, how it spread, and how it was able to move at such speed through the tower.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD