Theresa May has said she will consider the appointment of panel members to sit alongside chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick on the Grenfell inquiry, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The news comes a week after the opening of the public inquiry into the tragedy, where Moore-Bick faced criticism for saying appointing survivors and people from the surrounding north Kensington community to his advisory panel could undermine its impartiality.
Campaign groups say it would only be right for survivors of the tower block fire to be included as advisers, and legal experts who have acted in many similar cases told BuzzFeed News in July that it was a key way the process could win and maintain local trust.
Moore-Bick, who instead plans to work with a team of independent assessors, told an audience of affected families and journalists on the opening day:
I know that many of the survivors would like to appoint someone from among their own number or perhaps another local resident as one of my assessors.
Many of them can of course provide valuable evidence, and I shall ensure them all their evidence is heard and carefully considered, but to appoint as an assessor someone who had had direct involvement in the fire would risk undermining my impartiality in the eyes of others who are also deeply involved in the inquiry.
I’ve therefore come to the conclusion that I cannot take the course that they would wish me to adopt.
Lawyers for Shafika Ragab, who lost her nephew Hesham Raham in the fire, raised concern that the prime minister had not given due regard to her public sector equality duty in deciding not to appoint additional panel members to the Grenfell inquiry who are representative of the ethnic makeup of the north Kensington community.
The duty puts pressure on public authorities to consider how their policies or decisions affect those protected under the Equality Act.
May later confirmed with Ragab's legal team that she will consider the appointment of additional panel members, they said in a press release.
In a statement, Ragab’s grandson Mussilhy said the family and other members of the community feel that they have not been listened to, both before the tragedy and after it.
He praised May for her decision to consider the appointment of additional panel members, adding: "We call on her to appoint members representative of the community so that we can have confidence that the inquiry will do its job and get to the truth."
Clare Jennings, Ragab's legal representative, said it's important that the final makeup of the inquiry panel is finalised as close to the start of the inquiry as possible. Jennings has written to Moore-Bick urging him to confirm the list of assessors that he will be appointing.
"To that end we have written to Sir Martin today to ask that he urgently confirms the list of technical assessors he will be appointing, in order that the Prime Minister can get on with the fundamental job of considering the appointment of a balanced inquiry panel," she said.
A government spokesman told BuzzFeed News that Moore-Bick has always been clear that he is considering appointing a diverse group of people to assist him whose experience extends to the occupation and management of social housing as well as other areas of expertise.
“The PM is also keeping under review the need for panel members," the spokesperson added.
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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