The public inquiry set up in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which at least 80 people died, will investigate whether local government and other bodies involved in the management of the tower block properly followed safety laws before the fire.
Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday morning that the inquiry will look into:
– The cause and spread of the fire;
– The design, construction, and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower;
– The scope and adequacy of the relevant regulations relating to high-rise buildings;
– Whether the relevant legislation and guidance were complied with in the case of Grenfell Tower;
– The actions of the local authority and other bodies before the tragedy;
– The response of the London Fire Brigade to the fire and the response of central and local government in the aftermath.
With the terms of reference now published, the inquiry is now officially under way and will hold its first hearing on 14 September, with an interim report expected by Easter 2018.
The terms of reference – based on more than 550 submissions from the public – dictate what questions the inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, can ask. Although the terms can be altered over time, the initial set of subjects will determine the content of the crucial opening period.
Local residents and activists expressed concern that the terms don't go far enough in investigating wider social problems highlighted by Grenfell. Prime minister Theresa May said these would be dealt with by the government separately.
In a letter from Moore-Bick to the prime minister, the former judge said that wider social issues would "raise questions of a social, economic and political nature which in my view are not suitable for a judge-led inquiry".
Professor Chris Imafidon, who lives close to the tower and helped survivors escape the building, told BuzzFeed News: "It's an insult. What a vague, shallow, and superficial attempt to look at something fundamental.
"This is the best opportunity to reform housing, reform everything that happened so that it doesn't happen again. It's very sad, and I'm very disappointed."
Imafidon, who has worked in Kensington and Chelsea for several years, said that the prime minister had broken her promise that agencies and councils, both local and national, would be scrutinised and investigated.
"She said that no stone would be left unturned, that it was going to be a comprehensive, sincere, and genuine attempt to get to the root of the matter," he said.
"This doesn't show any serious attempt to get to the root of the matter, so she just said it to keep us quiet. We've been totally ignored. They made up their mind a long time ago, that's what this suggests. They've taken us through what they call mere formalities so they can say that they consulted us, and so we can't complain.
Melvyn Akins, a Grenfell activist who grew up near the tower, told BuzzFeed News that the terms of reference were positive, but it would take more than this to win the trust of those whose lives have been affected.
"Numbers 4 [whether laws were followed] and 5 [the actions of local and national government before the fire] are the ones that are really going to be of interest.
"Everyone knew about 1 [the cause and spread of the fire] and 2 [the design and refurbishment], and everyone believes that the legislation wasn't complied [with] or that the rules were bent. But the big one is what the local authority's actions were before, during, and after.
"As bullet points it seems encouraging, but the depth to which point 5 gives will be of great interest."
However, Akins was clear it would take more than this to restore community confidence in the process.
"Will it restore confidence? No, because this is the very least that should be expected. It's not like they've done a great job or this was unexpected. This is the very least that's expected and I think if they hadn't they would have lost the community completely," said Akins.
"This goes some way to maintaining the community's interest but not restoring confidence – we saw what happened with Hillsborough and the Chilcot Inquiry, in terms of how long it took. The ultimate thing to restore confidence is the sense of justice from holding individual people to account and not just a corporate entity which can only be fined."
Moore-Bick decided, Number 10 said, to exclude wide questions of social housing policy raised by Grenfell from the inquiry. The prime minister said she respected his view and emphasised that the government was planning to tackle the issue.
"It is vital that there is justice for the victims of this appalling tragedy and for their families who have suffered so terribly," she said in a statement.
"The terms of reference set out by Sir Martin address crucial issues such as the cause of the fire and the adequacy of building and fire regulations which will allow the inquiry to get to the truth of what happened and learn the lessons to stop a similar catastrophe happening in the future.
"I am determined that the broader questions raised by this fire – including around social housing – are not left unanswered.
"We are taking action with the housing minister meeting social housing tenants to discuss the challenges they face and we will be setting out further proposals in due course."
The housing minister, Alok Sharma, will meet social housing tenants to discuss their concerns and an announcement on the government's plans is expected soon.
The inquiry process has already become mired in controversy, with survivors, local residents, and the Kensington MP, Emma Dent-Coad, all questioning whether Moore-Bick, a retired Court of Appeal judge, is the right man to lead it.
Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, the housing charity, said: "The Grenfell fire was the most horrifying reminder in generations of the stark injustice of our housing crisis. Not only must nothing like this happen again, but also it must be allowed to act as a wake-up call that the wider crisis cannot be allowed to continue. The inquiry must cover the wide range of issues that led to the disaster.
"In the coming months we must hear the voices of all those affected by this tragedy, loud and clear and with real influence, so they can get the justice they rightly seek.
"Tenants tell us they feel like second-class citizens, and the government must now make good on its promise to look closely at the wider question of social housing."
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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