The Silent Walk last Saturday was the 10th such monthly walk since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in June last year. Understandably some, perhaps more than a few, among the survivors, the bereaved and the wider Lancaster West community have grown cynical about the prospects of ever achieving the justice for Grenfell that we all crave so much.
The purpose of today’s blog will be to try to reassure those who are troubled by doubt that there is still reason to hope and believe that justice will eventually be served.
Some have complained that, after ten months of investigation, the police have not yet made a single arrest. Such criticism is understandable and the absence of arrests is certainly frustrating, but we believe it is important to remember, at these moments of doubt, the sheer scale of the task the police are faced with. We can also testify that, in giving our evidence, we were left in no doubt by the detectives we were working with that they are deadly serious about the investigation and will leave no stone unturned in their determination to deliver justice to our community.
Detective Chief Superintendant Fiona McCormack, who is leading the police operation said:
“The investigation into what happened at Grenfell Tower is a priority for the Met and we are determined to find the answers that so many desperately seek. The distress and suffering caused to so many families and loved ones that night is harrowing. That night people lost their homes, all their possessions and tragically their families and loved ones.
“Outside of counter-terrorism investigations, this is the biggest investigation the Metropolitan Police Service is currently undertaking and the scale is huge. This is a massive investigation and it will take a long time. But we only get one chance to investigate and it is important that things are done properly”.
According to a BBC report from January the investigation is one of the biggest and most complex in the force’s history. About 200 officers, drawn from across the Met, are working full-time in a variety of roles including family liaison, search teams, statement-takers and exhibits officers. So far 2,332 witness statements have been taken.
The investigation is largely focussed on the construction, refurbishment and management of the tower as well as the emergency services’ response. A total of 670 firefighters that were involved in the rescue effort have been identified, 340 police officers and a similar number of ambulance staff. Statements are being taken from all of these and police video from 340 body worn cameras has been downloaded and has all been viewed.
Police had initially identified 60 companies that were involved in the construction, refurbishment or management of Grenfell Tower. That number has now grown to 336 different organisations. Each is being contacted to establish exactly what their role was.
Where that role is considered relevant, digital downloads of all business records are being recovered. So far, in excess of 31 million documents have been recovered and it is anticipated that number will increase. Specialist software is being used to enable officers to process and search the millions of documents in order to identify any relevant material that may be used evidentially at a later stage.
The forensic examination of the tower is ongoing and includes photographing and documenting every room on every floor, paying particular attention to fire safety provisions such as fire doors, the standards of construction work, the routing of pipework and smoke extraction systems. After that, there will be a series of further forensic tests including reconstructions. Only after that work is compete will officers be in a position to fully understand what happened, what went wrong and what questions need to be answered. The most recent official progress report described the investigation as unprecedented in its scale and complexity and estimated that it is likely to take at least until next autumn to complete.
It is unclear whether any suspects have yet been interviewed in relation to offences under investigation which potentially include fraud, misconduct (including misconduct in public office), health and safety breaches, breaches of fire safety regulations and both corporate and individual manslaughter. If such interviews have not yet begun then they soon will be.
Meanwhile the demands on police resources have left the Met facing huge additional costs because of the complexity of the investigation. Consequently Scotland Yard has requested an additional £38 million from the government to help pay for it – this will include £11.1 million for overtime hours already worked by detectives. A Home Office spokesperson said: “Given the unique and tragic circumstances of this event, we will consider this application as a matter of priority.” The additional funding request will, however, have to be approved by ministers. Unsurprisingly we could find no record of a government decision having yet been taken on additional funding for the Grenfell investigation.
As we said in our introduction the point of this particular blog is to try to reassure and encourage the many who are desperately hoping that justice will be delivered for those who perished in the fire, for those who survived but continue to suffer, in whatever ways, and for the entire Lancaster West community which has had the heart ripped out of it in a very real sense.
We have tried to do this by presenting the most accurate and up-to-date statistics we could find to illustrate how massive and complex the police investigation is, and to emphasise that it is likely to take a considerable time to complete. We have not commented on the Public Inquiry, mainly because we have little or no idea of what we can realistically expect from that quarter, but also because we are mindful that the conclusions the Inquiry reaches are likely to be significantly influenced by the outcome of the police investigation
Finally, in writing this piece we intend no criticism of any one of the many local groups that represent, each in its own way, the Grenfell community, nor do we intend to suggest a preference for any particular group. What we earnestly and genuinely hope is that all groups will continue to work together in a spirit of mutual support and collaboration in the pursuit of justice and for the good of all.
KEEP THE FAITH, SISTERS AND BROTHERS!