Grenfell community to begin giving evidence to public inquiry

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Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire are to begin a gruelling month of evidence as they attend the public inquiry into the tragedy.

Those who lost family and friends in the blaze on June 14 last year will also be called upon, as will residents living nearby the north Kensington tower block.

The inquiry has received 265 written statements, and those called to speak will be asked about six key issues, counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC said.

These include early decisions to self-evacuate, the re-entry of the fire in the flats directly above the flat where it started, conditions in the lobbies, stairwell and top floors, and the experiences of residents trapped in the tower for a prolonged period of time and after the stay-put policy was abandoned.

They will also focus on events on the 14th floor, where four residents were accidentally left to die after a mix-up during the rescue effort.

Karim Mussilhy
Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle Hesham Rahman perished in the blaze (Victoria Jones/PA)

The 32-year-old said the fact some survivors and bereaved relatives had to wait outside the hearing room before space was made for them to watch Commissioner Dany Cotton give evidence last week showed the venue was not suitable.

Mr Mussilhy, the vice-chairman of the campaigning group Grenfell United, told the Press Association: “This week there’s going to be our friends and families in terms of survivors giving evidence – that’s going to be hard, hard enough as it is already.

“These people are going to have to relive that awful night and the days and weeks that came after it, some people are in a really sensitive state mentally, and they are going to be in this room where they’re already feeling uncomfortable, it’s already going to be hard to get to, and they’re going to have to get back on public transport, or get in a cab or a car and go home in rush hour, it just doesn’t feel right.

“None of us want the public inquiry to take any longer than it should, but if it does have to be paused, or if things are going to take a little longer than usual, there needs to be a good reason, and I think this is a good reason.”

Antonio Roncolato, husband and wife Maria de Fatima and Miguel Alves, and Hanan Wahabi will be the first survivors to give evidence on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr Alves said he was nervous to be one of the first to be called but that he was “keen to go and give my evidence to help the truth to come out”.

He said: “I’ve never been in this position. I’ve given a few interviews but it’s different in front of a judge, in front of lots of lawyers, a crowd.

“I hope we will be calm and I hope it’s going to be clear for everybody to understand us and I hope it will be quick. It will be a very nervous time for all of us.”

He added: “One of the things I’m very strong is about the venue, it’s not the right one.”

Evidence from the community is expected to last until early November.

Proceedings will pause for the week beginning October 22, when it is half term, in order to minimise disruption for witnesses.

The inquiry team said ensuring proceedings were as accessible as possible remains “a priority”.

It has been liaising with individuals and their legal representatives to ensure “the best package of support is in place”.

Extra support will be available from the NHS to help witnesses and attendees through the “emotionally distressing” time.

The NHS will contact people if they have their details and know they are due to give evidence, while a 24-hour helpline will be in place from Wednesday to provide round-the-clock advice.

Teams will help people prepare for their evidence, manage trauma symptoms that may emerge and reflect on how the process went.

Therapists will also attend if requested to by the person they are treating.

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