LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 17 people.
In a pool interview for the BBC, ITV, and Sky News, May said it was right that “this terrible tragedy is properly investigated.” It follows her visiting the scene in west London on Thursday morning.
“We need to know what happened. We need to have an explanation for this. We owe that to the families, to the people who have lost loved ones, friends, and the homes in which they lived,” the PM added. “People deserve answers, the inquiry will give them.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has welcomed the announcement of a public inquiry, but stressed that local residents of Grenfell Tower should be given legal representation so they can appear and give evidence.
How will the public inquiry work?
A public inquiry is an official investigation into an event called by the government. It is held in a public forum and members of the public can give their own testimonies. They are usually called after disasters that cause multiple deaths or high-profile government mistakes.
The result of the inquiry will be a published report, which will partly be a conclusion on the events but it will also contain some recommendations for the future. They are often quite critical of the government, and can result in high-profile apologies or resignations.
They are led by public figures such as a judge, senior civil servant or a lord, with a supporting team helping to investigate.
What public inquiries have happened before?
There have been many high-profile public inquiries in recent years, including the Iraq Inquiry and the Leveson Inquiry.
The Iraq Inquiry was led by Sir John Chilcot, a senior civil servant and lasted for seven years. It was an inquiry into the UK’s role in the Iraq war and concluded that the war was “unnecessary” in the report published in 2016. It did not lead to a government apology, although Jeremy Corbyn apologised on behalf of the Labour Party’s role in the war.
The Leveson Inquiry occurred between 2011 and 2012 and was an investigation into “the culture, practices and ethics of the press” following the News International phone hacking scandal. It made recommendations that a new, independent body be set up to oversee the press to replace the Press Complaints Commission, which would be enshrined in law. The appropriate act was never passed and Part 2 of the inquiry has now been dropped by the Conservatives.
A public inquiry that did lead to tangible results was the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, when the British Army killed 14 civilians in Derry in 1972. The inquiry lasted from 1998 until 2010, and its report led to David Cameron, then Prime Minister, apologising to the people of Northern Ireland, who said “it was wrong.”
When can we expect the inquiry to begin and end?
This entirely depends on the government’s timetable. Seeing as the Queen’s Speech has been pushed back due to talks between the Conservatives and the DUP, it could be some time before someone is found to lead the inquiry and it actually begins.
It will most likely be at least a year before the inquiry reaches a conclusion and a report is published. Public inquiries are notorious for overrunning, but for a matter that is so important and in the public eye, it could well move quicker.
What happens now?
On Thursday afternoon there was a ministerial briefing for MPs, where Nick Hurd, the police and fire minister and Alok Sharma, the housing minister addressed MPs and updated them on what they knew and what the government was planning to do.
Labour leader Corbyn asked the government to produce a written statement on the matter and other MPs pressured the government to act on fire safety in tower blocks and also care for those who had lost their homes and possessions in the fire.
Once the state opening of parliament has occurred, there will likely be urgent questions asked of the government in the House of Commons on the actions it has taken following the tragedy.