Grenfell, COVID and Infected Blood families 'have no faith' inquiry recommendations will be properly carried out

Families bereaved by the Grenfell Tower fire, the infected blood scandal and COVID pandemic have united to voice their fears recommendations from their public inquiries will not be acted on and instead "simply disappear".

It comes as the 7th anniversary of the Grenfell disaster - that claimed 72 lives - will be marked by a "silent walk" in West London today.

Phase one of the public inquiry into the fire ended five years ago, yet campaigners claim not all of its recommendations have been implemented.

Now they have joined forces with the families impacted by the infected blood scandal and COVID in calling for the creation of a new independent body which would scrutinise and analyse the work done after inquests and public inquiries.

Campaigners say they have "no faith" the current system will see real change.

Despite costing hundreds of millions of pounds, public inquiry recommendations do not have to be followed, and there is no formal oversight to check they are being properly met once the process is over.

Campaign groups Grenfell United, COVID-19 Bereaved and Factor 8 say this risks their tragedies being repeated.

'Nothing's really happened to change things'

Lobby Akinnola and Jason Evans both lost their dads in the midst of a national tragedy. Lobby's father Femi died in April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic; while Jason's dad Jonathan died three decades earlier, after contracting Hep C and HIV as a result of the infected blood scandal.

Lobby was in his 20s when his dad died, while Jason was just four years old. But both agree that the worst part isn't the loss, it's "all the time later you don't get to have with your loved one".

Both have come to a meeting with Edward Daffarn, a survivor of the Grenfell fire.

All three of them are at various stages of the lengthy public inquiry process.

The Infected Blood Inquiry reported back last month, finding the scandal was "not an accident".

Phase Two of the Grenfell Inquiry is due in September, and COVID is years away from finishing.

By the end, all three Inquiries will have produced a raft of recommendations - designed to prevent history from being repeated. But none of the men in this room have confidence they will be followed properly.

Grenfell United, COVID-19 Bereaved and Factor 8 now support calls for a 'National Oversight Mechanism', which would scrutinise and analyse the work done after inquests, government-commissioned reviews and public inquiries.

'Structural solution' needed

They accept that not every recommendation will be able to be implemented, but say a mechanism would provide independent oversight and answers why.

Without it, they fear, lessons won't be learnt, and future lives not saved.

It would also, they agree, take the pressure off all three of their shoulders. Jason says the relief he felt at the receiving their report was short lived: "You have to fight just to get the inquiry. You have to fight to have the questions put to the witnesses. Of course, you're then going to have to fight for the recommendations, especially if they cost money.

"That's just very sadly a part of trying to get some sense of justice in this country."

Lobby is adamant there needs to be a "structural solution". Otherwise, "in another 30 years there will be another three people around the same table talking about the same issues and I don't think we can do that anymore".

Edward says the Grenfell Community have seen first hand what happens when inquiries or inquests are not followed: "There was a fire at Lakenal House in 2009 that killed six people, after which the Coroner's report made recommendations about the danger of fire-spread.

"The government was fully aware of those recommendations but chose not to act on them.

"And then in 2017, we had a fire that killed 72 people."

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'It's all about safeguarding future lives'

Phase One of the inquiry heard how, if those recommendations had been met, Grenfell might have been prevented.

Just as concerning, Edward says, is the fact that recommendations from that initial phase haven't been met yet.

The chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick recommended that all disabled people living in high-rise blocks get personal evacuation plans, but in 2022 the Home Office rejected the idea, citing "practicality", "proportionality" and "safety".

Adam Gabsi, who has MS, took the government to court over that decision, and lost: "I am a wheelchair user. I live on the sixth floor. In 2022 neither lift in my building worked for 64 days.

"In 2023, neither lift in my building worked for 42 days. So I have first-hand experience of how dangerous that could be.

"My building is currently surrounded in the similar cladding as Grenfell. They are removing it. Of course being trapped in the flat was extremely dangerous and having an evacuation plan is paramount. It's essential, it's integral."

The calls for a National Oversight Mechanism were first launched a year ago by the charity Inquest.

Executive director Deborah Coles told Sky News it's all about safeguarding future lives, and making sure the burden for pushing change forwards doesn't rely on families: "At the moment this accountability gap which exists means recommendations about public health and safety can simply disappear into the ether, and that really does undermine trust and confidence in these legal processes."

The Home Office have previously said work continues on their recommendations, and they're committed to making sure a tragedy like Grenfell never happens again.

Labour addressed the Grenfell Inquiry in its manifesto which it launched yesterday.

It said: "Labour will right this wrong, act on the findings of the Infected Blood Inquiry, and respond to the findings of the Grenfell Inquiry and the COVID-19 Inquiry, to ensure swift resolution."

The Conservative Party published its manifesto on Tuesday.

It said: "After delivering landmark new laws that freed leaseholders from cladding bills following on from the awful tragedy of Grenfell Tower, we will continue our support for leaseholders affected by historic building safety problems by requiring the continuation of developer-funded remediation programmes for mid and high-rise buildings."

It added: "Our Victims and Prisoners Act ensures victims are protected and supported, including that those affected by major disasters such as Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire can get the help they need, when they need it, through a permanent Independent Public Advocate.

"We will expand the provision of legal aid at inquests related to major incidents where the Independent Public Advocate is appointed or in the aftermath of terrorist incidents."