LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a retired judge on Thursday to chair a public inquiry into the devastating west London fire that killed at least 80 people, as more high-rise buildings across the country failed fire-safety tests.
May chose Martin Moore-Bick, a retired court of appeal judge, to head the investigation into the June 14 Grenfell Tower blaze.
“I am determined that there will be justice for all the victims of this terrible tragedy and for their families who have suffered so terribly,” May said.
Fire safety experts expressed shock at how quickly the public housing tower block became engulfed in flames after a blaze began in a refrigerator. Attention has focused the building’s new aluminum cladding installed during a recent renovation, and authorities want answers fast because thousands of other buildings in the country could be affected.
Hundreds of local government-owned buildings across Britain are being tested to see whether their cladding is fire-resistant. So far, all have failed — 137 buildings in 41 areas.
The 100 percent failure rate has led to claims that fire safety standards in construction have been dangerously flouted or watered down.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said there was no point continuing the tests because they had produced a “conclusive” result: that aluminum composite cladding “simply does not pass these tests and is deemed unsafe.”
Orr said the tests had revealed a “systematic failure” around the development, manufacture and regulation of cladding.
Some Grenfell residents expressed skepticism that a judge-led inquiry would uncover the truth behind the tragedy, but Moore-Bick said his inquiry would be “open, transparent and fair.”
But he also dampened expectations, expressing doubts that the probe would be broad enough to satisfy all the survivors. The scope of his inquiry would be limited to the start of the fire, its rapid development and how it can be prevented in the future, he said.
“I’m well aware the residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that,” he said. “Whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I’m more doubtful.”