Grenfell Inquiry hearings have been suspended in the wake of more stringent government guidance concerning the spread of coronavirus.
Prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday unveiled a new set of guidelines aiming to control the impact of the virus, including that the general public should “work from home, wherever possible”.
The new measures advise the avoidance of gatherings and non-essential use of public transport, and firmer guidelines are in place for those in specific demographic groups, including pregnant women and the over-70s.
In a statement yesterday evening, inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick said that in light of the new messaging, the panel had decided that the inquiry should hold no further hearings for the time being.
He wrote: “To do so, even on the basis of limited attendance, would be to expose those whose presence is essential for that purpose, not to mention those whom we wish to call as witnesses, to an unacceptable risk of infection.
“It would also send the wrong signal to the world at large at a time when everyone is being urged to co-operate with measures designed to minimise the effect of the virus.”
The letter said that the inquiry would give “careful consideration to whether it is possible to resume hearings using electronic means” and said “even if that is not possible the work of the inquiry will continue”.
On Sunday, the inquiry wrote to core participants inviting their views on how to proceed in response to the evolving coronavirus situation, having already advised those who may need to self-isolate not to attend the inquiry.
It had asked for legal representatives to provide details of practical considerations on the two options, the first being video hearings, where witnesses would be examined by counsels in “the normal way” at the venue, but with core participants and legal representatives watching remotely and submitting questions via email.
The second option was to suspend hearings, “in order to maintain the integrity of the inquiry”, noting that hearings may become “unsustainable” due to the forced absence of key parties.
In yesterday’s statement, Sir Martin said he hoped it “would not be long” before the inquiry could continue taking evidence.