Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire are furious at being kept out of the public inquiry as those responsible for installing flammable cladding testify this week.
Bosses involved in a disastrous refurbishment of the west London tower block were set to face the inquiry, which resumed on Monday.
But survivors, bereaved relatives and their supporters will be denied entry, and told to follow it online instead.
A statement from the inquiry said social distancing rules meant attendance would be “restricted to those whose physical attendance is essential for hearings to take place.”
The inquiry resumed after being paused since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a consultation, key participants were given three options on how they would like the inquiry to proceed.
The inquiry said most preferred to resume hearings with “limited attendance” once social distancing rules had been relaxed.
Other options included suspending hearings until social distancing rules were lifted completely, and conducting hearings remotely via video.
Yet the Justice4Grenfell campaign group said survivors thought “limited attendance” meant at least some of them would be allowed to attend in person.
Instead representatives of the firms responsible for the safety of the tower will give evidence without having to face them.
Nabil Choucair, who lost six members of his family in the fire, said it was vital survivors be allowed in, “for them to see our faces. We are the families that have had families taken from us.”
Karim Mussilhy of the families group Grenfell United said, “It’s hard to understand why people are allowed back into pubs, but we’re not allowed back into the inquiry. They told us we would be at the heart of this inquiry and now they are saying we’re not allowed in.”
The decision to block attendance came ahead of testimonies from companies responsible for installing flammable cladding on the tower in a 2016 refurbishment.
Those facing questios were set to include executives from Rydon, which was responsible for the refurbishment and the selection of the cladding.
Executives from Exova, the fire engineers accused of down playing the danger of the cladding, were also set to face questions.
The decision also follows a ruling that oral evidence given to the inquiry on behalf of companies can’t be used in later criminal prosecutions. Firms including Rydon had applied for immunity—and been granted it by Tory attorney general Suella Braverman.
Justice4Grenfell said it had “Serious concerns that the inquiry only sees Grenfell as a building that failed and not the people who were failed.
“It appears that even after these corporate companies were granted immunity for their oral evidence by the attorney general—they are now given additional special measures to further protect them.”