Expert comment: public-spirited officials can make a difference to Grenfell Tower public inquiry

Posted by pt91 at Jun 27, 2017 11:22 AM |
Security expert at University of Leicester makes case for ‘wide-ranging’ investigation

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 27 June 2017

A University of Leicester expert in security and disaster management has welcomed the Government’s announcement of a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, arguing that history has shown that public-spirited officials can be successful in holding those responsible to account.

Dr Simon Bennett, Director of the Civil Safety and Security Unit at the University of Leicester, argues that a robust and wide-ranging investigation has proven to be an effective method of establishing the reasons behind a disaster in the past, but its impact is reliant upon how wide-ranging that investigation is permitted to be.

Dr Bennett said: “It is thought that up to 80 perished in London's June 14 Grenfell Tower disaster. On June 15 Prime Minister Theresa May announced a public inquiry. On June 21 she apologised in the House of Commons for local and central government's inadequate response to the disaster. On June 22 the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's Chief Executive resigned. The public and the Fourth Estate are to be congratulated for holding the powerful to account.

“Understanding what went wrong at Grenfell Tower requires a wide-ranging systems-thinking-informed investigation able to take account of pertinent social, economic and political factors. For example, the impact of successive governments' deregulation and cost-cutting agendas on health and safety standards and the capacity of agencies to enforce those standards.

“History demonstrates a link between a public inquiry's impact and its terms of reference.  The narrower the terms of reference the more likely it is that the precursors to disaster will be overlooked. History also demonstrates that the powerful are not above gerrymandering terms of reference to deliver verdicts advantageous to themselves. Following Canada's 1989 Dryden air disaster, a judge-led Commission of Inquiry was convened. In 1995, the judge, The Honourable Mr Justice Virgil P. Moshansky, described how those with vested interests had attempted to undermine his investigation: "Counsel for the regulator attempted to limit the scope of the Inquiry with threats to limit my mandate by seeking an order in the Federal Court". Moshansky stood his ground. Three years later he produced a watershed systems-thinking-informed analysis that implicated Canada's entire aviation system, including the government, regulator and airline industry, in the disaster. The lessons? First, in the aftermath of disaster, those with something to lose may resort to underhand tactics. Secondly, public-spirited officials (like Moshansky) can make a difference.”

Ends

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