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Grenfell fire: Inquiry head 'lost room' at residents' meeting

The retired judge who will head the Grenfell Tower inquiry “lost the room” when he met residents and survivors, according to a community group member.

Joe Delaney, of the Grenfell Action Group, told the BBC that Sir Martin Moore-Bick “couldn’t even control the crowd” at the meeting on Thursday.

A video of the meeting shows the ex-judge saying he would “find the facts as I see them from the evidence”.

He has already faced calls to step down just days after being appointed.

Sir Martin said he had been invited to the meeting by the Lancaster West Residents Association, and left after almost three hours.

He described it afterwards as a “very useful meeting”.

Mr Delaney told BBC Radio 5 live that Sir Martin “wasn’t jeered or booed. It was more scepticism. You could hear people signing and tutting”.

“It got a bit loud before the end. The man couldn’t even control the crowd and hold them. I have heard public speakers who can shut up a stadium full of thousands of people. This man couldn’t hold a room with 200 or so people.”

Local resident Melvyn Akins, 30, said there was “frustration, anger and confusion” in the meeting, and that Sir Martin told those gathered that he could not start work on the inquiry until his terms of reference were established.

“It is going to be an uphill struggle. People feel abandoned. Now you have got somebody coming in and saying ‘I am going to look into it all thoroughly’ and it is not good enough.

“People firmly believe that arrests should be made as a result of the outcome of all of this. If arrests are not made, people are going to feel justice may not be being done.”

In a short video recorded at the meeting, Sir Martin tells those at the meeting: “I can’t do more than assure you that I know what it is to be impartial.

“I’ve been a judge for 20 years, and I give you my word that I will look into this matter to the very best of my ability and find the facts as I see them from the evidence.

“That’s my job, that’s my training, and that’s what I intend to do. Now if I can’t satisfy you because you have some preconception about me as a person that’s up to you.”

Earlier it emerged that cladding samples which failed safety tests in the wake of the fire will be subjected to further “large-scale” testing.

Experts will fix a complete cladding system to a 30ft-high (9m) demonstration wall and subject it to “a severe fire”, the government said.

It comes after 190 samples out of 191 failed initial combustibility tests.

Urgent tests were ordered on cladding from about 600 towers blocks in England after the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 80 people, on 14 June.

However, questions have since been asked about the nature of the process after all but one test resulted in a failure.

Fire tests

The independent expert panel on safety has now said further testing will be carried out “as the next step”.

So far, tests have covered only the plastic “core” on panels similar to those used on Grenfell Tower.

The new process will subject a demonstration wall to a “severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window” and aim to establish whether it will then spread up the outside wall.

It will also assess how different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels behave with different types of insulation in a fire, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said.

ACM in the cladding is thought to have been a factor in the rapid spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower, in west London.

The results will help landlords decide on further actions they may need to take to ensure buildings are safe, the DCLG added.

The Local Government Association – which had called for the tests to be changed – said the new testing “needs to be undertaken urgently”.

“We have been clear all along that entire cladding panels and the insulation behind them need to be fire tested together as a system, rather than just the core of the panels on their own,” chairman Lord Porter added.

The Fire Industry Association, a trade association with more than 700 UK members, said it applauded the decision to carry out the fire tests.

Testing so far had simply focused on the combustibility of the core material in the cladding, it said, adding that the new tests would determine whether cladding would “actually perform well in a real fire”.

However, social housing provider Salix Homes said it had halted work to remove cladding from eight tower blocks in Salford, Greater Manchester, saying government advice was now “unclear”.

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