The latest stage of the Grenfell Inquiry will not resume until at least July – more than three years after the west London tower block blaze that killed 72 people.
The second phase of the investigation was halted on March 16 by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick as the coronavirus swept through Europe, with at least one panel member falling ill with suspected Covid-19 and concerns over the safety of other participants.
The panel had spent more than a month hearing evidence from witnesses to examine the circumstances and causes of the disaster – on June 14 2017 – before proceedings were drawn to an abrupt end.
In a statement posted on Tuesday, the inquiry said that consensus from core participants including the bereaved favoured resuming hearings with limited attendance when social restrictions are partially lifted.
However, the inquiry panel signalled there may be a long wait for hearings to resume.
The statement said: “The primary consideration in these preparations will be to protect the physical safety and mental wellbeing of all those involved while getting the inquiry’s programme for taking evidence back on track as soon as possible.
“The panel cannot yet make any firm prediction about when it will be possible to implement limited attendance hearings as this is dependent on when and how government restrictions are lifted and public health considerations generally.
“The earliest the panel considers it will be possible to resume hearings is July, as it is likely to take up to a month to reorganise the inquiry’s premises in an appropriate way and to reschedule the witnesses.”
Speaking in March before strict lockdown measures were enforced, Sir Martin made a light-hearted comment to the inquiry about himself and experienced victims’ lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, and the impact that coronavirus could have on their attendance in person.
He told the inquiry: “It won’t come as a surprise to any of you that at least two people in this room might not be able to be here if the Government decides that over-70s should be banned from going out.
“Mr Mansfield and I certainly fall into that category.”
The Government is currently reviewing its guidance to vulnerable groups on shielding and avoiding face-to-face contact, including the over-70s, peers in the House of Lords were told this week.