Head of London apartment block fire inquiry doubts he will answer all questions

Damage to Grenfell Tower is seen following the catastrophic fire, in north Kensington, London

LONDON (Reuters) – The newly-appointed head of an inquiry into the London apartment block inferno believed to have killed at least 80 people said on Thursday his investigation was unlikely to answer all the questions raised by residents and local people.

The fire on June 14 gutted the 24-story Grenfell Tower social housing block in west London, trapping families as they slept, in Britain’s deadliest fire since World War Two. Police have said they believe there were no survivors from 23 of the block’s 129 apartments.

“I am well aware residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that,” said Martin Moore-Bick, a retired Court of Appeal judge who was appointed to head a public inquiry into the disaster on Thursday.

“Whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I am more doubtful.”

Prime Minister Theresa May promised to hold an inquiry into the disaster after she and the authorities were widely criticized for the initial response to the blaze.

Residents of the block have demanded answers as to why the fire spread so rapidly and whether proper fire safety measures had been in place. They also want explanations about why their concerns had been ignored and if the government had been generally neglectful of social housing.

Visiting the site of the fire on Thursday, Moore-Bick said his inquiry would be limited to investigating the start of the fire and its rapid spread.

“There may be other ways in which that desire for an investigation can be satisfied other than through the work that I am going to do,” he said, adding he hoped an interim report would be released within a year.

The fire at Grenfell Tower, close to one of Britain’s richest neighborhoods, has become a lightning rod for anger at May’s government with opponents blaming public spending cuts for its devastating effect. It also raised questions about the quality of social housing across the country.

Police have said the tower’s exterior cladding added for aesthetic and insulation purposes during a refurbishment failed all fire safety tests. Checks carried out since the fire have shown 137 other tower blocks had also failed tests, May’s spokesman said on Thursday.

“I am determined that there will be justice for all the victims of this terrible tragedy and for their families who have suffered so terribly,” May said in a statement.

Joe Delaney from the Grenfell Action Group, an organization of local residents, said they were confident the inquiry would get to the cause of the fire but not that it would expose those responsible.

(Reporting by Sarah Mills; Editing by Janet Lawrence)