In the wake of the Windrush scandal that brought about the resignation of a home secretary, it was widely predicted
that further scandals
would soon emerge over the treatment of other groups who have fallen victim to the Home Office’s hostile environment. It appears that at least one of those groups is the bereaved relatives of victims of the Grenfell fire who have been named as core participants
(CPs) in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and whom the Home Office is effectively excluding from the inquiry, thus denying them access to justice. According to North Kensington Law Centre
(NKLC), which is based a few hundred metres from Grenfell Tower and has been a core resource for former residents and their families since the fire, five of their clients who have CP status in the inquiry are in immigration limbo and face having to leave the country before hearings start on Monday 21 May, as reported in the Independent
on Sunday 20 May. These clients were granted leave to enter the UK outside the Immigration Rules in order to arrange funerals for family members or support relatives who were Grenfell residents in the immediate aftermath of the fire, in which 72 people died on 14 June 2017.
On 11 October 2017, the Home Office announced a policy
that would grant relatives who had entered the UK outside the rules leave to remain for a maximum of six months from the date on which they arrived. However, in November 2017, the inquiry began to announce the names of CPs, including many victims’ relatives, a number of whom were NKLC’s clients. Aware that the inquiry’s hearings would be starting around May 2018, and that this would be outside the six months' leave to remain granted to foreign relatives under the Home Office policy, the Law Centre began to enquire whether the policy would be extended to allow relatives who had been given CP status to attend the hearings.
Despite a question in parliament
from David Lammy MP in January, it was not until 14 March that it was confirmed to NKLC that Grenfell relatives would not have their leave to remain extended beyond six months through the dedicated policy, in spite of any CP status. On 23 March, the relevant Home Office guidance
was updated, making this decision explicit. It states that ‘not all relatives with CP status will be required to attend [the inquiry] in person. The inquiry sessions will be live-streamed, enabling those who wish to view it to do so from outside the UK.’ It suggests that only if an individual is required to give evidence at the inquiry can they use their CP status as grounds for extending their leave. The idea that relatives will be able to engage with the inquiry as core participants simply by watching a live stream from outside of the country is particularly insulting and ridiculous. A NKLC spokesperson commented: 'Yet again, the Home Office guidance misses the point. Many of these people will not have the means to be able to follow the inquiry in their home country, and in any event will need access to their lawyer throughout the course of the inquiry.'
Having already faced bereavement under the most horrific circumstances, the Home Office is callously attempting to deny NKLC’s clients, and other victims' relatives who are in the same position, reasonable access to the inquiry that they hope will bring about justice for their relations, and in which they been officially declared to have ‘significant interest’
. To make matters worse, the relatives were made to wait upwards of five months to find out whether they would have their leave extended under the Grenfell relatives policy. One NKLC client applied for an extension of their leave under the policy on 21 December 2017, on the grounds that they are a CP, and did not receive a response until 10 May 2018, just 11 days before the inquiry’s hearings started. Indeed, NKLC’s clients are still waiting – not knowing whether they would be able to extend their leave through the dedicated policy, they applied in January for further leave to remain by the much more costly standard routes (as recommended by the guidance) and have yet to receive responses as the hearings commence. Although the revised Home Office guidance states that 'timely' decisions will be made regarding the applications for leave or entry of CPs who are due to give evidence at the inquiry, to ensure that they can attend, it makes no such claims for other CPs, suggesting that there was never any real intention to treat these relatives with compassion, or to allow them access to the inquiry.
The prime minister promised in June 2017
that ‘no stone will be left unturned by this inquiry’, and that ‘there will be justice for all the victims of this terrible tragedy and for their families who have suffered so terribly’. 'We don’t see how forcing these Core Participants out of the country would help achieve that objective', the NKLC spokesperson said. Some of these very families are being denied the right to engage with and take part in that search for justice because of a heartless and unthinking Home Office that has left them in immigration limbo, despite NKLC persistently raising the issue with them since last November, and that appears intent on refusing them any further leave to remain. These bereaved relatives are not even seeking permanent residence in the UK; they are simply seeking to observe and contribute to justice for their loved ones. NKLC's spokesperson stated, 'It is completely unacceptable that the Home Office still has not given these bereaved family members a clear answer. Home Office ministers need to urgently step in and sort this out immediately.'