If you are a survivor of the Grenfell Tower disaster or if you care at all about the public inquiry into what happened, you need to take note of something that the Culture Secretary, Matt Hancock, has done.
His decision to cancel part two of the Leveson inquiry into the press is a direct warning to you, because you too have been promised a two-part inquiry, and if Hancock’s actions are any guide then that vital second part may never happen.
Lobbied by the vested interests of the press industry, Hancock ditched the part of the Leveson inquiry that was meant to decide who was responsible for large-scale criminality at national newspapers. If he can get away with doing that, then in time the government may feel it can do the same to you.
The plan for the Grenfell Tower inquiry (see under ‘Inquiry Report’) is clear, just as the plan for the Leveson inquiry was. First comes Phase 1, focusing on the events on the night of the fire and establishing the facts of what happened. This phase is explicitly not about responsibilities – it ‘will not examine the reasons why things happened as they did, or what should have happened’.
In a similar way, the first part of the Leveson inquiry postponed questions about responsibility for wrongdoing. The chair, Sir Brian Leveson, used to say it was not his job at that stage to examine ‘who did what to whom’ because that would be a matter for Part 2.
And as with Leveson, it is only after the first part of the Grenfell inquiry, when an interim report has set out the known facts, that the way will be clear to really challenge the vested interests – planners, local authorities, construction firms, management agencies, insurance companies, emergency services and others.
Besides asking ‘why things happened as they did’ and ‘what should have happened’, Phase 2 is supposed to work through a detailed ‘list of issues’, asking tough questions about responsibilities and good practice, and identifying lessons to be learned.
This two-part structure seems to make sense, just as it did with Leveson back in 2011. But let the months pass, let public concern subside a bit more, and government ministers may start to find reasons to betray you, too.
Those reasons will be pressed on them by vested interests with reason to fear public scrutiny. Time has passed, they will say, and circumstances have changed; we have already reformed and this inquiry process is unnecessarily slow and costly – and hey, shouldn’t we be thinking about the future and not the past?
These are the excuses now trotted out by ministers involved in the Leveson 2 cancellation, and eagerly repeated by the press (including by the Guardian).
You might think you have received cast-iron promises, but Part 2 of Leveson could not have been more ardently promised back in 2011. Victims of press abuse were told to their faces by ministers on numerous occasions that it would all happen as planned. Parliament was told the same thing. Theresa May as Home Secretary personally endorsed the two-part inquiry structure.
But now, even though the victims – and the inquiry chair himself – have protested at the government’s betrayal, May and her culture secretary ignored them.
They have shown they can not be trusted. So be warned. If it suits them, and if it suits the vested interests to whom they listen, they will not hesitate to cheat you of the part of the Grenfell Tower inquiry that might actually make a difference.