Like much of the country, I have been transfixed by the opening stages of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. I was struck by one report in particular last week – an account by a BBC journalist of an impromptu encounter between an unnamed victim of the fire and the inquiry’s chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick.
It has been reported that whenever the inquiry takes a break, everyone joins the same queue for tea and coffee (quite an image in itself, if the press accounts of the tensions between the different participants at the inquiry are to be believed). During one session, a spontaneous round of applause had echoed round the hearing room in response to one of the victim’s opening statements. Sir Martin had called for silence and cautioned those present, explaining that he would not tolerate any calling out in future.
During the next tea break, one of the victims approached the chairman, taking the opportunity to explain carefully why they felt it so important to be able to give voice to their emotions during the hearing. Sir Martin reportedly responded with equal care, explaining the need to ensure that everyone could be heard and feel comfortable enough to give their best evidence.
I was struck by their willingness to listen to one another even in such difficult circumstances. It was humbling especially in our era of impatience with its shouty twitter feeds and fake news. I was left wondering whether securing justice can require more than just giving the unheard a voice or inverting the usual hierarchy of power. Occasionally it demands something infinitely more difficult: listening to and working with those we deeply mistrust.