The chairman of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has reassured those affected by the disaster that the probe “can and will provide answers”.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick told the packed Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn, central London, that he hoped the inquiry would “provide a measure of solace” to the survivors and the families of those caught up in the blaze, which claimed at least 80 lives.

Leading a minute’s silence before opening the hearing, impeccably held by those present including those affected by the disaster on June 14, the former Court of Appeal Judge said: “The inquiry can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London.”

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Sir Martin rejected calls for survivors to be included as one of his team of assessors telling the inquiry it would “risk undermining my impartiality”.

Sir Martin acknowledged the “great sense of anger and betrayal” felt by survivors of the fire and those touched by the tragedy – but indicated he would endeavour to examine evidence “calmly and rationally”.

He said that the probe’s terms of reference had been “deliberately cast in broad terms in order to give me the scope to pursue any line of inquiry that seems fruitful”.

Among the issues to be examined in detail are the causes of the fire, the response of the council and the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower which is suspected of exacerbating the blaze.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick was chosen by Theresa May to lead the inquirySir Martin Moore-Bick was chosen by Theresa May to lead the inquiry (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Sir Martin said: “My job isn’t to decide which two or more parties had the best case.

“It is simply to get to the truth with the help of all those who have relevant evidence to give.

“The process should be seen as essentially co-operative.”

He said: “I’m well aware that the past few months have turned the world of those who live in North Kensington upside down and that former residents of the tower and local people feel a great sense of anger and betrayal.

Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council Elizabeth Campbell arriving for the Grenfell Tower public inquiryLeader of Kensington and Chelsea Council Elizabeth Campbell arriving for the Grenfell Tower public inquiry (Victoria Jones/PA)

“That is entirely natural and understandable, but if the inquiry is to get to the truth of what happened, it must seek out all the evidence and examine it calmly and rationally. ”

Signalling his intent to examine how flammable material was installed on Grenfell Tower, Sir Martin said the inquiry would examine what “motivated” decisions about its design.

It has been alleged that combustible cladding was wrapped around the 24-storey block to cut costs during the £8.6 million refit.

Signalling his intent to examine how flammable material was installed on Grenfell Tower, Sir Martin said the inquiry would examine what “motivated” decisions about its design.

It has been alleged that combustible cladding was wrapped around the 24-storey block to cut costs during the £8.6 million refit.

The blackened shell of Grenfell Tower in west LondonThe blackened shell of Grenfell Tower in west London (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Sir Martin said he would not “shrink” from making findings which could affect criminal prosecutions or civil actions.

He said: “Section Two of the Enquiries Act 2005 prohibits me from ruling on or determining anyone’s civil or criminal liability.

“However the same section also expressly provides that I am not to be inhibited by the likelihood of liability being inferred from any findings or recommendations that I may make.

“I shall therefore not shrink from making any findings or recommendations that are justified by the evidence simply because someone else may at a later date consider that they form the basis of civil or criminal liability.

“The police are of course conducting their own investigation into possible criminal offences.”

Tributes left outside Notting Hill Methodist Church in Notting Hill prior to the start of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiryTributes left outside Notting Hill Methodist Church in Notting Hill prior to the start of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry (Peter Cary/PA)

Sir Martin said it “may take some time” to decide whether applications for core participant status – allowing them privileges such as access to evidence and asking questions during the inquiry – would be granted.

He issued a plea for those who may have evidence regarding the disaster to “do whatever they can to preserve the material and inform the inquiry team at once”.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry will be divided into two phases, the preliminary hearing was told.

Memorial ribbons tied around a tree close to where the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry is taking place Memorial ribbons tied around a tree close to where the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry is taking place (Peter Cary/PA)

In its opening stage, the immediate causes of the fire and how it spread so rapidly will be investigated.

Sir Martin said there was an “urgent need” to identify the flaws in the building’s design to prevent a similar high-rise blaze in future.

“Steps must be taken quickly to ensure those who live in them are kept safe,” he said.

Michael Mansfield QC wasn't allowed to make a request on behalf of the survivorsMichael Mansfield QC wasn’t allowed to make a request on behalf of the survivors (Peter Byrne/PA)

Outlining the timetable for the inquiry, Sir Martin said: “The process of gathering evidence has already begun in earnest but there is much more to do.

“It has become clear that there are many potential witnesses still to be interviewed and many thousands of documents to be reviewed.

“The scale of the task is enormous.”

Concluding his opening statement, which lasted just over 45 minutes, he said he would begin taking evidence at the hearing before the end of this year, depending on how long it takes to get evidence from first-hand witnesses, a process that will “require care and sensitivity”