A moment’s search of the internet for the latest developments about the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower reveals a mass of disturbing material that has little to do with the tragically high death toll.
Conspiracy theories about a cover-up of the truth abound, as do allegations both wild and shameful about the Government’s indifference to the fate of victims, survivors and the poor in general.
The media, which reported the fire and its aftermath rigorously, exhaustively and fairly, is pilloried for being part of this vast plot to hide the truth.
And the man tasked with conducting the official inquiry into why a tower block in London turned into the scene of one of Britain’s worst peacetime disasters – and establishing who might be to blame – is accused of bias in favour of that shadowy and malevolent force “The Establishment”.
At no point in his long and distinguished career can retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick have faced such a slur on his integrity, or been heckled as he was when he met survivors of the fire.
Everybody is part of this massive cover-up, say the conspiracy theorists, even the police engaged in the monumental and painstaking task of conducting the forensic investigation inside the burned-out shell of Grenfell Tower.
At a public meeting last week, they were accused of playing down the number of dead, with outlandish accusations being hurled that up to 600 had been killed and nobody was being detained for the criminal acts that led to the fire.
It was useless for the police to counter with the truth – that they cannot be certain of the number of dead until inquiries are complete, or that arrests cannot be made without evidence. Those arguments were simply shouted down.
Just when and why did normally sane and sensible people lose all faith in officialdom and start seeing malign influences at work everywhere?
Part of the reason is the internet’s capacity for being an echo-chamber for ill-informed assertion – or downright lies – that snowball with alarming rapidity and gain a spurious credence simply because they are there. The reasoning goes that if it’s on the internet, it must be correct. And the more people who click on the conspiracy theories, the wider they spread.
But there has been another narrative that has gathered pace, and that is the myth that those in authority do not care about the poor and have little regard for those who died in their homes on that terrible night. Any investigation will look after the interests of those in power instead of exposing incompetence or criminality.
There’s a real danger of this mindset fatally undermining public faith in our legal processes and their incorruptibility, and it is being stoked by people who should instead be voices of calm reason.
Labour’s questioning of Sir Martin’s impartiality was a step too far. The Tottenham MP David Lammy even asked whose side the judge would be on in the inquiry. Such a question should never have been posed by a mainstream politician, because it only served to feed the paranoia around the tragedy. Sir Martin is on the side of the truth, and his conclusions will be based on hard evidence, not speculation and conspiracy theories.
If that evidence points to failings on the part of authorities at either national or local level, the judge will say so. And if criminality played any part in the deaths of the 80 people known about so far, he will point the finger. But in the through-the-looking-glass world of conspiracy theory, every reassurance that the inquiry will be scrupulously even-handed is dismissed.
The sadness of this is that baseless accusations of bias are counter-productive in enabling the inquiry to establish the truth.
If witnesses are suspicious and defensive, they may withhold evidence, or worse, deliberately manipulate what they say in order to try to influence the inquiry’s findings.
There is a powerful counter-argument and it should be made forcefully by politicians and community leaders alike with any influence amongst those connected to Grenfell Tower.
It is the conduct and conclusions of the inquiry into the Hillsborough Disaster and the inquests that followed into the deaths of its 96 victims.
The meticulous deliberations of both, the weighing of evidence and the exposure of truths long buried delivered the definitive account of what happened in Sheffield in April 1989, and why.
The Grenfell Tower inquiry will do the same. For the sake of its victims, conspiracy theories must be pushed back into the dark corners of the internet where they belong and the fact hammered home that only unimpeachably honest British justice will uncover the truth.