LONDON — A major public inquiry into the deadliest fire in Britain in more than a century opened on Thursday, with the retired judge who is leading the investigation citing a “sense of anger and betrayal” among former residents of Grenfell Tower in London, which was engulfed in flames in June.
The fire, which killed at least 80 people, began in the early morning of June 14, after a refrigerator on the fourth floor of the high-rise apartment building burst into flames. The blaze ignited the building’s exterior cladding, shot up the side of the tower and transformed the 24-story structure into an inferno.
The inquiry’s leader, Martin Moore-Bick, said in his opening statement that he realized that the lives of Grenfell residents had been turned “upside down,” and he vowed to uncover the truth about what had led to the tragedy.
“We are acutely aware that so many people died and that many of those who survived have been severely affected,” Mr. Moore-Bick said. “We are also conscious that many have lost everything.”
“The inquiry cannot undo any of that, but it can and will provide answers to how a disaster of this kind could happen in 21st-century London,” he added.
Some residents have asked to be part of the inquiry team. But Mr. Moore-Bick said on Thursday, during the session at the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London, that he would not take that step because he wanted to ensure the inquiry’s impartiality.
Mr. Moore-Bick said the inquiry, which is scheduled to produce an interim report by Easter, would examine several questions and issues, including what caused the fire and why it spread; the regulatory framework for high-rise structures and how they may have contributed to the tragedy; the actions of the London Fire Brigade; and the response of the local authorities and of the central government.
No evidence was presented on Thursday.
After the blaze, it emerged that the cladding was a less expensive and more flammable variety than other more fire-resistant alternatives. That finding prompted anger and spurred accusations that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the local council that operated Grenfell Tower, had cut corners to save money.
The fire in the borough, which includes some of the wealthiest areas in the capital and some of the poorest ones, also underlined the social and economic disparities in London, and it raised questions about whether fire and safety regulations were being applied selectively.
The London police have mentioned “reasonable grounds to suspect” that organizations managing Grenfell Tower had committed corporate manslaughter.
Mr. Moore-Bick said that, while the law did not allow him to rule on criminal or civil liability as part of the inquiry, he would not refrain from pointing out blame if that were where the evidence led.
In addition to the public bodies under scrutiny in the hearings, two American manufacturers — Arconic, which sold the combustible material used for the Grenfell cladding; and Whirlpool, which owns the company that made the refrigerator that started the fire — have also attracted criticism.
On Wednesday, the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton, said that the Grenfell disaster should be a “turning point” for fire safety in Britain, calling for sprinklers to be installed in all high-rise buildings. In 2007, regulations stipulated that all new towers over 30 meters, or about 98 feet, should have sprinklers, but the rules did not apply to older buildings like Grenfell Tower, built in the 1970s.
Former residents of Grenfell Tower have railed against what they say was the slow response of the Kensington and Chelsea council, and the authority’s leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown, stepped down. Three months after Prime Minister Theresa May vowed that every person who lost their home in the fire would be housed within three weeks, only 24 of 158 households have been placed in permanent housing.
After the investigation was announced, Mrs. May told members of Parliament that it would “leave no stone unturned.” But many residents have questioned whether the inquiry can deliver justice. Others have argued that it will be difficult to win the trust of survivors after previous missteps by the authorities.
Seraphima Kennedy, a former neighborhood officer for the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization, which managed Grenfell Tower, wrote in The Guardian newspaper this week that “there are significant concerns that justice will not be served.”
“There is a fear that those most affected will not get a seat at the table,” she wrote of the investigation. “This is crucial. Without building trust in the inquiry process, and placing victims, survivors and their families at the heart of the process, it will be doomed to failure.”
Some have also questioned Mr. Moore-Bick’s appointment, citing some of his previous decisions as a judge.
In 2014, Mr. Moore-Bick ruled that Westminster Council in London had the right to relocate a homeless woman, Titina Nzolameso, a mother of five who suffered health problems, to an area 50 miles outside the capital, even though she had previously lived in state-subsidized housing in the center. She had argued that she needed her network of friends in London to manage her situation. Mr. Moore-Bick’s decision was overturned by Britain’s Supreme Court.