Grenfell Tower Fire Update - Firms will not give evidence without immunity
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03 February 2020
The firms, ranging from the architects Studio E, current and former staff at the main contractor Rydon, the TMO and Harley Facades are being investigated for their involvement in the Grenfell Tower Fire of 2017, that killed 72 people, want a guarantee from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox that they will be protected when they give evidence. ‘Michael Mansfield QC, who is representing victims, told the inquiry the timing of the application was "highly questionable and highly reprehensible" and suggests "There has been plenty of time for this to be considered”. This request for immunity by the firms “has caused immense anxiety, distress and anger” for the bereaved and survivors at a time where they were closest to getting accountability for the tragedy.
Stephanie Barwise QC, who is representing 280 of the bereaved and survivors added that the firms appear to be “sabotaging the enquiry” and that “this behaviour of arrogance and complacency which caused the disastrous fire at Grenfell still rage unchecked in many of the core participants,”. In contrast, “The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has "apologised unreservedly" for a "number of failings" by its building control services.” However, it appears all those who are or were involved, in the tragedy that killed 72 people, will face harsh criticism regardless of whether they give evidence and take responsibility. This can be seen as “survivors group Grenfell United said there was "no true remorse" in the admission by RBKC, adding it was "insulting to survivors and bereaved families for them to suggest they are being honest about their role in our suffering".
Despite, firms seeking immunity from being prosecuted whilst giving evidence in the second inquiry, they may face charges from an ongoing investigation which is being conducted by Scotland Yard – thus far 17 interviews have been conducted. However, it remains to be seen how immune firms will be from justice if they choose to withhold evidence. Whilst they have right to withhold information, under the Inquiries Act 2005, the attorney general has the power to rule that giving no evidence can be used against them in criminal proceedings.
Lawyers for the bereaved and survivors has claimed that the firms involved are as guilty for their involvement in the installation of deadly cladding; as if they had just taken careful aim with a gun and pulled the trigger”. Despite, these strong claims the firms thus far have engaged in passing the buck and “seeking to defend the indefensible” when they clearly “all have blood on their hands” says the inquiry’s lead counsel.
As firms continue to fail to take responsibility, more and more evidence in being presented to the second inquiry; Stephanie Barwise revealed an internal email from the insulation manufacturer Celotex in which an executive admitted to a distributor it was “clearly wrong” to think it was OK to use combustible insulation on buildings of any height. The more we find out the more harrowing this story becomes as it has been revealed that both Celotex, the insulation manufacturer, and Arconic, the combustible cladding manufacturer, both targeted Grenfell Tower as a must-win project.
Much more is still yet to be uncovered in the second inquiry, Sam Stein QC, whom represents other bereaved and survivors, stated:
“Those companies involved killed when they criminally failed to consider the safety of others. They killed when they promoted their unsuitable dangerous products in the pursuit of money and they killed when they entirely ignored their ultimate clients, the people of Grenfell Tower. They knew they were literally playing with fire,”
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