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The Grenfell Tower public inquiry should lead to criminal prosecutions of organisations involved in the disaster, lawyers for the bereaved said as they accused a “rogues gallery” of firms of responsibility for 72 deaths.
In closing statements after more than four years of hearings, they said key players were “grossly negligent”, “fraudulent” and “reckless” and urged the inquiry panel chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to deliver unstinting criticism of governmental bodies overseeing building safety.
They also challenged the corporations to issue an unambiguous apology when they address the inquiry for the last time this week. Failure to do so would mean “injustice heaped upon injustice”.
In a series of final addresses on Monday after more than 300 days of evidence, lawyers for the bereaved and survivors described the 14 June 2017 disaster as one of the greatest failings of the politics of the “rolled-back state”. They said: “The leitmotif of Grenfell is the failure of anyone to take responsibility either then or now.”
Danny Friedman KC, representing dozens of families, reminded Moore-Bick of the community’s demand for justice and said that while the inquiry “cannot make determinations of civil or criminal liability, it can pave the way for both”.
While pleased the inquiry has uncovered truths about what caused the fire, many survivors are impatient that it has delayed criminal justice as the Metropolitan police have said criminal charges can only be considered after the inquiry report is published, expected later in 2023.
Arconic, the US-owned firm that made the highly combustible cladding panels, was first among those named by Stephanie Barwise KC, representing one group of survivors, in a “rogues gallery” as responsible for the speed of the fire’s growth and spread, followed by the architect Studio E, and fire engineer Exova.
“Among those responsible for exacerbating the fire’s impact were the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its tenant management organisation”, she said. RBKC’s housing director, Laura Johnson, rejected an annual inspection programme of door closers on grounds of cost despite the fire brigade requiring it. Several closers were missing on the night of the fire, assisting the spread of fire and deadly smoke.
“This conscious cost-benefit analysis with human life as the cost was not a legitimate way for a local authority to behave,” Barwise said.
Celotex, which made most of the combustible insulation used on the tower, and Kingspan, another manufacturer, “were fraudulent in their sales tactics and in their dealings with those who were charged with testing and certifying the products”, said Adrian Williamson KC.
The companies will give their closing statements later this week, but each has previously denied serious wrongdoing and argued their actions were in line with regulations at the time.
The inquiry continues.
07 December 2023
30 November 2023