The Grenfell inquiry has suffered a number of worrying setbacks recently and families who lost loved ones in the fire must now be wondering if they’ll ever see justice.
Less than 2 weeks ago we learned that a Grenfell Tower fire inquiry panel member had links to the charitable arm of one of the firms that had supplied the cladding for Grenfell Tower. Concerned families had planned to protest the appointment by boycotting the opening of the second phase of the Grenfell inquiry until Downing Street reported that they had accepted Benita Mehra’s resignation. However, the government still insisted that, in their opinion, that there had been no conflict of interest.
The Grenfell community have been calling for criminal prosecution to be brought against those responsible for some time now so it was disturbing to learn that on Monday of this week, just as they were due to start giving evidence, some of the Grenfell contractors (current and former employees of Rydon Maintenance Ltd and Harley Facades Ltd) and Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, who had previously said they would cooperate fully, submitted a last-minute request that they be given a guarantee that any testimony they provide would not be used against them in any subsequent prosecutions. Speaking on behalf of some of the survivors and bereaved families, Stephanie Barwise QC, said her clients were outraged at the timing of the application and what they perceive to be a disingenuous move and “an attempt at sabotage”.
Faced with the choice of either conceding to the contractors’ request and upsetting the Grenfell community or the prospect of key witnesses employing their right not to self-incriminate and refusing to answer questions, the inquiry Chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, took the decision today to back the request that evidence cannot be used against the contractors in subsequent criminal prosecutions and announced that he had asked the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox for his assurance “as a matter of urgency”. Cox will now make the final decision on the terms under which the evidence will be given.