Grenfell Tower victims and campaigners have reacted with outrage after it was revealed that the chairman of the Grenfell Tower inquiry is seeking assurances from the Attorney General that corporations and individuals won’t have evidence heard at the inquiry used against them in future criminal proceedings.
Writing to Geoffrey Cox QC, the chair of the inquiry Sir Martin Moore-Bick has asked that any evidence given by employees of the cladding firms won’t be considered incriminating evidence, stating that “they will be considerably less candid than would otherwise have been the case as a result of trying to avoid saying anything that might harm their position in the future.”
The decision by the chair has been seen as another attempt to whitewash blame for the tragedy which claimed the lives of 72 residents in the summer of 2017, coming days after contractors and officials made the request for guarantees not to be prosecuted. The same contractors and officials had originally pledged to cooperate with the inquiry.
Speaking after the initial request was made, Stephanie Barwise, a lawyer representing some of the victims, said that “the timing of this application appears disingenuous and an attempt at sabotage.”
The move to accept the demand of the corporations involved has provoked a furious backlash against both the troubled inquiry and Martin Moore-Bick, with people accusing the chair of “disgusting” and “biased” behaviour.
The inquiry has already come in for significant criticism for its stage one findings in October of last year which was heavily critical of London Fire Brigade (LFB), claiming that a number of the 72 victims could have been saved had London Fire Brigade called for an evacuation of the building sooner and the orders to “stay put” had been discarded before 02:35. The report also stated that the fire brigade was “gravely inadequate” in terms of preparation for a disaster of Grenfell Tower’s nature.
Speaking in the House of Commons at the time, Jeremy Corbyn was staunch in his defence of the LFB.
“It was not firefighters that deregulated building safety standards… who ignored the concerns of tenants… who failed to put sprinklers in high rise blocks, and it wasn’t firefighters who put flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower”Jeremy Corbyn
Unlike the cladding firms involved in the disaster, it is worth noting that London Fire Brigade (LFB), including its former chief – Dany Cotton – have not sought “immunity” from prosecution over their evidence at the inquiry.
London Metropolitan Police meanwhile is carrying out an investigation into crimes that have possibly been committed concerning the Grenfell disaster including gross negligence, manslaughter, corporate manslaughter and general health and safety offences.
The latest decision by the Grenfell inquiry will do nothing to dispell belief that the entire investigation is going the way of previous such inquiries and incidents under Tory governments with the government and machinery of the capitalist state absolved of blame and criminal liability.
During his time as Mayor, the Prime Minister was responsible for shutting 10 fire stations, sacking 500 firefighters and getting rid of 30 engines. This was despite promising that there would be no cuts to the fire service before his reelection to office in 2012.
Main Image: Grenfell Tower | Matt Brown