Important witnesses at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry may refuse to give evidence, unless they receive an assurance that they are free from the threat of criminal prosecution.
The companies involved in the design and installation of cladding for the tower’s refurbishment in 2014 have asked for “privilege against incrimination”.
The chair of the inquiry Martin Moore-Bick said that the immunity would allow them “complete freedom to tell the truth without any concern for the future”. He will consider their request after hearings conclude on Thursday.
The firms Rydon, Harley Facades and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Operation have all applied for immunity. And they have threatened to withdraw any cooperation from the inquiry in future.
Rydon was the main contractor for the refurbishment. It said in its opening statement that it could not take responsibility for the fire because it delegated the refurbishment to other contractors.
But Harley Facades—the company that installed the cladding—has said that it is not responsible because it did not design the panels.
Karim Mussilhy from Grenfell United said, “It’s incredibly difficult and frustrating to sit here and hear these organisations passing the buck and blaming each other. It’s clear that all of them had a role to play in the disaster.
“People are still unsafe in their homes. We know how dangerous the cladding was,” he said.
Phase one of the inquiry found that the cladding was responsible for the spread of the fire that killed 72 people in 2017.
The panels were designed by US company Arconic.
The request for immunity follows the release of emails that show that both Arconic and Harley Facades agreed that the cladding would fail.
Harley Facades claimed that Arconic’s brochure “gave no indication” that the cladding was not suitable.
Arconic has defended its actions saying that “it should have been obvious to anybody involved in construction that its product was not of limited combustibility”.
Yet it supplied the cladding to be installed.
Further emails from Arconic also claimed in 2013 that the cladding material “should have been discontinued ten years ago”.
None of the companies giving evidence in the inquiry have taken responsibility for their role in the fire. Instead, they have used their opening statements to pin the blame on each other.
The application by these companies exposes the failure of the inquiry to so far deliver justice for those affected by the fire.
Representatives of Arconic and Harley Facades were among those who were questioned under caution by the police last September. The police have said that the investigation will continue.
But if the immunity request is granted, then the police will be unable to prosecute everyone responsible—even if the evidence points to responsibility.
All of the companies involved in the refurbishment should be prosecuted for gross negligence and corporate manslaughter.
And any request for “privilege against incrimination” should be denied.