Socialist Worker

New ruling protects firms at Grenfell inquiry

Issue No. 2707

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Campaigners want more from the inquiry (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire should be a reminder of a great crime carried out by the Tories and the elites.

The blaze on 14 June 2017 caused 72 deaths. They were victims of a racist society organised for the rich.

They died because of deregulation, the downgrading of council housing, fire service cuts and contempt for working class people’s cries of protest. There is still no justice.

The culprits in the boardrooms, the ministerial offices and the council chambers go unpunished. The official inquiry into the fire has suffered endless delays.

Now, adding further insult, Tory attorney general Suella Braverman said that oral evidence given to the inquiry on behalf of companies can’t be used in later criminal prosecutions. 

The decision is a blow to the fight for justice for the victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. It comes after companies threatened to refuse to cooperate with the inquiry. 

Braverman said last Monday that oral evidence given to the inquiry on behalf of companies can’t be used in later criminal prosecutions. 

It means that “legal persons” including executives and directors from companies associated with the fire could potentially give damning verbal statements to the inquiry with impunity. That protection had already been given to individuals.

Braverman’s office said that several firms’ representatives had threatened to stay silent without the guarantee.

Firms that had applied for immunity included Rydon, Harley Facades and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).

Rydon was responsible for a refurbishment of the tower, in which flammable cladding manufactured by Arconic was installed by Harley Facades. KCTMO was the Tory council-owned company that managed the tower.

Braverman said her decision would give the inquiry “the best chance of establishing the full truth.”

Covered

Her office said other forms of evidence such as written statements aren’t covered by the protection, and that it doesn’t give firms immunity from prosecution. 

The ruling also means that firms now can’t refuse to give evidence on the basis that it would risk self-incrimination.

But it is an obstacle for the fight for justice—and a shield for the firms responsible.

Moyra Samuels, a campaigner for justice for Grenfell, said, “The bereaved and survivors, and the community, are faced with the question of accountability or truth. Do we want truth—or do we want accountability as well?

“We will not get justice without accountability.”

The decision comes after the Tory government dropped a demand on companies to remove flammable cladding from high rise buildings by this month.

In July last year the then Tory communities secretary James Brokenshire said building owners had to remove aluminium composite cladding—the type used on Grenfell—by June 2020.

There were then 327 high rise buildings covered in the cladding. Of those, 102 were social housing buildings, 163 were in the private sector, 26 were student towers, 29 were hotels and seven were publicly owned.

But by April, just 42 buildings had been stripped of the cladding, according to government figures.

A spokesperson said the work “takes time” and refused to say the government would take the “enforced action” Brokenshire threatened.

Almost three years after the fire, the Tories want to protect guilty housing bosses and let firms off the hook.

It’s another example of their complete contempt for the lives of ordinary people.


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