By Alistair Farrow and Simon Basketter
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Grenfell: corporate manslaughter charges are not enough

This article is over 4 years, 5 months old
Issue 2565
The fight for justice must continue
The fight for justice must continue (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Police investigating the Grenfell Tower fire have announced that they may have “reasonable grounds” to suspect that corporate manslaughter offences have been committed.

They have informed both the tenant management organisation (KCTMO) and the council that senior representatives of each body will be asked to give evidence to the investigation.

In a letter to residents the police said, “After an initial assessment of that information, the officer leading the investigation has today notified Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that each organisation may have committed the offence of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.”

Although some firms have been convicted under the Act, the number is small. Usually, unless there are further prosecutions under different laws, the penalty is limited to fines.

Those firms that are convicted tend to be smaller ones because it is easier to demonstrate a “controlling mind” who made the decision behind the acts of negligence that led to a death.

With a large body like the KCTMO or Kensington and Chelsea council, demonstrating the “controlling mind” may be more difficult.

One resident retorted, “Mass murder was committed at Grenfell Tower. To talk about corporate manslaughter is an insult.”

Labour MP David Lammy said, “A fine would not represent justice for the Grenfell victims and their families. Gross negligence involuntary manslaughter carries a punishment of prison time and I hope that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are considering involuntary manslaughter caused by gross negligence.”

Individuals must be investigated as well as organisations—who signed off on the decision to clad the tower in Aluminium Composite Material? Who signed off plans that cut costs and agreed to less safe procedures?

Who ignored residents’ repeated pleas to have their concerns listened to?

Joe Delaney from the Grenfell Action Group said, “I think everyone has more cautious scepticism than cautious optimism, it’s one thing to announce this investigation is going on—which is totally different from a prosecution being brought, which is completely different to a conviction being achieved.”

The fight for justice is entering a crucial stage. Those responsible must be held to account.

Paltry fines after Crossrail death

Bosses on the Crossrail project have been fined more than £1 million over the death of a worker and two safety breaches.

Bam, Ferrovial and Kier (BFK), pleaded guilty to three offences.

Rene Tkacik died after being crushed by falling wet concrete in March 2014.

Rene Tkacik

Rene Tkacik

Two other men were injured in other incidents within six days of one another in January 2015.

BFK was fined £1,065,000, and ordered to pay costs of £42,337. The fine for the death was £300,000.

The Health & Safety Executive originally intended to prosecute the three companies in their own names but lawyers acting for the Crossrail contractors agreed to plead guilty if the BFK temporary joint venture was charged instead.

By BFK pleading guilty, it means that Bam, Ferrovial and Kier escape convictions, which may have affected future public sector contracts.

Rene’s family solicitor Helen Clifford said the family were extremely disappointed with the fine of £1 million as in the year Rene was killed BFK’s turnover was £317 million.

Keith Dobie, blacklisted construction worker said, “Some £300,000 for a man’s life. That will cost the three multinationals £100k each – which is probably less than the bonuses their senior managers will receive for the project.

“To add insult to injury, the companies even had the cheek to ask for time to pay the fine.”

BFK have promised to reimburse Rene’s mother Marta’s £6,000 expenses for having to travel from Slovakia.

Marta said through her solicitor, “I don’t want that blood money, I have come here to honour my son and in his memory I would like to donate that money to the Construction Safety Campaign because I want Rene’s death to have at least some meaning and want to prevent other deaths.”

The family and their lawyer, Helen Clifford only found out about the trial date by chance when they contacted the Health and Safety Executive for an update on the case earlier this week.

Before the sentencing a statement was read out on behalf of Rene’s mother’s Marta Tkacik and the rest of the family in court. It said receiving the phone call about her son’s death “was the most devastating news in my life. My heart was ripped out”.

Lee Fowler, blacklisted safety rep from the Blacklist Support Group, travelled from Liverpool to attend the sentencing and commented

“Rene’s death was totally avoidable if BFK had put proper safety measures in place. But instead, the Health & Safety at Work Act was breached and at the same time the companies were victimising Frank Morris after he raised concerns about safety on the project.

“Blacklisting may have been a contributory factor not just in Rene’s death but a series of other near fatal accidents on Crossrail”.

Tests failed in tinderbox towers

Around 70 buildings have failed new fire safety checks ordered after the Grenfell fire.  The tests, carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), focus on cladding and the insulation that sits between the cladding and the building.

Fire safety expert Dave spoke to Socialist Worker about the new “whole fire system” tests. “If you look at the exterior of the building all you see is the aluminium outside,” he said. “It should have insulation between the cladding and the building, commonly made from Rockwool.

“That has to be non-flammable, you shouldn’t be able to ignite it.” 

“They won’t make any of the tests public,” said Dave. “The tests for cladding is commonly a six metre run of cladding. The tests they’re doing is a 250 cm square sample.

“They haven’t released any of the results. Nobody in the industry knows what tests they’re doing or how they’ve done it.”

Of the 70, only nine blocks, in Salford, Greater Manchester, are local authority flats, with the rest owned either privately or by housing associations.

That’s because “privately-owned blocks tend to go for the cheapest option,” argued Dave.

People up and down Britain who live in tower blocks are living in fear that they might be next.

One Salford resident described it as being “like sitting on a tinderbox”.

The squeeze on local government funding threatens the upgrades required.

Crisis management expert Edward Borodzicz said, “I’m surprised having identified the faulty cladding that there’s even a discussion over who’s going to pay for it.

“This is something where central government should take responsibility.”

Dave’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

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