Criminal charges over Grenfell ‘more likely’ after report
LAWYERS BELIEVE that the ‘prospect of criminal charges’ over the Grenfell Tower fire has ‘increased significantly’ as a result of the recently launched phase one report.
The report was officially released last week, and outlined that the building’s aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was ‘the principal reason’ for fire spread; while also being critical of London Fire Brigade (LFB). Chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick called for ‘urgent action’ to improve high rise fire safety, and wanted recommendations ‘implemented without delay’.
The Guardian has now reported that lawyers representing 200 bereaved relatives and survivors of the June 2017 fire – having undertaken an initial legal assessment of the report – have now concluded that the prospect of either individual or corporate level prosecutions ‘is now far more likely’, with Sir Martin’s finding that the cladding was ‘not compliant with building regulations’ said to be a ‘game-changer’ on that note.
In turn, the company said that it was ‘also encouraged’ by Sir Martin’s use of the report to ‘criticise companies linked’ with the tower’s refurbishment, and The Guardian noted that US firm Arconic – which had produced the cladding used on the tower – had ‘urged’ the inquiry previously to wait ‘to decide if the tower broke building regulations.
Sir Martin dismissed this and revealed that Arconic had not offered a ‘reasoned argument’ for how the cladding complied with regulations, noting that ‘it is clear that the walls didn’t resist the spread of fire. On the contrary, they promoted it’. Appliance manufacturer Whirlpool was also criticised by Sir Martin, who stated that the company’s assertion that the fire was ‘started by a cigarette’ was ‘fanciful’.
Paul Ridge, a partner at the Bindmans firm, stated: ‘He’s saying that the building is effectively unlawful. Immediately the spotlight has been turned on to the designers, the constructors and the materials. The only question now is who was responsible. The chances of criminal prosecutions have increased significantly.’
The news outlet noted that the second phase will ‘largely focus’ on events and decisions leading to the refurbishment, as well as the ‘corporate testing regime’. Sir Martin had stated towards the end of the report that he would investigate the ‘regime for testing materials intended for use in external walls and [whether] the regulations governing their use were, and are, adequate to identify and control the potential dangers’.
Other areas to be covered include the corporate construction trade and its relationship with government officials, ‘and what they knew about the risks involved in using highly combustible thermoplastic polymers in the cladding’. Sir Martin added: ‘I shall also examine what was and should have been known, both by those in the construction industry and by those in central government responsible for setting fire safety standards, about the particular dangers posed by thermoplastic polymers.’