The second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry has been delayed so the panel can consider a request by Studio E Architects and others for immunity from prosecution relating to any evidence they give
Witnesses had been scheduled to give accounts of their involvement in the refurbishment today, but are not now expected to be heard until next week. Meanwhile the inquiry panel, led by Martin Moore-Bick, will consider whether to ask the attorney general to grant immunity. The AJ understands Andrzej Kuszell, Bruce Sounes and Neil Crawford of Studio E were set to be the first to be questioned.
On Monday (3 February) the lawyer advising the Grenfell Inquiry recommended Moore-Bick approve the application to give the corporate witnesses protection from having their statements used against them in prosecution.
Noting it was ‘with some regret, perhaps’, counsel for the inquiry Richard Millett said he believed this was the best way to try and find the truth about how the tower’s refurbishment contributed to the catastrophic fire that killed 72 people on 14 June 2017.
He added that if the undertaking was granted by the attorney general, the government’s chief lawyer, it would give the chair the power to compel witnesses to answer all questions ‘under pain of punishment’ if they refused.
Millett’s recommendation came after the inquiry heard from legal representatives for the bereaved and survivors as well as other core participants.
Speaking for two of the four survivor groups, counsel Michael Mansfield strongly condemned the nature of the application. He said: ‘It’s barely a week ago that the representatives … were standing here commiserating with the families one after another, saying how they sympathise with the agony and the tragedy and the sorrow and at the same time saying they [the families] are entitled to answers to the questions and the truth.
‘What we did not know at that stage was underneath all of this was an intention to tell the truth on their terms.’
Mansfield went on to urge the chair not to put the question to the attorney general. He suggested pushing the burden of whether to answer or not back on the witnesses to decide for themselves.
‘If they decide the honourable things to do is to not answer questions, at that point they would have to justify to you and provide reasonable grounds – not all the detail – about what they are worried about,’ he said. ‘In other words, what’s the area in which they might have material that might incriminate them.’ He added: ‘They must come here and justify in front of you, in front of the families, in front of the public.’
Millett responded to this suggestion later on: ‘It is too much of a gamble to wait and see what happens,’ he said. ’The conduct in the way in which the application was made does not prompt any degree of confidence that the conscience of these witnesses will triumph in the end.’
Moore-Bick said the inquiry would consider its options and provide an update on the course of action as soon as possible.