Architects at Studio E and others that worked on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment will be able to give evidence at the public inquiry without incriminating themselves, it has been decided
The attorney general Suella Braverman announced this afternoon (February 26) that individual witnesses would be able to give oral evidence to the probe without it being used against them in future criminal prosecutions.
But the undertaking does not cover so-called ‘corporates’ – ie the companies involved in Grenfell’s refurbishment – which means that evidence given to the inquiry can be used against them (see factsheet attached).
In a letter to the inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick, Braverman wrote that the undertaking was: ‘in the public interest’; that it did not provide either companies or individuals with immunity from prosecution; and that it would not jeopardise the police investigation.
The inquiry’s second phase was put on hold on 4 February after the unexpected legal bid by a group of core respondents, including staff at Studio E, the cladding contractor Harley Facades, the main contractor Rydon, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.
The group of individuals requested a formal undertaking that ‘nothing said by a witness in the course of giving evidence to the inquiry would be used in furtherance of a prosecution against that person’.
Without it, some of those due to give evidence threatened to stay silent by claiming the right of privilege against self-incrimination.
The move was criticised by lawyers representing survivors of the fire and the bereaved, and there was anger at the timing of the request with one describing it as an ‘attempt at sabotage’.
But 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.
Inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick agreed the application could go ahead and said he hoped it would allow witnesses to speak more freely. He also emphasised it would be ‘limited in its effect’.
He said: ‘Contrary to reports in the press, it does not grant anyone immunity from prosecution. It does not apply to any statements or documents already in the possession of the inquiry and it does not prevent the prosecuting authorities from making use of answers given by one witness in furtherance of proceedings against another.’
Responding to the decision, Grenfell United said the need to establish what happened ‘must not come at the expense of justice and prosecutions’.
’We take part to make sure there will never be another Grenfell and people are safe in their homes’, the group said in a statement, adding: ‘For our continued participation, the government must make sure the inquiry process does not undermine prosecutions.’
The attorney general’s decision means the inquiry will now restart next Monday (2 March).