‘Distress and anger’ at timing of key firms’ immunity bid, Grenfell inquiry told

The timing of the decision by key firms involved in choosing flammable materials for refurbishing Grenfell Tower to ask for immunity from prosecution is “highly questionable and highly reprehensible”, an inquiry has heard.

There were groans from survivors and victims after a last-minute application was lodged asking chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick to write to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC asking for an undertaking that would stop any evidence staff gave being used against them in any criminal proceedings.

Without the pledge, the hearing was told many would refuse to answer questions by claiming privilege against self-incrimination.

It comes after the inquiry heard certain key firms which revamped the high-rise block appeared to know two years before the disaster that a planned cladding system would fail if exposed to fire, according to internal emails disclosed on Tuesday.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Scotland Yard is conducting its own investigation into gross negligence manslaughter, corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences and said in September it had so far completed 17 interviews.

Michael Mansfield QC, representing victims, said: “The timing of this application on behalf of certain corporates with regard to whether they will answer questions or have immunity, both are linked, in relation to those questions is highly reprehensible and highly questionable, coming on the eve of the evidence.

“There has been plenty of time for this to be considered.

“We have a major question over why it has been done today.

“It has caused immense anxiety, distress and anger at a time which has come throughout a much longer period of waiting after this disaster, of waiting to get to the point of accountability, as it were, to be almost thwarted at the doors of the court.”

Sir Martin said: “I agree this application has come very late in the day and at a most inconvenient time.

“It’s very disappointing, I might even use a stronger word.”

Sir Martin said he would hear the application for firms including external wall subcontractor Harley Facades, main contractor Rydon, and architects Studio E on Thursday afternoon.

He told Mr Mansfield he would adjourn and then hear his representations regarding the matter on Monday morning.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Cross-examination was due to start next week, beginning on Monday with architects Studio E.

Under Section 22 of the Inquiries Act 2005, a witness can refuse to give evidence if it might incriminate them.

But the Attorney General has the power to rule that no evidence given by witnesses, whether oral, written or in document form, “will be used in evidence against him or her in any criminal proceedings” except if they are charged with conspiring to or giving false evidence to the inquiry.