Grenfell Inquiry seeks Government pledge to prevent witness self-incrimination

The chairman of the Grenfell Inquiry has asked the Attorney General for a pledge that evidence given by corporate witnesses will not be used to prosecute them in future.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to Geoffrey Cox QC requesting an undertaking which will stop any evidence given by staff involved in the 24-storey block’s refurbishment being used against them in criminal proceedings.

Without it, many had threatened to stay silent by claiming the legal right of privilege against self-incrimination.

Scotland Yard is conducting its own investigation into possible crimes ranging from gross negligence manslaughter and corporate manslaughter to health and safety offences.

A ruling published on Thursday by the Inquiry, said: “…we shall write to the Attorney-General immediately asking him to grant an undertaking in the following terms. No oral evidence given by a natural or legal person before the Inquiry in Modules 1, 2 and 3 will be used in evidence against that person in any criminal proceedings or for the purpose of deciding whether to bring such
proceedings…”

Witnesses from firms involved in the fitting of flammable materials had been due to be cross-examined, but they submitted a last-minute legal bid seeking an attorney general-backed pledge last Tuesday.

In the aftermath of the fire two of the firms involved – Rydon Maintenance and Harley Facades – said they would co-operate fully with the investigation.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of the Grenfell public inquiry (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of the Grenfell public inquiry (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The second stage of the inquiry has heard that the main designers, contractors and fire safety consultants appeared to predict two years before the disaster that a planned cladding system would fail if exposed to fire, according to internal emails disclosed to the hearing.

On Monday, the inquiry’s chief lawyer, Richard Millett QC, advised Sir Martin to accept the request, saying: “Without it you will not get to the truth.”

Michael Mansfield QC, for victims, previously described the move by key firms as “abhorrent”, saying the “potential perpetrators of this inferno” are trying to “essentially dictate the terms in which they will provide their assistance”.

He said the timing of the application appears to be an “attempt to derail this inquiry”, adding: “If it was serious this would have been done months ago.”

Stephanie Barwise QC, for another group of victims, similarly said the timing was “highly disingenuous and bears all the hallmarks of sabotage of this inquiry.”

The application relates to witnesses from firms including external wall subcontractor Harley Facades, main contractor Rydon, architects Studio E, and window and cladding fitters Osborne Berry.

The collective request to Sir Martin argued the undertaking is an established procedure allowing witnesses “to give full and frank answers and permits the terms of reference of a public inquiry to be fully investigated without delay and disruption to proceedings”.

It cited its use in inquiries including: the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the Ladbroke Grove Inquiry, the Baha Mousa Inquiry, the Al Sweady Inquiry.

Witnesses giving evidence into the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, who died in British army custody after being detained in Basra in 2003, were granted the pledge to help the “fullest and frankest” account of events to emerge.

Former attorney general Baroness Scotland granted the troops immunity against criminal prosecution based on their own evidence to the inquiry, which concluded in 2011 the innocent civilian died after suffering “an appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence” and that a number of British soldiers bore a “heavy responsibility”.

In 2000, then-Attorney General Lord Williams of Mostyn QC offered immunity for all evidence presented to the inquiry into the rail crash disaster at Ladbroke Grove in west London which killed 31 people and injured more than 200.

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