Demolishing Grenfell tower – what are the implications?
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has now resumed for the Autumn. News of the tower’s potential demolition back in August this year were not met positively by bereaved families, survivors and residents (“BSR”), despite senior Whitehall sources stating that pulling down the tower was a ‘fait accompli’ due to fears over its continued safety risks. In an apparent U-turn, Housing Secretary Michael Gove met with bereaved families in late October and stated that the tower could be retained as a ‘memorial’. But what are the implications of demolishing the tower given that the Public Inquiry is still ongoing?
Dissatisfied bereaved, survivors and residents
The tower’s demolition has already had implications on BSR and government relations, which could affect the smooth running of the Inquiry.
From the outset, BSRs have expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the disaster. News of the tower’s demolition has been met with shock, with families stating that the decision was taken without ‘full consultation'. The campaigning group Grenfell United stating that fewer than ‘10 bereaved families and survivors’ were consulted.
Gove’s recent response could represent a change of tact by the government, and perhaps a growing awareness of an increased need to engage with BSRs. BSRs continue to play an important role in the Inquiry as core participants, and some have provided valuable evidence to the Inquiry on what happened on the night. The Chair has in fact written to the Prime Minister in the early days of the Inquiry, highlighting the need for government to dispel fears faced by BSRs and encourage them to come forward to assist the Inquiry. The demolition of the tower could negatively impact ongoing relations between government and BSRs, which could in turn affect the ability for the Inquiry to meet its aims.
An unfinished legal process
The demolition of the tower also raises other important legal implications.
Firstly, the Inquiry is still ongoing. An Inquiry’s aim is to make recommendations for change, to prevent the same mistakes happening in the future and to prevent future similar loss of life. We have seen that Inquiries can take years, and the decision to demolish the tower at this stage is not supported by BSRs who see it as a decision that was ‘pushed through quickly’ and that ‘only serves those accused or those that haven’t acted.’
BSRs have stated that ‘no judge in the land can confirm it [demolishing the tower] won’t hinder future criminal prosecutions. Clearly suggesting that there are concerns that demolishing the tower could impede the legal process and prevent obtaining full accountability for what happened that night.
Additionally, four years on, there remains to be a criminal conviction for the deaths. Key corporate witnesses have been granted an extension to an undertaking from the Attorney General for future prosecutions against them. The Attorney General has stressed that the undertaking would not ‘jeopardise the police investigation or the prospects of a future criminal prosecution’ however, this does mean that some corporate witness may be granted immunity from prosecution. Again, the tower’s demolition could strengthen concerns from BSRs that an effective criminal legal process could be hindered.
Conflicting decision making
The decision to demolish the tower came off the back of a report commissioned by Government in May 2021. The report expressed that damage to the tower was extensive, and that the decision was taken to protect the safety of those working in and living around the tower. Gove’s recent meeting with BSRs and announcement is an arguable U-turn from this and begs the questions as to whether all options were actually considered by government. In fact, reports from a structural engineer state that retention was not properly considered as an option, and that the tower is structurally safe up to the tenth floor.
The decision to demolish the tower entirely may not therefore actually accord with expert advice.
The future of the tower is certainly debated, with some BSRs stating that they would like to see the tower become a living memorial and others anxious for it to be torn down.
BSRs have themselves accepted that the removal of the tower will be a case of ‘when, not if’. Yet what is clear from those directly affected by the disaster is that they wish for the timeline to be ‘decided by the bereaved, survivors and the community…’ They insist that their viewpoints must be taken into consideration and any work on the Tower must be on their timelines, not the Government’s.
The Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry hearings continues.
The Inquest and Inquiries team at Saunders Law currently represents a group of core participants in the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry. We offer expert legal assistance and representation in all public inquiry cases, and we are well-known for our work and thorough approach to complex cases, please contact us +44(0)207 632 4300, or fill in our online enquiry form if you would like our assistance and we would be happy to discuss your matter with you.