Second Phase of Grenfell Tower Inquiry Begins
This week the public hearings of the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry began. This follows extensive work behind the scenes by lawyers, including those at Saunders Law, representing core participants in the Inquiry.
On 14 June 2017, a small fire which broke out in the kitchen of a single flat in Grenfell Tower spread to engulf the entire 24-storey building within the space of less than three hours. The fire claimed the lives of 72 people and irrevocably altered the lives of the bereaved, survivors and residents. Over 100 households were left homeless, many of whom continue to face uncertainty today.
The Inquiry, led by former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, has been split into two phases. The first phase examined what happened on the night of the fire, including the initial cause of the fire, the progression and spread of the fire, and the response of emergency services. The hearings for this phase ran from May to December 2018, culminating in a report published in October 2019. The report contained a number of findings and recommendations. One such finding was that there was compelling evidence that the external walls of the building failed to comply with building regulations:
“… in that they did not adequately resist the spread of fire… On the contrary, they actively promoted it.”
This forms the starting point of the first module of Phase 2 of the Inquiry. Module 1 will explore how and why the building was refurbished in this way, focusing in particular on decisions relating to the cladding and windows. Module 1 will also focus on the procurement, planning and building control processes involved in the refurbishment of the Tower. Hearings for Module 1 are scheduled to run into the beginning of April 2020.
There are a further seven modules to be addressed in Phase 2, the hearings for which are expected to end in summer 2021:
Module 2: the testing certification, marketing and promotion of the cladding;
Module 3: complaints made by residents and responses to those complaints, the management of the building and compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and active and passive fire safety measures internal to the building;
Module 4: the aftermath of the fire;
Module 5: firefighting; policy, development, equipment and training, beyond the LFB’s conduct on the night of the fire;
Module 6: the role of Central and local Government in the disaster, including their response to previous incidents and reports;
Module 7: final conclusions drawn by experts; and
Module 8: evidence relating to the deceased, namely the circumstances in which those who died in the fire met their deaths.
Phase 2 of the Inquiry has got off to a somewhat tumultuous start, beginning with the resignation of one of the panelists, Benita Mehra, following the revelation that she previously ran an organisation which received a donation from the charitable arm of Arconic, the manufacturer and supplier of the combustible cladding and a key corporate core participant in the Inquiry.
This was followed by a condemnatory opening statement from lead counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC, in which he highlighted how despite his calls for corporate core participants “not to indulge in a merry-go-round of buck-passing”, in their written submissions the majority of them had denied responsibility and had made no admission of any personal failures, instead deflecting blame to others. This sentiment also proved true for many of the oral opening statements heard this week.
Perhaps the most disruptive and unexpected development in the first week of Phase 2 was the application submitted on Tuesday by some core participants for an undertaking from the Attorney General in respect of self-incrimination; in essence, an undertaking that the oral evidence witnesses give during the Inquiry will not be later used against them in criminal proceedings. The Metropolitan Police Service are conducting a criminal investigation into the fire running in parallel, but separately to, the Inquiry. Hearings on this application will resume on Monday next week.
At Saunders Law, 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. In addition to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Saunders Law are instructed on the Undercover Policing Inquiry and the Infected Blood Inquiry.