Corporate Manslaughter investigation may delay Public Inquiry
• Public Inquiry now closed
• Inquiry Judge Told Prime Minister of Proposed Scope for Hearing
• Corporate Manslaughter Charges may Be Brought
Further to our recent article regarding Grenfell Tower following the tragic events that unfolded causing such an unprecedented tragedy, the government sought assistance in defining the scope of the public inquiry. The public consultation closed last Friday. More than 300 submissions were made before the deadline.
Sir Martin Moore –Bick, the Judge overseeing the inquiry, was asked by Theresa May to publicly consult on what the terms of reference of the inquiry should be. The inquiry wanted to hear the views of those who could assist with the finding and also those affected by the fire.
Sir Martin has considered all suggestions and made recommendations to Ms May, who will make a final decision on the terms of reference allegedly within weeks.
Sir Martin has said that his inquiry will consider how the fire started and the speed of its spread “in order to make recommendations as to how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future”.
Specialist Health and Safety Input
Shelley Frost, Executive Director – Policy for IOSH, said of the consultation:
“This is an important opportunity for IOSH and its members to help influence the areas that this Public Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire will examine and make recommendations on. “
This followed the open letter to UK Prime Minister Theresa May that IOSH co-signed calling for a change in politicians’ attitudes towards health and safety regulation, and also signaling that IOSH practitioners were ready and willing to help improve fire safety. It attracted more than 1,200 signatures.
As well as challenging arbitrary deregulation of health and safety, the letter urged the UK Government to complete its review of Part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which cover fire safety within and around buildings in England, as a matter of urgency.
In response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, the letter said: “it is totally unacceptable for residents, members of the public and our emergency services to be exposed to this level of preventable risk in modern-day Britain.”
As well as IOSH, the original signatures were from Park Health & Safety, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the British Safety Council (BSC).
Before it was sent to 10 Downing Street other major bodies signed it, including Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Civil Engineering Contractors Association, International Institute of Risk & Safety Management, Trades Union Congress, and Unite the union.
Corporate Manslaughter Charges
The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire may have to be suspended for a long period of time if prosecutors authorise corporate manslaughter charges to be brought. The inquiry is aware of the problem and is apparently considering various options, including whether it might have to change its approach or alternatively delay its hearings for a while.
The Crown Prosecution Service has given preliminary legal advice on the Metropolitan Police’s corporate manslaughter investigations. The Met recently said:
“After an initial assessment of that information, the officer leading the investigation has ... notified Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that each organisation may have committed the offence of corporate manslaughter, under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.”
Scotland Yard has warned that its criminal investigations “will take a considerable time to complete”. When responding to a query regarding which will be prioritized, the Met commented:
“This will ultimately be determined by the inquiry’s terms of reference, which have not yet been set.”
Yvette Williams of Justice4Grenfell said;
“People will be very angry. Many members of the community are putting a lot of work into submissions under the consultation process. If it is put back or limited it will be a complete disaster. It’s a car crash waiting to happen".
Safety Smart Comment:
The potential scope of the public inquiry is a defining moment in health and safety. As outlined above, key players in the health and safety community have come together to express their deep concerns that the Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted deficiencies in health and safety regulation in this country. There appears, on the face of it, to be an extensive number of potential contributing factors which have resulted in the deaths of so many. The scope of the inquiry must be set widely enough to properly appreciate the effects that the scaling back of local authorities in housing has had on their ability to properly oversee works like the refurbishment that occurred shortly before the fire at Grenfell Tower.
We will seek to provide regular updates regarding the public inquiry and confirm the outcome of the scope of the inquiry once it has been set. We are hopeful that the inquiry will look at the systemic issues underpinning health and safety provision in the country as a whole, rather than just the direct causative factors which resulted in the fire.
The overlap between the inquiry and the criminal investigation and potential prosecution is proving difficult. Understandably, there is much demand for an imminent public inquiry to provide a much needed explanation as to why the tragedy occurred. However, the legal community is divided as to whether the corporate manslaughter investigation should take primacy. The criminal investigations role will be focused soley on holding the interested parties and possibly the individuals who are responsible to account, which could result in lengthy unprecedented prison sentences.