03:32, November 03 237 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-03 03:32:07
Grenfell criminal charges more likely, say lawyers after inquiry

Lawyers believe the prospect of criminal charges against those responsible for the Grenfell Tower tragedy has “increased significantly” following findings by the official inquiry into the disaster.

An initial legal assessment of last week’s 856-page report by Sir Martin Moore-Bick into the 2017 blaze has concluded that the prospect of individual or corporate prosecutions is now far more likely.

Paul Ridge, a partner at Bindmans, which represents 200 bereaved relatives and survivors of the fire that killed 72 people, said Moore-Bick’s finding that Grenfell’s facade was “not compliant with building regulations” was a game-changer.

Ridge said: “He’s saying that the building is effectively unlawful. Immediately the spotlight has been turned on to the designers, the constructors and the materials. The only question now is who was responsible. The chances of criminal prosecutions have increased significantly.”

The legal team was also encouraged by Moore-Bick’s use of the report to criticise companies linked with a refurbishment of the tower a year before the fire. Arconic, the US firm that made the Grenfell cladding, had urged the inquiry to wait to decide if the tower broke building regulations.

However, Moore-Bick dismissed the firm’s requests and revealed it had not even offered a “reasoned argument” for how the facade might comply with building regulations. He added: “It is clear that the walls [of the tower] didn’t resist the spread of fire. On the contrary, they promoted it.” The report also criticised the home-appliance firm Whirlpool, whose faulty fridge-freezer led to the inferno, but whose assertion that the fire was started by a cigarette was dismissed as “fanciful” by Moore-Bick.

The second phase of the inquiry will largely focus on the chain of events and decision-making leading up to the refurbishment, which added the tower’s flammable cladding in 2016, and the corporate testing regime that allowed Grenfell to be wrapped in such materials.

Towards the end of his report, Moore-Bick states he will investigate the “regime for testing materials intended for use in external walls and [whether] the regulations governing their use were, and are, adequate to identify and control the potential dangers”.

He also intends to investigate the corporate construction trade and its relationship with government officials and what they knew about the risks involved in using highly combustible thermoplastic polymers in the cladding.

“I shall also examine what was and should have been known, both by those in the construction industry and by those in central government responsible for setting fire safety standards, about the particular dangers posed by thermoplastic polymers,” he states.

Scotland Yard is investigating the fire, but has stated it will not bring any criminal charges until Moore-Bick’s inquiry is complete, which could take another two years at least.