Grenfell inquiry accepts refurb firms' call for protection

Chairman of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, has ruled that witnesses for the companies involved in the refurbishment of the building can apply to be protected from having their answers in hearings used against them in court.

The announcement follows an application last week by Jonathan Laidlaw QC, representing companies expecting to be called to give evidence, for the attorney general to give a formal undertaking that nothing said by a witness in evidence would be used in any potential prosecution.

Previously, Moore-Bick said the application on behalf of Harley Façades, certain employees and ex-employees of Rydon, installer Osborne Berry, cladding designer Kevin Lamb, and the tenant management organisation (TMO) had come as "something of a surprise".

Laidlaw indicated that if such an undertaking were not in place, those he represented were likely to claim privilege against self-incrimination in response to any question about how they performed their functions in relation to the design of the refurbishment, choice of materials used, or the way in which work was carried out. Moore-Bick said that following the application it was "likely" that others involved in the refurbishment would adopt a similar position.

The application was strongly opposed by Michael Mansfield QC, on behalf of the group of bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell Tower.

But Moore-Bick concluded that the Inquiry would not be able to fulfil its remit unless witnesses had an assurance that their answers would not be used in criminal proceedings against them. He has now asked attorney general Geoffrey Cox for the assurance "as a matter of urgency".

"Without an undertaking of the kind described above it is very likely that witnesses who were involved in the procurement and design of the refurbishment, the choice of materials and the execution of the work will claim privilege against self-incrimination, or, if they do not, that they will be considerably less candid than would otherwise have been the case as a result of trying to avoid saying anything that might harm their position in the future," he said. 

Moore-Bick stressed that the decision would not give witnesses immunity. He added: "Contrary to reports in the press, it does not grant anyone immunity from prosecution. It does not apply to any statements or documents already in the possession of the Inquiry and it does not prevent the prosecuting authorities from making use of answers given by one witness in furtherance of proceedings against another."

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