Public inquiry is not making progress while victims’ families sue multinationals in the US
London, 13 June 2020 – The horror of that fire is still a shock today, not just for Kensington’s residents. All world remembers and is watching the progress of the inquiry on the tragic blaze which went live globally the night of 14 June 2017 and still, today, is leaving families of 72 victims and more than 200 survivors with no justice.
Three years on, Scotland Yard said it would not hand a file to prosecutors until the end of the ongoing public inquiry.
There’s much reputation at stake: the one of the RBKC, the local government the owner of the tower, responsible for the choice of the faulty Aluminium Composite Material cladding made in 2015 (Flammable Grenfell Tower cladding ‘passed’ by council officer in 2015 – Guardian report) when the Council was in the hands of the Conservatives.
No formal charges have been made as yet, though offences range from manslaughter, corporate manslaughter, misconduct in public office and fire safety offences, budget lowering at the expense of safety of Grenfell residents.
On the other side, multinationals are trying to defend their global corporate reputation and accountability: a final verdict would be an indelible stain and economic damage leading to a reduction of operations.
Far from contributing to the justice process they are buying time: the US multinationals Arconic and Celotex have been sued by survivors and families of the victims in a civil legal action in the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for having produced a faulty cladding made of combustable materials causing the fire.
This overseas part of the case will take two years or more: in November last year Arconic managed to delay the case as the materials in question had been manufactured by its French subsidiary and French law prohibits the production of commercial information in foreign legal proceedings without previous authorization by a court.
Beyond seeking justice, there’s the side of prevention that is really concerning for the all of us as public inquiry report confirmed the exterior cladding was the “primary reason the fire spread out of control, and that it did not comply with the building regulations”
Hence the mandatory removal of that type of cladding in all buildings in the UK. This operation is too slow. The report of the House of Commons Housing Communities and Local Government Committee “challenges Government to end cladding nightmare” as “there are still 2,000 high risk residential buildings with some form of dangerous cladding. The £1 billion Building Safety Fund to remove combustible non-ACM cladding from buildings above 18 metres is likely to only be sufficient to cover the cost of removal from a third of the 1,700 buildings needing replacement of flammable cladding with safe ones”.
There’s also the ‘chapter outsourcing’ which is part of the inquiry: multinational Artelia was appointed by Kensington and Chelsea TMO (Tenant Management Organisation) as employer’s agent, CDM Co-ordinator and Quantity Surveyor for the partial refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said yesterday “According to the latest available Government figures, 300 high-rise towers are still waiting the completion of remediation work for ACM cladding. Of those, 140 have started work and 54 have had ACM cladding removed”.
He also reminded that former Tory Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said in a written statement last year that he expected all work of clearance of faulty cladding should have been completed by now (June 2020) which has also been denounced by the Fire Brigades Union: “the government has missed its own deadline for removing all flammable ACM cladding from high rise residential buildings, leaving tens of thousands trapped in unsafe homes. It’s an utter disgrace. We cannot see another year of this atrocious inaction.”