Detectives investigating the Grenfell disaster have interviewed London Fire Brigade (LFB) officials under caution in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act.
London fire commissioner Dany Cotton has confirmed the interviews, saying: “We have always been subject to the Metropolitan Police investigation, and I want to ensure it is accurately and publicly known the brigade has now, voluntarily, given an interview under caution in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Aspects of the emergency response to the disaster have been heavily criticised – specifically the ‘stay put’ policy in place for some two hours as the block burned.
“The Brigade understands the important legalities and sensitivities of the investigation but is making this information public in accordance with its commitments to transparency and to assisting in every way possible to prevent such a devastating fire from ever happening again,” said Cotton.
LFB was interviewed as a corporate body, rather than an individual, in relation to sections two and three of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
They include a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety and welfare of all employees and make sure others are not exposed to health or safety risks by its conduct.
It is one of 17 interviews under caution so far carried out by investigators assigned to Operation Northleigh – the police probe into the disaster – and covering gross negligence manslaughter, corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences.
Northleigh has taken just over 7,100 statements from witnesses, community and family members, emergency services personnel and others.
In March, it emerged that no files would be sent to the CPS ahead of late 2021 – the time frame for the final report of the Grenfell Inquiry with its second phase set to start next year.
Interview under caution ensures evidence is admissible in court if charges are brought – while protecting the rights of those interviewed.
As with LFB, it is understood that some of those questioned were interviewed as representatives of their organisation and some as individuals.
Detectives assigned to Operation Northleigh are working their way through hundreds of thousands of documents and a network of contractors and sub-contractors linked to work on the tower.
Though the inquiry is not intended to apportion blame, prosecutors have to be aware of defence teams challenging charges because of potential prejudice to a fair trial.
The criminal inquiry, the public inquiry and the CPS have been co-operating, but the Northleigh team is said to still have “masses” of evidence to process and examine.
Northleigh is acknowledged among the biggest and most complex investigations ever undertaken by the Met with possible offences including manslaughter, corporate manslaughter, misconduct in public office and breaches of fire safety regulations.
The investigation team has gathered more than 30m documents and 2,500 physical exhibits.
More than 7,000 statements have been taken and some 383 companies are part of the investigation focussing on the construction, refurbishment and management of the tower.
Well over 300 Body Worn Video clips have been downloaded for viewing and, where their role is considered relevant, digital downloads of all business records are being recovered.
Specialist software is employed to enable investigators to process and search documents to secure material that may be relevant as evidence.
The forensic examination of the tower included photographing and documenting every room on every floor, paying particular attention to fire safety provisions such as fire doors, the standards of construction work, the routing of pipework and smoke extraction systems.