Witnesses due to give evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry have asked for privilege against self-incrimination.
Counsel for those witnesses from contractors Rydon and Harley and KCTMO filed the privilege application last night, delaying the start of proceedings today (29th Jan).
Inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick spoke of his surprise at the application given the extent of co-operation over key evidence so far.
The application effectively asks the Attorney General to guarantee that evidence specific witnesses give to the inquiry cannot be used against them in any subsequent criminal proceedings.
Such action, the application says, would allow specific witnesses to “speak freely” before the inquiry.
Sir Martin put off the start of the inquiry today until 11am – giving other parties time to assess – and said he would take the application tomorrow afternoon (30th).
in law, the privilege being requested “protects a person from being required to answer questions if to do so truthfully might expose him or her to a risk of prosecution”.
The Metropolitan police are conducting a parallel investigation into possible corporate manslaughter and manslaughter charges and a number of witnesses have already been interviewed under caution by detectives.
Sir Martin said counsel for the witnesses asked him to request that the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, grants “an undertaking that nothing said by a witness … will be used in furtherance of a prosecution against them, thereby giving them complete freedom to tell the truth without any concern for the future”.
No one so far during the Grenfell inquiry has claimed the privilege.
“This development has caused me a little surprise because hitherto there has been the fullest cooperation,” said Sir Martin.
Lawyers representing the architects Studio E, Osborne Berry (a subcontractor on the facade), as well as employees of Rydon signed the letter to Moore-Bick requesting the legal protection.
The letter said: “The nature of the police investigation is very broad in scope and is concerned with numerous potential offences, ranging from regulatory breaches to the most serious of criminal offences, all of which carry potential custodial sentences.
“We collectively write to request that you seek an undertaking from the attorney general preventing the use of evidence given by witnesses to the public inquiry against them in any future criminal proceedings.”
It said the “scope of self-incrimination is broad and extends not only to refusing to answer questions or give information that may directly incriminate the witness but also to answer or provide information which ‘might lead to a line of inquiry which would or might form a significant step in the chain of evidence required for a prosecution’.
Without an undertaking ‘witnesses will legitimately and reasonably be entitled to refuse to answer questions.’”