Housing minister Esther McVey has stonewalled a written Commons question asking whether current and former MHCLG officials have been questioned under caution over the police investigation into the Grenfell disaster.
McVey told Labour’s Steve Reed: ”It is a matter for the Metropolitan Police to disclose the names of the those they have questioned as part of their investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire.”
Reed’s question did not ask for names, just clarification on whether any present or former MHCLG had been questioned caution by detectives assigned to Operation Northleigh – acknowledged as one of the largest and one of the most complex criminal investigations ever undertaken in the UK.
McVey reinforced her ‘stonewall’ with non-responses to Reed’s written questions on:
- The total number of high rise residents who have used the online portal to report concerns on fire safety in their tower blocks in total
- What information MHCLG holds on the number and proportion of privately owned apartment blocks where remedial fire safety works other than the remediation of ACM cladding are being undertaken as a result of safety checks
Answering each question, McVey said MHCLG was either unable to provide the specific information requested as it is not readily accessible or did not hold the data.
In June last year, the Metropolitan Police said it had identified potential suspects for offences of corporate manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter.
But that came with no guarantees that criminal charges would be brought, with survivors and bereaved families facing a wait until at least 2021 – when the second phase of the Grenfell public inquiry should have ended – for police to formally ask prosecutors for charging decisions.
Police have not yet had to use powers of arrests in relation to Northleigh because those under investigation agreed to be interviewed under caution.
Nor, the Met confirmed, have search warrants been issued because it was satisfied that the material it needed had been handed over – some 45m documents in digital form as well as 14,500 physical exhibits.
But Northleigh detectives have seized documents from organisations and in some cases examined backup servers to compare what was stored, in case anything has been deleted or gone missing.
Offences being investigated by Northleigh include individual gross negligence manslaughter offences, corporate manslaughter offences, and health and safety offences committed by organisations and individuals.
The focus of the investigation remains all aspects of the construction, the refurbishment and the management of Grenfell Tower, and a review of the emergency response on the night.
A number of interviews under caution have been carried out by the Northleigh team as it works its way through hundreds of thousands of documents and a network of contractors and sub-contractors linked to work on Grenfell Tower.
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 still to process and examine.
More than 7,000 statements have been taken and nearly 400 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.