Grenfell Tower Police interviews under caution – What charges could be brought?
In a statement released on Wednesday 18 July 2018, Scotland Yard confirmed that “the police investigation into the
Grenfell Tower fire has moved to a new phase with a planned programme of interviews under caution,” and that further interviews are scheduled to take place in the “coming weeks and months”. To date, there have been no arrests relating to the fire itself (although individuals have been arrested on suspicion of fraud for allegedly falsely claiming to have lived in the tower to receive compensation).
What are the potential potential charges that could be brought?
Gross Negligence Manslaughter
The offence of gross negligence manslaughter is made out where a death occurs as a result of a grossly negligent (though otherwise lawful) act or omission on the part of the defendant. Only individuals can be charged with gross negligence manslaughter (the offence in so far as it applied to companies and other organisations was abolished by the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007).
In the case of R v Adomako (1994) 3 All ER 79, the House of Lords outlined a four stage test that must be satisfied to establish gross negligence manslaughter:
- The existence of a duty of care to the deceased;
- A breach of that duty of care which;
- Causes (or significantly contributes) to the death of the victim; and
- The breach should be characterised as gross negligence, and therefore a crime.
To be characterised as “gross negligence”, the defendant’s conduct must be judged in relation to the external standard of a reasonable person and for such conduct to fall far below that standard. The starting point for sentencing this offence is 12 years custody, although a discretionary life sentence is available in cases where there is found to be a “very high” level of culpability.
The offence of corporate manslaughter is only applicable to certain organisations. In contrast to gross negligence manslaughter, individuals cannot be prosecuted for this offence.
Under section 1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, in order to establish guilt the following needs be proved:-
- The defendant is a qualifying organisation (this includes but is not limited to any corporation, government department, partnership or trade union);
- The organisation owed a relevant duty of care to the deceased;
- There was a gross breach of that duty by the organisation (for a breach to be categorised as “gross”, the alleged conduct must fall far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation in the circumstances);
- The way in which its activities were managed or organised by its senior management was a substantial element in the breach (note that it must have been the failing of senior management - an organisation is not liable if the failings were exclusively at junior level); and
- The gross breach of the organisation’s duty caused or contributed to the death.
Under section 6 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 a Fire and Rescue authority in England and Wales cannot be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter in respect of the way in which it responds to emergency circumstances, except in relation to a breach of a duty of care owed to their own employees, or owed as occupiers of a premises. The maximum sentence that can be awarded to an organisation that is convicted of this offence is an unlimited fine. A convicted organisation can also be subject to a “remedial order”, requiring the organisation to improve its “policies, systems or practices” failing which it would commit a further offence, and a “publicity order” requiring them to publicise the fact of its conviction and particulars of the offence and sentence awarded.
Organisations that had previous involvement with Grenfell Tower and that can be categorised as ‘qualifying organisations’ include the local authority, the building’s management company and the contractors and sub-contractors involved in the refurbishment of the Tower.
Breaches of Health and Safety Regulations
Under section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, it is a criminal offence to contravene any Health and Safety Regulations. The maximum sentence for this offence is two years' imprisonment.
Breaches of Building Regulations
Under section 35 of the Building Act 1984, a person can be liable to a prosecution in the magistrates court if found to be in breach of Building Regulations. The maximum sentence that may be imposed is an unlimited fine. Prosecutions under the Act are usually brought against the person that carried out the building work found to be in breach of the regulations, for example a builder, installer or main contractor.
As the police investigation continues, it remains to be seen what charges will be brought and against whom.
Brett Wilson LLP solicitors are experienced in advising and representing those being prosecuted for homicide offences and breaches of Health and Safety Regulations. Click here to see how we can assist you.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.