Grenfell Tower: Manslaughter charges under the spotlight
Prosecutors to consider a range of charging options, including health and safety legislation
The Director of Public Prosecutions has said that individuals found responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire could face lengthy prison sentences as she promised to 'see justice done'.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Alison Saunders said that although investigations were at an early stage, gross negligence manslaughter was among a list of offences that could be considered by the Crown Prosecution Service.
'We haven't seen any evidence yet so it is far too early for us to say what offences we would be looking at,' she told the paper. 'But there are a whole raft of offences against both individuals and possibly companies that we could be looking at depending what the evidence shows.'
The news follows publication of a letter from Scotland Yard stating there are 'reasonable grounds' to suspect the local council and the organisation that managed Grenfell tower of corporate manslaughter.
'After an initial assessment of that information, the officer leading the investigation has today notified Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that each organisation may have committed the offence of corporate manslaughter, under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007,' police said in their letter.
However, those found guilty of corporate manslaughter are only liable to a fine under the 2007 Act, rather than imprisonment. This has led campaigners, such as Labour MP David Lammy, to call on the authorities to consider gross negligence manslaughter instead.
'A fine would not represent justice for the Grenfell victims and their families,' Lammy told the Guardian. 'Gross negligence involuntary manslaughter carries a punishment of prison time and I hope that the police and the CPS are considering involuntary manslaughter caused by gross negligence.'
Anthony Haycroft, head of business and specialist crime at Serjeants' Inn Chambers, said the DPP's recent statement placed a spotlight on the difficult question of how to potentially prosecute offenders.
'The common law offence [of corporate manslaughter] was difficult to bring against organisations as opposed to individuals,' he said. 'This was because a company could only be prosecuted if the gross negligence was by someone who was a 'directing will'.'
Haycroft explained it is now easier to prosecute companies as the authorities need only prove that an organisation's activities were managed by senior management in such a way as to be a substantial element in the breach of a relevant duty; and that death was caused by a gross breach of duty.
In addition to manslaughter charges, the DPP said prosecutors would consider using health and safety legislation against those allegedly responsible for the disaster.
'I expect the prosecutors would charge both '“ depending upon the results of the inquiry,' commented Haycroft. 'They are not mutually exclusive and often by charging manslaughter pleas are offered for health and safety breaches, which are generally easier to prove.'
Around 80 people are estimated to have died in the fire that tore through the 24-storey block in West London in June. Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick is to lead the public inquiry into the disaster. It is expected that the findings from the inquiry will form the basis of any future prosecutions.
Image © ChiralJon
John van der Luit-Drummond, deputy editor