People responsible for Grenfell Tower disaster may face criminal charges, says prosecutor

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The country’s top prosecutor today warned that individuals responsible for the Grenfell Tower disaster could face criminal charges carrying lengthy prison sentences as she vowed to do everything possible to obtain justice for the victims.

Alison Saunders said that although investigations were at a “very early stage” gross negligence manslaughter was among the offences that prosecutors will consider if police find enough evidence.

The crime carries a maximum life term and, under sentencing guidelines, a “starting point” of at least 12 years for offenders with a “very high” level of culpability.

Ms Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said prosecutors would also consider using health and safety legislation and other criminal laws as they work with police to uncover evidence that will justify charges.

She emphasised that it could take months before charging decisions could be made and, urging patience, insisted that it was better to take time to build “strong cases” rather than rushing to court with inadequate evidence.

But she added that “all of us want to see justice done”.

Ms Saunders’s words, in an interview with the Evening Standard, are her first public comments on the Grenfell fire.

Justice: Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders (PA)

They follow the publication of a Scotland Yard letter stating that there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that corporate manslaughter offences have been committed by Kensington and Chelsea council and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenancy Management Organisation.

That crime can only be punished with a fine and the letter prompted some, including the London MP David Lammy, to raise fears that those responsible for the disaster could escape adequate penalties.

Ms Saunders said today, however, that all options remained open and that individual offenders would be prosecuted if police found enough evidence.

“It is one of those tragedies where everybody will want to do as much as they possibly can in order to help both those who continue to be residents and those who died in the fire,” the DPP told the Standard.

“We have been talking to police and assisting them with some early advice. We haven’t seen any evidence yet so it is far too early for us to say what offences we would be looking at. 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.

“If there is sufficient evidence then we will be prosecuting.” She warned that swift action was unlikely, however, because rushing could undermine the prospects of securing convictions.

“These [cases] often take quite a long time,” she said. “It is better that we do it properly. That’s what we want to do — make sure that if we are going to prosecute we build strong cases, as opposed to rushing. I quite understand that people want to have answers, want to know what’s happening, but these things are very complicated.

“It was shocking, a terrible tragedy, so many people. You can’t imagine what it must have been like for those involved and the aftermath of it. We are human and we all feel for the tragedy. 

“You can’t help but watch what happened and feel absolutely devastated and compassion for everyone involved, but when we get the evidence we have to uncouple that and look at it dispassionately.

“All of us want to see justice done, but we need to make sure that we do it in accordance with the law.”

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