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THE Grenfell Inquiry was delayed moments after it resumed today as members of the public voiced their frustration over the “double standard” of immunity for corporate witnesses.
People yelled out “why don’t you ask the corporates to leave?”, “it’s a disgrace” and “what’s the f****** point” as inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick invited the day’s first witness.
One person shouted: “Have you sold your soul yet, Sir Martin?”
The protest was in response to the government’s decision to guarantee corporate witnesses immunity from prosecution over what they say at the inquiry — an assurance not given to firefighters who gave evidence at an earlier stage.
Some of the bereaved and survivors asked the protesters to leave, saying they wanted to listen to the inquiry.
Several people were escorted from the room following the outbursts and the hearing resumed about 10 minutes later.
The commotion came as Andrzej Kuszell, director of Grenfell refurbishment firm Studio E architects, was called up to give evidence as the inquiry resumed after a month’s delay.
Mr Kuszell told the inquiry that he’d had faith that his firm could complete the Grenfell job, even after “somebody made a comment that Studio E aren’t exactly residential architects.”
He said: “We put the project in the hands of one of our most senior and experienced people. I had no reason to believe that we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
But Studio E architect Bruce Sounes, who was in charge of designing the refurbishment, had no experience of overcladding residential high-rise blocks, the inquiry heard.
While in the witness box, Mr Sounes was asked whether the firm was eager to retain “lucrative” projects due to financial difficulties, despite not having the expertise to complete them properly.
He replied: “I think that is a bit of an unfair question.
“Architects are out there to be architects and if a project comes along and there is no reason not to do it, you do it.”
Mr Kuszell apologised to the bereaved and survivors, telling them that “it really shouldn’t have happened.”
“I have to say that if we had understood that building regulations were not robust, this is so sad to say, but I don’t think this tragedy would have happened,” he said.
Today was the inquiry’s first day back since Attorney General Suella Braverman guaranteed that anything said by witnesses will not be used against them in criminal prosecutions over the fire, which killed 72 people in 2017.
Justice4Grenfell spokeswoman Yvette Williams told the Morning Star that the bereaved and survivors faced a choice between hearing the truth with immunity or obtaining justice if the threat of prosecution for firms remained.
She said: “This should be a period of national shame.
“The only real justice is to have prosecutions. Changing a few building and fire safety regulations as an outcome is not going to cut it.”
Grenfell United said that Ms Braverman’s ruling marked a “sad day” and that “truth at the inquiry must not come at the expense of justice and prosecutions.”
The second stage of the inquiry is considering how the 24-storey tower in west London came to be covered in flammable material, which fuelled the spread of flames caused by an electrical fault with a fridge-freezer.
Firefighters have said the hearings “must finally learn” how the high-rise block became a “death trap.”
Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said today: “We have seen endless delays to this inquiry and it is only today, more than two-and-a-half years on from Grenfell, that those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding will finally take the stand.
“Firefighters underwent immense scrutiny during phase one, while corporate witnesses have had years to prepare and will not have their evidence used against them in criminal prosecutions — a protection afforded to no firefighter.
“This inquiry should leave no stone unturned and we must finally learn what led to Grenfell becoming such a death trap, so those responsible can be held to account.”
Other staff from Studio E will give evidence to the hearings throughout the week.
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