• International Workplace
  • 1 August 2017

Grenfell fire: police have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect corporate manslaughter

“We are conducting one of the largest criminal investigations outside of counter terrorism operations,” the Metropolitan Police Service has said in a letter circulated to residents of the Grenfell Tower, following the fire in which more than 80 people lost their lives. At this point in the investigation, the letter said, police now have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect multiple corporate manslaughter offences.

“We have seized a huge amount of material and taken a large number of witness statements,” the MPS said. “After an initial assessment of that information, the officer leading the investigation has 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.”

Under this Act, an organisation can be found guilty of a corporate manslaughter offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised:

  • causes a person’s death; and
  • amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

The legislation does not provide a power to arrest any individual, because it is a corporate offence; however, the MPS assures that in due course a senior representative of each corporation will be formally interviewed by police in relation to the potential offence.

It said:

“The MPS has consistently stated that the scope of the investigation will seek to identify and investigate any criminal offences that may have been committed under criminal law including examination of all relevant legislation, fire safety regulations, health and safety legislation, building regulations and any other relevant statutory or regulatory frameworks. This work will continue.”

This is a significant case, as it is one of only a handful that have been considered a potential corporate manslaughter – as opposed to simply health and safety – offence, since the passing of the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007. The Act introduced a statutory offence of ‘Corporate Manslaughter’, which came into force on 6 April 2008. For the first time, companies and organisations, rather than individuals, could be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures. Despite this, few corporate manslaughter cases have been brought.

The Act doesn’t impose any additional health and safety duties outside of those covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; it is solely designed to make it easier to prosecute organisations where their gross negligence leads to death. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 remains as the duty-creating statute in terms of health and safety, and prosecutions under this legislation co-exist with potential prosecutions for corporate manslaughter under the Act.

However, developments in the potential to prosecute were followed by new sentencing guidelines in 2016, described as the most dramatic change to health and safety legislation since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974. Organisations in England and Wales can now be fined anything from £180,000 to £20m for health and safety offences, depending on the size of the organisation’s turnover. Very large organisations could face even larger fines in order to achieve a sentence that is proportionate.

Cases such as these are considered in detail at International Workplace’s Corporate Health and Safety Briefing. IOSH accredited, it also looks at organisations’ duties under relevant legislation and guidance for directors and board directors on health and safety leadership.

The Grenfell Tower investigation continues.