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Grenfell – Corporate Manslaughter explained

As indicated in my previous blog, the Metropolitan Police have indicated that there is “reasonable grounds” for suspecting the TMO and the Council of committing the offence of Corporate Manslaughter. So what exactly is corporate manslaughter and what would the prosecution need to prove?

Corporate manslaughter is defined by the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 section 1 – an organisation is guilty of this offence if the way that its activities are managed or organised.

  1. Causes a person death
  2. Amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care by the organisation to the deceased.

Proceedings can only be commenced with the consent of the DPP.

A relevant duty of care is further defined in section 2 and is a matter for a judge to determine whether such a duty exists.

It is unlikely that there will be much dispute that a duty exists (although there may be some issue as to how the duty falls between the TMO and the Council). The key question will for a jury to consider is whether there was indeed a ‘gross breach’ of that duty. A jury would have to consider any evidence that the organisation failed to comply with health and safety legalisation that relates to the alleged breach, and if so how serious that failure was and how much of a risk of death it posed.

The jury can also consider the extent to which the evidence shows that there were attitudes, policies, systems or accepted practices within the organisation that were likely to have encouraged failures or produced tolerance of it. They can also have regard to any health and safety guidance that relates to the breach or indeed any other matter that is relevant.

No doubt investigators have already started to trawl though council and TMO papers to identify the systems in place and how such systems were operated in practice – and of particular relevance may be how campaigners’ previous complaints were dealt with.

The “gross breach” charge can be a high hurdle to overcome. It is of note that Southwark Council were not prosecuted for this offence in relation to the Lanark House Fire. At the time the CPS said that they had considered whether the council’s alleged failure, prior to the outbreak of the fire, to undertake a risk assessment provided a sufficient basis to bring a charge and they concluded there was insufficient evidence to satisfy a jury that the council’s conduct at a senior management level amounted to a gross breach of duty causing any of the deaths.

The failings at Grenfell will need to be examined and tenants and campaigners should preserve any evidence that shows how the authorities responded to any concerns, It is essential that those at fault are held accountable.

Raj Chada is a Partner in the Crime Department at HJA and part of the multi-disciplinary team seeking to bring justice for the residents at Grenfell. He is also a former Leader and Housing Executive member at Camden Council.