Stephen Greenhalgh said those responsible should not “hide behind a French law that is rarely used.”
After their refusal to testify at the public inquiry into the tragedy, the British government called for executives who supplied flammable cladding for Grenfell Tower to be kept responsible, raising the outrage of impoverished families and survivors. On Sunday, Stephen Greenhalgh, the Minister of Building Safety, exacerbated a legal and political row over the role of three current and former executors.
In 2015, after a months-long standoff in which witnesses defied appeals from the investigation to “do the right thing” and ignored warnings that non-participation faced “negative conclusions and criticism” on Twitter, Greenhalgh spoke out on Twitter. The investigation negotiated directly with the French government through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to try to get them to. “Time for these @arconic executives to face up to their responsibilities and appear before the #GrenfellTower inquiry instead of hiding behind the 1968 French Blocking Statute,”Time for these @arconic executives to face up to their duties and appear before the #GrenfellTower investigation instead of hiding behind the 1968 French Blocking Statute. The inquiry said in November that if they did not appear, it would “sit the trio out empty”.
A fourth Arconic executive, Claude Schmidt, said he would testify only if “certain conditions” that were not made public were agreed by the inquiry. Last month, the investigation said they were largely inadmissible. Schmidt still works for Arconic. Grenfell United, the community of survivors and relatives, said that there is no way Arconic workers can dictate terms as to what they will or will not be asked for. The controversy over the appearance of the witnesses has been brewing since prior to November, when the investigation made its refusal public.
“Neither Arconic nor any of these witnesses have provided any evidence that there is a real risk of prosecution under the French Blocking Act.” the investigation lawyer, Richard Millett, QC, said.
Outside the French Embassy in London last month, bereaved families and survivors protested, and the French government said it did not think the Blocking Act applied.
“Arconic Architectural Products (AAP) said the company “continues to fully cooperate with the investigation.” “The persons who refused to participate in the investigation have sought the advice of separate counsel and AAP has no input into such decisions,” said a spokeswoman. “The three witnesses represented by the counsel of the company are ready to provide evidence, including Claude Schmidt. “It is expected to restart the investigation on Jan. 11.