Scotland Yard says "there are reasonable grounds" to suspect local authorities committed the crime of corporate manslaughter in the Grenfell Tower blaze that killed at least 80 people in June.
In a letter sent to survivors and families of those killed in the fire, Metropolitan Police wrote, "After an initial assessment of [witness statements and seized documents], the officer leading the investigation has today 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," according to The Guardian.
Police confirmed to the Associated Press that the letter is authentic, but said it doesn't mean decisions have been made about charging individuals or organizations. The letter says a senior representative of each organization will be formally interviewed by police as part of the investigation.
The Met says it has started a criminal investigation into the cause and spread of the fire, "considering the full range of offences from corporate manslaughter to regulatory breaches."
Labour MP David Lammy, who lost a family friend in the fire, said police should pursue charges that carry jail time. "The punishment for corporate manslaughter is a fine," he told The Guardian. "A fine would not represent justice for the Grenfell victims and their families. Gross negligence involuntary manslaughter carries a punishment of prison time and I hope that the police and the CPS are considering involuntary manslaughter caused by gross negligence."
Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, companies and organizations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter "as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care," as the UK's Health and Safety Executive explains.
The law says "a breach of a duty of care by an organisation is a 'gross' breach if the conduct alleged to amount to a breach of that duty falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation in the circumstances."
Police have now formally identified 40 victims of the fire, which investigators say began in a refrigerator. The aluminum cladding of the 24-story building, installed during a recent renovation, has been the focus of scrutiny; investigators have found that equivalent aluminum composite tiles failed safety tests.
"Detectives have been examining firms, individuals and those who refurbished the block and devised its fire safety policies," according to The Guardian.
The charred remains of the tower will be covered in a protective wrap before being deconstructed in the coming months, The New York Times reports.