A request to restrict the reporting of part of the Grenfell Tower inquiry has been denied by the former judge chairing the probe.
The Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) asked for the evidence of Hanan Wahabi and Marcio Gomes, both core participants for the public inquiry, to be delayed until the culmination of a fraud trial.
The defendant, Sharife Elouahabi, pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial – on Monday this week – to fraudulently benefiting from £103,000 worth of assistance after pretending he lived in flat 182 in Grenfell Tower, which was home to the El-Wahabi family of five.
Parents Faouzia and Abdulaziz, 42 and 52, died alongside their children, Yasin, 20, Huda, 16, and Mehdi, eight, in the blaze on June 14 last year.
The eleventh-hour request for a reporting restriction – which was made just hours before Wahabi, the sister of Abdulaziz, was due to give evidence on the afternoon of Wednesday last week, 31 October – meant that she could not proceed as planned.
Initially the Metropolitan Police, and then the CPS, argued that allowing Wahabi gave evidence to the inquiry before the fraud trial it would give the defendant opportunity to argue that he could not have a fair trial because the jury would be prejudiced against him by having seen or heard reports of her evidence.
Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick dismissed the application at a private hearing on Friday last week, it can now be reported.
He said the short-notice of the application was “deeply unsatisfactory” and that in any event it should have been initiated by the CPS.
The application also caused timetabling difficulties and delayed Wahabi’s evidence by eight days.
Sir Martin said in a written ruling published today that he was “entirely unpersuaded” that there was a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in fraud trial.
The police and CPS had argued that the evidence of Wahabi, who had been due to give evidence at the criminal trial, and Gomes, should not be reported until the trial itself was over.
But the Press Association had responded that that argument was “flimsy in the extreme”, based as it was on “a series of hypothetical situations and scenarios”.
It also pointed out that both Wahabi and Marcio Gomes, who also lived in Grenfell Tower, had been scheduled to give evidence as prosecution witnesses, any prejudice arising from their evidence to the inquiry would be neutralised by the impact of the appearances at the trial.
Wahabi will give now evidence to the inquiry tomorrow and Gomes will do so on Friday morning.
Press Association legal editor Mike Dodd said he was concerned that the application was made so late, because both the police and CPS must have known for some time that Elouahabi’s trial was due to start on 5 November.
“It was also a matter of concern that the media was given no notification of the application,” he said.
“But it was an application which I think should never have been made – the witnesses’ evidence to the Inquiry would have been about different issues to those which would have arisen at the trial.”
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay