Grenfell Tower wrapped in cladding on 14 June 2018, the first anniversary of the fire in west London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA
Survivors and the bereaved from the Grenfell Tower fire have expressed their “extreme frustration” after Scotland Yard admitted no charges were likely in the criminal investigation until 2021 at the earliest.
Detectives investigating the possibility of manslaughter and corporate manslaughter offences said their investigation must take into account the public inquiry into the disaster, the second phase of which will not start until the end of this year. Inquiry lawyers have been swamped with 476,000 separate documents.
The announcement means any trials might not start until 2022 – about five years after the fire that shocked the nation and claimed 72 lives.
The Guardian understands police have so far interviewed 11 people under criminal caution for offences ranging from manslaughter to health and safety breaches. Some were interviewed as representatives of their organisation, others as individuals. There have been no arrests.
Grenfell United, a group representing the survivors and bereaved from the fire in west London on 14 June 2017, said the police decision to delay passing files to prosecutors was “extremely frustrating and disheartening” and that “vague reassurances are wearing thin”.
It said families needed clear commitments to keep faith in the process and warned that Theresa May risked being remembered as “the prime minister that failed us”.
“The week after a fire that killed our loved ones and neighbours, Theresa May promised us justice,” said Natasha Elcock, the chair of Grenfell United.
Natasha Elcock of Grenfell United: ‘We are living in a limbo.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
“Justice for us means accountability and change. And we see little real change. We are living in a limbo with no individuals or organisations being held accountable and it is so painful for all of us who lost loved ones and our homes that night. We wait month after month, our lives on hold, for some kind of justice and progress.”
Some of the bereaved and survivors had hoped that the police investigation could run independently of the public inquiry chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick.
His first-phase report examining what happened on the night of the fire is due to be published after Easter, but the second stage of the inquiry investigating how the 24-storey tower owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea came to be refurbished using highly combustible materials will not start hearings before the end of the year.
“While the Grenfell Tower inquiry and the police investigation are independent of each other, our timelines are inextricably linked,” said Det Supt Matt Bonner, who leads the police investigation.
“For our investigation to be considered thorough and complete, it must consider all relevant information and it would be wrong not to take into account evidence given to the public inquiry and its final report and findings.”
He conceded the new timetable was longer than anticipated but said it was essential all the available evidence was considered before any file was submitted to prosecutors.
Survivors are also frustrated that there is still no firm timetable for the second phase of the inquiry, that they have not been told where it will take place and that action to replace combustible cladding on hundreds of other high-rise blocks in England remains slow.
New figures are due out on Thursday which are expected to confirm that scores of blocks are still to be fixed. Survivors have also been promised that Moore-Bick will appoint a diverse panel to guide the inquiry in the next phase, but its members are yet to be named.
Elcock said: “We know the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower turned our homes into a death trap and we know that people, organisations and institutions that were meant to care for us didn’t and 72 people died.
“And yet no one has been held accountable. On this timeline, Theresa May risks leaving office without a single trial starting. As bereaved families and survivors, we urgently need reassurances from government that justice and change will come.
“It is now 21 months since the fire, thousands of people are still living in homes with dangerous cladding, people in social housing are still being mistreated by landlords and Grenfell families still wait for any kind of justice.”