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Lakanal House fire: No manslaughter charge for Southwark Counci

  • 5-31-2012

A council which knew a tower block where six people died was a fire risk but did not address the dangers will not face manslaughter charges.

A three-week-old baby was among the victims of the blaze at Lakanal House in Camberwell in July 2009.

It later emerged Southwark Council knew the building posed a fire risk but did not act and had not carried out a fire risk assessment.

Prosecutors have decided there is no realistic prospect of conviction.

Rene Barclay, principal crown advocate for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "I am satisfied that there is no realistic prospect of conviction for an offence of manslaughter by gross negligence or corporate manslaughter against any company or the London Borough of Southwark."

'Insufficient evidence'

He continued: "I 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.

"I 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."

Councillor Ian Wingfield, cabinet member for housing at the Labour-run council, said: "We welcome the decision as this will allow the inquests to progress and the families to have some sort of closure.

"We now ask that the coroner agrees a date as soon as possible for the six inquests to begin so that all the facts from that tragic evening of nearly three years ago can be brought before the public."

The BBC has obtained figures showing the financial cost to the local authority of the fire.

It has currently spent £8.2m on the aftermath of the disaster, including £2.5m on legal fees to BCL Burton Copeland.

No death compensation

The council has spent a further £2.4m on site works, leasehold buybacks and "home losses".

Another £1.7m has been spent on security, temporary accommodation and emergency provisions for residents.

But the lawyer for the partner of Catherine Hickman, a fashion designer who died in the blaze, confirmed her client had not received any compensation.

The council has declined to comment on the costs.

Nearly 100 families were made homeless in the disaster and no inquest has been heard into the deaths.

The abandoned tower block remains standing.

The BBC's investigation in 2009 discovered a report into the safety of Southwark's tower blocks that was ordered nine years previously by a parliamentary committee investigating a fire at a building in Scotland.

The council's report rated all five buildings on the Sceaux Gardens estate, including Lakanal House, as a medium fire risk "where elements of construction may pose a fire risk, or a risk of fire spread".

Lakanal House had a "risk of localised fire spread between wall panelled sections", the report carried out by Southwark Building Design Service said.

Further assessment of all the blocks on the Sceaux Gardens estate "may be of benefit", it added.

However, the then Liberal Democrat-run council reversed a previous decision to demolish the tower block while fire safety concerns were not addressed.

A statement from Southwark Council following those revelations said: "The safety and well being of our residents is a priority for the council and we reject any allegation that we do not take these responsibilities seriously."

In light of the revelations, councils were ordered to publish all fire safety risk assessments on residential tower blocks in the hope of boosting accountability.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2012 BBC


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