Fire brigade criticised for not changing advice to residents

27 February 2017

Sentencing of Southwark Council will take place tomorrow (28 February) following admission of guilt to four fire safety breaches at Lakanal House, a block of flats in Camberwell, where three women and three children died in 2009.

The prosecution was brought by London Fire Brigade. Southwark Crown Court was told that there were failings with the suspended ceilings in the building, which had not been maintained and were not capable of stopping a fire from spreading. The fire started because of an electrical fault in a television set. 

Built in 1958 and containing 98 maisonettes, Lakanal House’s construction ‘failed to adequately provide barriers to smoke and fire’. Strips and seals were not fitted to fire escape doors or the doors to flats’ and there was inadequate protection for the timber stairs.

The council was also accused of failing to carry out risk assessments, taking fire precautions and ensuring the premises were maintained.

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We took the decision to plead guilty to all four counts of breach of fire safety regulations associated with the Lakanal building.

“This is because, as an authority, we fully accept responsibility for the fire safety of all our council homes. The fact remains that the council did not have a fire risk assessment for Lakanal in place on this date (the day of the fire). Without this record, we can never categorically decide on the fire safety of the building before the fire happened.

“This tragic fire and the deaths of six people have meant that the council has had to reflect hard on the mistakes of the past.  Since then, we have spent £62m on our fire risk assessment programme and associated fire safety works for all of our council housing in the borough. 

“We have worked closely with London Fire Brigade and meet regularly with them, informing them of progress on the risk profile of the borough and agreeing with them the strategy and actions we are taking to ensure fire safety remains a high priority for the council.”

Harriet Harman, the member of parliament for Camberwell and Peckham, criticised London Fire Brigade: “No-one would have died if the brigade had instructed people to leave their flats. The fire brigade too were responsible because as the fire spread and the safety measures failed, they failed to change their instructions to residents.

“Those who ignored instructions to stay put escaped with their lives. Those who accepted the instructions to stay in their flats died.  The fire brigade say they too have learned lessons.

“This prosecution sends a strong message not just to the London Borough of Southwark but to all landlords, public and private, that their tenants’ safety must be an absolute priority”.

999 operators told callers to stay in their flats in the belief that safety measures would protect them from fire and smoke until firefighters could rescue the occupants.

Original sources

Southwark News

Evening Standard

The Guardian