February 2017 Southwark council fined £570,000 over fatal tower block fire

08-03-2017

Local authority admitted safety failings at Lakanal House, where six people died during a blaze in 2009

The London fire brigade has said it hopes “lessons are learned” after a council was fined £570,000 over safety failings at a 14-storey block of flats where six people died in a fire. 

Three women and three children were trapped by flames that spread out of control at Lakanal House in Camberwell, South London, in 2009, as a result of safety deficiencies in the block. 

At Southwark crown court, Judge Jeffrey Pegden told Southwark council, the landlord of Lakanal House, that it must pay a £270,000 fine, plus £300,000 costs. 

The potentially unlimited fine had been reduced from £400,000 after Southwark pleaded guilty to four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire) Safety Order.

Before passing sentence, Pegden said: “In this case there was a major fire at Lakanal House on 3rd July 2009, involving the tragic loss of six lives – including three children.  But the sentence of this court of course can never reflect such a terrible tragedy. 

“Indeed, the prosecution don’t allege that these breaches were causative of the fatalities in the fire, or indeed of the fire itself.  This case is concerned with the risk existing prior to those events.”

The fire, which an inquest previously found had started in a television in a ninth floor flat, spread through Lakanal House, a block of 98 maisonettes that was completed in 1960, with a ferocity that baffled fire fighters and terrified residents.

Those who died had been told to stay in their homes by 999 operators, who believed fire safety measures would be sufficient to prevent flames and smoke from reaching them.

London fire brigade brought the prosecution against Southwark after inspectors visited Lakanal House after the fire and found a number of structural and safety issues.

Their main concerns, which formed the basis of the four charges, included: failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment, allowing breaches of fire-resistant structures between each maisonette staircase and the common internal doors; a lack of compartmentation in the false ceiling structures of common corridors; and a failure to provide fitted intumescent strips (which swell when heated) and smoke seals on fire doors.

Southwark councillor Peter John, said: “We fully accept the decision of the judge and the fine he has imposed.  Some have talked about the need for this case to act as a warning to others, but for us the death of six residents is a stark reminder every day of the terrible cost of failings at Lakanal.  Once again I can only apologise for the council’s role in this tragedy. We have since invested £62m to make our homes safer, and would urge all landlords to ensure their homes are safe so a tragedy like Lakanal is never repeated.”

After the sentence was handed down, Dan Daly, London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: “The fire at Lakanal House was a particularly harrowing incident and our thoughts remain with the families and loved ones of those who died.

“Bringing this prosecution against Southwark council has been about ensuring that lessons are learned.

“All landlords, including large housing providers, such as councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law that their premises meet all fire safety requirements and are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and keep their residents safe. 

“We want them to take the opportunity provided by this court case to remind themselves of exactly what their fire safety responsibilities are under the law and to ensure that everyone in their premises is safe from the risk of fire.”

Story collated by Liz Turnbull.

Resources used:

www.theguardian.com

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