No manslaughter charge for Southwark Council over Lakanal House fire

No manslaughter charge for Southwark Council over Lakanal House fire

Southwark Council or any other individual will not face any charges over a fire in a south London tower block which killed six people.

The victims, which included a three-week-old baby, all died in the blaze at Lakanal House in Camberwell in July 2009.

Despite evidence coming to light that Southwark Council failed to improve fire safety standards at the tower block even though they were aware it posed a fire risk and had not carried out a fire risk assessment, prosecutors have admitted that there is no realistic prospect of conviction.

Rene Barclay, principal crown advocate for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “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,” quotes BBC News.

“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.”

A 2009 BBC investigation into the fire, which left nearly 100 families homeless, found that Lakanal house was rated a medium fire risk during a study of the safety of all of Southwark’s tower blocks in 2000.

The fire risk analysis by Southwark Building Design Service stated that “elements of construction may pose a fire risk, or a risk of fire spread” and had a “risk of localised fire spread between wall panelled sections”.

Despite calling for further assessment of the block and all the other residential buildings located on the Sceaux Gardens estate, the then council failed to act on the concerns raised in the report.

The Liberal Democrat-run council also opted to reverse a previous decision to demolish Lakanal House.

Councillor Ian Wingfield of Southwark Council welcomed the decision and called on a coroner to begin an inquest into the deaths of the six people who died in the fire.

Graham Ellicott, chief executive of the Fire Industry Association, claimed the conclusion of the inquests, which commenced in 2009 but have since been adjourned, could have ramifications for the design of new buildings.

He said: “Earlier this week the Welsh Government announced that from 2013 all new homes would be fitted with sprinklers. In contrast England has no intention to have sprinklers fitted. This is yet another example of the postcode lottery approach to fire across the UK and one has to ask why as a UK taxpayer there are major differences occurring in the way that fire and rescue operates between England and Scotland, and now why the levels of fire protection in new buildings across the UK, for example sprinklers in care homes in Scotland and in new homes in Wales, are becoming so disparate.”

“It will be interesting to see what if any comments the Coroner for the Lakanal House inquests makes with regard to fire protection and management of buildings such as Lakanal House; The FIA wonders whether any comments will be implemented differently across the UK – time will tell. he said”

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