Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Southwark News Column: Lakanal update six months after the inque

Six people died in the tragic fire at Lakanal House in July 2009.  After nearly four years waiting for the inquest and after several weeks of distressing testimony from residents and emergency services, the jury gave their verdict in March this year.
And what was so desperately sad was that they said that the building was a fire risk but that those who died could have escaped or been rescued.  Their deaths could and should have been avoided - a tragic waste of the lives of three women and three children.
The Coroner made over 30 recommendations to put right this catalogue of failures. Immediately after the inquest, Judge Frances Kirkham sent her recommendations to the three main authorities responsible for improving fire safety – Southwark Council, the London Fire Service and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
It’s been six months since the inquest ended and the authorities have had time to consider the Coroner’s proposals and work out how to implement them. It’s important that this vital work does not drift down the agenda now the inquest is over and the fire is no longer in the headlines.  So I convened a meeting of the Council and the Fire Service at the House of Commons to ensure that the Coroner’s recommendations are actually being implemented.
Southwark Council and the London Fire Service have implemented most of the Coroner’s recommendations. The London Fire Service has changed their incident command procedures and is currently working on an internal review of their communication systems which I will be keeping a close eye on.
The Council has taken a great deal of action, including training an in-house team of specialists to carry out fire inspections and is shortly to decide whether to put sprinkler systems into existing high rise residential blocks. They are also producing fire safety information packs which they plan to distribute to every tenant starting in the next few weeks. I've asked the Council to put this information online too because many tenants would "google" in an emergency before they looked for a printed information pack. 

I’ve tabled Parliamentary Questions to Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government - which has the national responsibility for fire safety – to report on what they have done to implement the Coroner’s specific recommendations for improving national guidance on fire safety measures and building inspections.
It is essential that all the authorities learn the lessons of Lakanal and take action. All of us who are responsible for public services and the safety of people living in high-rise buildings must make sure that these changes are made so this doesn’t happen again.
After such a tragic loss of life we can't just all wring our hands and hope it never happens again.  We must make sure that all the Coroners proposals are acted on and that we all work together to ensure that is the case.

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