Today Southwark Council were prosecuted at Southwark Crown Court for their failure to maintain fire safety standards in Lakanal House. I attended the court hearing, along with Dave Lewis of the Sceaux Gardens Tenants and Residents Association.
3 women and 3 young children tragically lost their lives in the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell on 3 July 2009.
They were Dayana Francisquini aged 26, her daughter Thais, aged six, and son Felipe, aged three; 31-year-old Catherine Hickman; and Helen Udoaka, 34, and her 20-day-old daughter Michelle.
The fire was caused by an electrical fault in a television in a 9th floor bedroom. It spread unexpectedly through the block, in large part due to unsafe renovation work by the council, who own the building, and their failure to carry out a fire risk assessment following this work.
From 2006 Southwark were legally responsible for fire safety checks at its flats, but by July 2009 the council had carried out no such checks at Lakanal. A proper inspection would have spotted that vital fire-stopping material between flats and communal corridors had been removed.
Investment to improve Lakanal House for the tenants living in it instead turned it into a deadly fire trap. The council failed in their responsibilities and they have pleaded guilty. No-one would have died if the work was checked and if they had re-assessed the fire safety of the block after the work was done.
No-one would have died if the Fire Brigade had instructed people to leave their flats. It was clear to me when I rushed down there on the night of the fire that compartmentalisation in the building had failed, and the fire was spreading.
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 the Fire Brigade’s instructions to stay put escaped with their lives. Those who accepted the instructions to stay in their flat 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.
Nothing will bring back the 3 women and 3 young children who died in this tragedy, or undo the pain that has been caused to their families and friends. But there are lessons to learn and improvements that can and must be made.
In court today we heard that since 2009 Southwark has reviewed its approach to fire risk assessment across every block in the borough. They have spent £62m on their fire risk programme for social housing and now have a skilled and experienced in-house fire safety team. The Council and fire brigade said they are meeting regularly to discuss operations and safety, and the fire brigade assists Southwark in advising residents on fitting smoke alarms.
For more information contact Rachel Smethers – [email protected]
020 7219 2057