It was the right decision for Southwark Council to hold its hands up and plead guilty to all four counts of breach of fire safety regulations, in relation to the tragic Lakanal fire of 2009.
You cannot read back through the events of that day without feeling desperate about the loss of life – three woman and three children, for the agony of their loved ones, and without feeling angry that people were allowed to live in a building where such a catastrophe could unfold. Fighting the charges brought by the London Fire Brigade would have sent out the message that the council believed it was not at fault for those six terrible deaths – which would have been so disrespectful to those who died and their families.
And Southwark hasn’t only just accepted that it made major mistakes – over the past eight years it has spent £62m on fire risk assessment programmes and fire safety work and now works far more closely with the London Fire Brigade. Nothing can bring back those who were lost that day, but this work can help to minimise the chances of it ever happening again.
Southwark will now pay a fine of £270,000, but also court costs of £300,000. Granted, the case had to be prepared and the Fire Brigade’s similar costs paid for, but isn’t it a crazy world where the defendant can plead guilty and yet still pay more in court costs than the actual fine?
Couldn’t a large part of that £300,000 have been better spent, for example on fire safety?