Southwark Council has today been fined £270,000 and will pay £300,000 costs for fire safety breaches in the 2009 Lakanal House fire, which claimed six lives.
The council pleaded guilty after charges were brought by the London Fire Brigade in a hearing on February 24 at Southwark Crown Court.
The main concerns raised by inspectors and which formed the basis of the four charges against Southwark were:
- Failure to make a fire assessment
- Allowing breaches of fire resistant structure between each maisonette staircase and the common internal doors
- Allowing fire loading and a lack of compartmentation in the false ceiling structure of internal corridors
- Failure to provide fitted strips and smoke seals on fire doors including flat front doors
Three women and three children died on July 3, 2009 at the estate in Camberwell, in a fire started by an electrical fault with a television. All six victims had lived in the block’s eleventh floor.
The victims included designer Catherine Hickman, 31, who had previously worked for singer Bjork, Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle.
Dayana Francisquini, 26, and her children, six-year-old Thais and Felipe, three, were also killed.
On Friday, the court heard the suspended ceilings in the Lakanal House flats were in a poor state of repair and were not constructed in a way or made of materials that would stop a fire from spreading.
Parts of the construction of the building failed to adequately provide barriers to smoke and fire, and strips and seals were not fitted to fire escape doors or the doors to flats.
London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, Dan Daly, 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 lessons are learned so we can reduce the likelihood of such a devastating fire ever happening again.
“All landlords, including large housing providers, such as councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law to ensure 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.”
Following Friday’s hearing, cabinet member for housing, Stephanie Cryan said: “We took the decision to plead guilty to all four counts of breach of fire safety regulations associated with the Lakanal building on the July 2 2009, the day before the fire.
“This is because, as an authority, we fully accept responsibility for the fire safety of all our council homes. The fact remains that the council did not have a Fire Risk Assessment for Lakanal in place on this date. Without this record, we can never categorically decide on the fire safety of the building before the fire happened.
“This tragic fire and the deaths of six people in 2009, have meant that the council has had to reflect hard on the mistakes of the past. Since then, we have spent £62m on our fire risk assessment programme and associated fire safety works for all of our council housing in the borough. We have worked closely with London Fire Brigade and meet regularly with them, informing them of progress on the risk profile of the borough and agreeing with them the strategy and actions we are taking to ensure fire safety remains a high priority for the council.”
An inquest into the six victim’s death was held in 2013, which returned a narrative verdict, highlighting “numerous missed opportunities” to carry out fire safety checks inside the building.