Southwark Council has pleaded guilty to fire safety breaches that contributed to the deaths of six people during the deadly 2009 Lakanal House fire.
Charges were brought by the London Fire Brigade in a hearing today at Southwark Crown Court.
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.
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.
According to charges, the authority failed to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments, failed to take general fire precautions, and failed to ensure the premises were subject to a suitable system of maintenance.
Judge Jeffrey Pegden adjourned sentencing until February 28 at Southwark Crown Court.
Following today’s hearing, councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, 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 narrative, highlighting “numerous missed opportunities” to carry out fire safety checks inside the building.
Camberwell and Peckham MP, Harriet Harman gave a statement that also put blame on the London Fire Brigade.
She said: “No-one would have died if the Fire Brigade had instructed people to leave their flats. 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”.
London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Dan Daly said: “It is important to say that this prosecution is not focused on the fire that happened on 3 July 2009 or on the tragic loss of life following the fire but on the risk of death and serious injury from fire that existed at Lakanal between 2006 and July 2009.
“Millions of people in London live in purpose built blocks of flats. Our advice remains the same, that living in a flat is not more dangerous than living in a house but it’s important to know that your fire plan should be different.
“If buildings are built and maintained correctly, walls, floors and doors in flats and maisonettes give you protection from fire – a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes – so, if there is a fire elsewhere in the building but not inside your home you’re safer staying in your flat unless heat or smoke is affecting you. Stay put and call 999.
“If you leave your flat you could be rushing into choking smoke, the fire itself or firefighters using equipment to bring the fire under control in another part of the building.
“If there is a fire inside your flat or maisonette or you are being directly affected by it our advice is to leave, closing the door behind you and call 999.”