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Southwark Council to pay £570,000 for Lakanal failings

Southwark Council has been fined a total of £570,000 for safety failures at Lakanal House, the south London tower block in which six people lost their lives in 2009.

The Council was taken to court by London Fire Brigade on 22 charges relating to fire safety in Lakanal House. It pleaded guilty to four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These encompassed all of the above charges.

These offences included failure to undertake a fire risk assessment; failure to take general fire precautions to keep employees and residents safe; and failure to suitably maintain fire safety arrangements on the premises.

Deficiencies were identified as a lack of fire-resistant structures and materials between each maisonette staircase and shared internal doors; a lack of compartmentation in false ceiling structures of shared corridors; and an absence of fitted intumescent strips and smoke seals on fire doors.

The Council was ordered to pay a fine of £270,000 and £300,000 costs. The fine was reduced from £400,000 because of the Council’s early guilty plea.

Passing sentence at Southwark Crown Court on 28 February Southwark Judge Pegden QC stated that the offences were about the risk created by the failures of Southwark but were not about holding Southwark to account for the loss of life.

“These counts relate to the risk of the spread of the fire and making sure the measures for safely escaping the premises are effective and thirdly measures to fight the fire in the premises are made.

“The construction of suspended ceilings and what is known as ‘boxing in’ in the maisonette staircases which connect to the common corridors was deficient and failed to comply with industry standards.

“Those deficiencies placed persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of a fire.

“The lack of fire seals failed to provide the necessary resistance to fire and meant the compartmentalisation was compromised, as was the effective means of escape and fire fighting.

“The risk existed for a long period of time and a significant amount of people were put at risk not just those living there but hose visiting.

“There was no risk assessment carried out as of July 2009 and this would have identified the deficiencies.

“This fell well below the standard required and the borough has been in existence for a sufficient period of time to be aware of its responsibilities for fire safety.

“These were serious offences but ones which could have been easily remedied.”

The Council expressed its “sincere regret for the failures that were present in the building”.

Councillor Peter John said: “We fully accept the decision of the judge and the fine he has imposed. Some have talked about the need for this case to act as a warning to others, but for us the death of six residents is a stark reminder every day of the terrible cost of failings at Lakanal.

“Once again I can only apologise for the council’s role in this tragedy. We have since invested £62m to make our homes safer, and would urge all landlords to ensure their homes are safe so a tragedy like Lakanal is never repeated.”

Dan Daly, LFB’s assistant commissioner for fire safety said that the prosecution was about ensuring that lessons are learned.

“All landlords, including large housing providers, such as councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law 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.”