CPS decision could undermine fire safety legislation
Fire safety laws could be undermined if there is no prosecution over a south London tower block fire which killed six people, a fire chief has warned.
Three children were among the people who died when a fire broke out on the ninth floor of the 14-storey, Southwark Council-owned Lakanal House block on 3 July 2009.
The Crown Prosecution Service last week revealed it would not prosecute Southwark Council for manslaughter because there was ‘no realistic prospect of conviction’.
Rene Barclay, principal crown advocate for the CPS special crime division, confirmed he had looked at whether Southwark Council’s alleged failure to carry out a risk assessment on the block under the Fire Safety Order 2005 warranted a criminal charge but ruled there was ‘insufficient evidence to satisfy a jury’.
Iain Cox, former director for prevention and protection at the Chief Fire Officers’ Association and Berkshire’s chief fire officer, said: ‘I am concerned their decision to not prosecute does undermine the order.
‘It’s disappointing that [the case is] so complex we haven’t been able to hold the key people to account. It’s disappointing we can’t be seen to enforce the Fire Safety Order.’
Ashley Borthwick, a health and safety lawyer at law firm TLT, believed it was likely the Health and Safety Executive or the London Fire Brigade would still prosecute Southwark for breaches of health and safety regulations, after the inquest, for allegedly failing to do a risk assessment.
Both the fire service and the HSE declined to confirm whether they intended to prosecute.
The CPS’s decision has fuelled hopes that a ‘super-inquest’, under which all six inquests into the fire will be held together, will now be brought forward. It is currently planned for January 2013.
Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader and MP for Camberwell has written to coroner, Judge Frances Kirkham, to request that the super-inquest be brought forward.
Ian Wingfield, cabinet member for housing at Southwark Council, said: ‘We now ask that the coroner agrees a date as soon as possible for the six inquests to begin so all the facts from that tragic evening can be brought before the public.’