No manslaughter charges over Lakanal House fire
The Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to press manslaughter charges over a tower block fire in which six people died.
This has raised hopes that the ‘super inquest’ into the deaths at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, on 3 July 2009 can be brought forward.
The police submitted its file of evidence to the CPS in November last year and it has now decided there is not enough evidence for prosecution.
Rene Barclay, principal crown advocate for the CPS special crime division, said: ‘I am satisfied that, in accordance with the principles set out in the code for crown prosecutors, there is no realistic prospect of conviction for an offence of manslaughter by gross negligence or corporate manslaughter against any individual, any company or the London Borough of Southwark [the owner of the block].’
The fire broke out on the ninth floor due to a faulty television set and the criminal investigation mainly looked at whether refurbishments and repairs on the building between 1984 and 2007 contributed to the spread and speed of the fire.
Mr Barclay looked at whether the manufacturer of the television set was at fault, the companies contracted to undertake the refurbishment and Southwark Council.
‘I have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to establish any personal gross breach of duty on the part of a sufficiently senior official of the council or any of the companies, which could be said to have caused death, as would be necessary under that law to bring a prosecution,’ she said.
‘I concluded a prosecution of any company or organisation for an offence of manslaughter by gross negligence was therefore not legally possible.’
Mr Barclay added: ‘I have also concluded that there is insufficient evidence to establish the guilt of any individual.’
She also looked at whether the council’s failure to carry out a risk assessment under the Fire Safety Order 2005 warranted a criminal charge.
‘I concluded that there was insufficient evidence to satisfy a jury that the council’s conduct at a senior management level amounted to a gross breach of duty causing any of the deaths,’ she said.
The six people who died in the Lakanal House fire were Dayana Francisquini, 26, and her children three-year-old Felipe and six-year-old Thais; Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle Udoaka; and Catherine Hickman, 31.
The police and CPS process was understood to have been holding up the ‘super inquest’, where all six inquests will be held together. Although the CPS has advised other organisations, such as the Health and Safety Executive, are still investigating the incident this should not delay the inquest.
Ian Wingfield, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: ‘As always, our first thoughts are with the family and friends of those who lost their lives and all those who have been affected by the Lakanal fire. We welcome the decision as this will allow the inquests to progress and the families to have some sort of closure.
‘We now ask that the coroner agrees a date as soon as possible for the six inquests to begin so that all the facts from that tragic evening of nearly three years ago can be brought before the public.’
Labour party deputy leader and Camberwell MP Harriet Harman has written to the coroner to bring forward the date for the inquest, currently set for January next year.
She said: ‘The inquest into the tragic fire in Lakanal House must proceed straight away now the CPS has decided there is insufficient evidence to bring charges. It has been almost three years since the fire which killed six people. The bereaved families and local community must have answers without further delay.’
A pre-inquest hearing is expected to take place on 9 July.