Southwark Council is to pay £570,000 after pleading guilty to four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire) Safety Order over the fatal fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, in 2009.

London Fire Brigade, the enforcing fire authority under the Fire Safety Order, brought the prosecution after its inspectors visited the building following the fire, which killed six residents, including three children.

The breaches related to failings prior to the fire on 3 July, principally structural problems introduced during refurbishment and issues with fire safety.

Problems with the fire resistance of materials allowed the fire to spread from the flat where the blaze originated, and smoke then filled corridors and stairways that should have provided a means of escape.

The main concerns, which formed the basis of the four charges against Southwark, were:

  • failing to carry out a fire assessment;
  • allowing breaches of a 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;
  • failing to provide fitted strips and smoke seals on fire doors, including flat front doors.

 

The council was fined £270,000 and ordered to pay £300,000 in court costs at Southwark Crown Court on 28 February.

An earlier inquest in 2013 had heard that works undertaken by Southwark Council during a “Decent Homes” upgrade in 2007 had resulted in a considerable weakening of fire resistance measures at the 1960s-built block, while the opportunity to pick up pre-existing weaknesses in fire compartmentation had been missed.

But as well as criticising Southwark Council, the inquest’s narrative verdict also criticised London Fire Brigade for its management of the fire, and advice to residents to “stay put”.

Southwark Council then sought a judicial review of London Fire Brigade’s decision to prosecute it, on the grounds that the Brigade itself was subject to investigation by the HSE and Metropolitan Police, and was subject to a conflict of interest.

The council asked the court to transfer the fire authority’s regulatory role to the HSE.

However, the court ruled that the state of affairs that Southwark had permitted to develop at Lakanal House prior to the fire was separate to any failures of the fire brigade during the fire itself, and rejected Southwark’s application.

London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, Dan Daly said: “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.”