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TOWER BLOCK FIRE DEATHS INQUEST COMMENCES

Inquest into six deaths will consider impact of refurbishment work

An inquest started this week into a fire at the 14-storey Lakanal House south London tower block in which six people lost their lives three years ago. Some 30 people were rescued and 100 removed from their homes. In 2012 the Crown Prosecution Service ruled out manslaughter charges against Southwark Council.

A faulty television is believed to have triggered the fire and the inquest will consider the impact of building design and subsequent refurbishment work. Coroner Frances Kirkham in opening the inquest said:

“The fire spread quickly within flat 65 and then on to some other flats in the building. The fire took hold in flat 79 where a young woman, Catherine Hickman, was living. She died from the effects of the fire.

The fire also spread to flat 81. Five people took refuge in flat 81. They were Helen Udoaka and her baby daughter Michelle — Michelle was then 20 days old — together with Dayana Francisquini, her daughter Thais, aged six, and her son Filipe, who was aged three. All of those also died from the effects of the fire.”

The London Fire Brigade is expected to tell the inquest that, contrary to the design, fires spread between flats and floors.

In 2009, Brian Coleman, chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority told the Architects Journal that residents should be ‘safe’ for one hour before fire might spread between floors and that he needed to know why the fire spread so quickly.

Did refurbishment work undermine principal fire-protection system?

The Independant on Sunday (IoS) has reported on its own invstigation in the tragedy.

The IoS reports that a police-led investigation found that work carried out on the building destroyed its ‘compartment’ protection. It is alleged that “firewalls designed to stop smoke and flames from spreading had been cut to allow pipes and duct work and that ceiling and floor spaces lacked protection measures and vital flameproof materials had been removed”.

The IoS reports that “many more fire threats still exist more than three years after the south London fire because of serious failings in the way buildings are assessed for dangers.”

A Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) spokesperson told the IoS:The

“The quality of too many fire-risk assessments remains poor. Too often they are carried out by people who lack appropriate knowledge. To do it properly it is necessary to get into the hidden parts of a building, behind walls and into ceiling spaces.”

The Inquest is expected to last three months.

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