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PM for £2m Lakanal fire inquest says, "Heads should roll"

HEADS SHOULD ROLL: Abi Oyenigba, Project Manager for the Lakanal House inquest says "Heads should roll" over Grenfell

THE PROJECT manager for a landmark inquest following a blaze in a London council block is calling for the Government to be held accountable for the lives of those lost at the recent Grenfell Tower disaster in west London.

Abi Oyenigba, 42, from Ilford in east London, oversaw the inquest into the 2009 Lakanal House inferno in Camberwell, south London, which claimed six lives and injured 20.

Shortly after the year-long inquest in 2013 which involved ploughing through 200 hours of evidence, 6000 pages of legal documents and listening to the testimony of 120 witnesses, coroner Frances Kirkham provided the Government with recommendations to prevent a repeat incident.

Speaking exclusively to The Voice following the tower blaze Oyenigba, a legal executive said:

“In 2006 Government legislation was introduced to reduce fires in tower blocks and again in 2013 Rule 43a of the coroners recommendations were made.

“It was the responsibility of the Eric Pickles and Gavin Barwell, who is now Theresa May’s chief of staff, to ensure that councils applied the law and these recommendations and it hasn’t. I think their heads should roll; since they were housing ministers shortly after the recommendations were made.

ABLAZE: Grenfell Tower

MIRROR IMAGE: Lakanal House in 2009

“The Government did not act: maybe it felt that only immigrants live in these tower blocks and actions will be implemented later.

“But if the 2013 recommendations, such as a review of Document B (fire safety) of Building Regulations took place, the maintenance and building of tower blocks would have improved and the Grenfell Tower fire would not have happened. It is a complete wake-up call.”

Another recommendation from Frances Kirkham included consolidating guidance of section 7(2) (d) under the Fire and Rescue Service Act 2004, which encouraged fire brigade crews to make familiarisation visits to tower blocks.
The emphasis was on blocks with unusual layouts to ensure access to aerial ladder platforms and other specialist vehicles during an incident.

Referring to Kirkham’s recommendations Oyenigba said:

“I’m certain the fire service did not implement these suggestions (section 7 (2) (d) of the Fire and Rescue Service Act 2004) at Grenfell Tower.

“I want to know if fire chiefs passed information down to various stations following the recommendations in 2013.

“Apparently, the fire-fighters struggled to access the Grenfell Tower on the night of the fire, because of road works and bollards at a nearby college and were alarmed at the spread of the fire.

“How could this of happened if they had familiarised themselves with the layout of the building as recommended by Kirkham?

“If my family had died in that Tower fire I would not only be making a civil claim, but a criminal one. The deceased at Grenfell Tower have been the victims of manslaughter.”

John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington and shadow chancellor, speaking at a panel debate recently said:

"Is democracy working? It didn't work if you were a family living on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower.

"Those families, those individuals...lost their lives from political decisions that were taken over recent decades.

"The decision not to build homes and to view housing as only for financial speculation rather than for meeting a basic human need made by politicians over decades murdered those families.”

In 2013 Kirkham also felt there was "insufficient clarity" on advice given to high-rise residents about what to do in case of a fire and recommended the government publish new guidance about how advice to "stay put" should be seen in relation to the "get out and stay out" policy.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire many locals complained that friends were advised to remain inside their flats by the authorities, who claimed they had the fire under control.

Fusi Warhald had a friend who lived in Grenfell Towers. Speaking to The Voice she recalled her last two conversations with the mother of three, beginning at 1am in the morning:

“I was told by her that the advice given was to remain in the building.

“Three hours later, because she lived on the 17th floor, the advice was to place towels at the base of the door. There was nowhere for my friend to escape and I haven’t been able to contact her since. I assume she is dead.”

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC recently that "all recommendations were actioned" following the coroner's report in 2013. His predecessor, Sir Eric Pickles, was said to have responded to the coroner and was committed to making the safety of high-rise residents a "priority".

The Government said it would conduct a review and publish updated regulations in 2016/17, but the regulations remain unchanged.

The London Fire Brigade had not responded to Oyenigba’s allegations prior to The Voice before this article was published.

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