England

Grenfell fire: Council leader quits over fire response

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Media captionNick Paget-Brown: "I have to accept my share of responsibility"

Kensington and Chelsea Council leader Nick Paget-Brown has resigned following continued criticism of the council's handling of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Mr Paget-Brown faced calls to resign from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and a number of other senior politicians.

It comes after an aborted meeting of the council's cabinet in which leaders had tried to ban members of the public and press.

At least 80 people are believed to have died in the blaze on 14 June.

Announcing his resignation, Mr Paget-Brown said he had to accept responsibility for "perceived failings" by the council after the tragedy..

"I have therefore decided to step down as leader of the council as soon as a successor is in place," he said.

Image copyright Carl Court
Image caption Members of the public and press had been barred from the council meeting until a court order overturned the decision minutes before it was due to start

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: "This is clearly a personal matter for the leader of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, as well as the council.

"However, given local people had lost confidence in the leader, it is right that he has stepped aside."

He said the government's priority "remains focussed on the ongoing response efforts and providing all necessary support to those affected by this tragic incident".

Deputy council leader and cabinet member for housing, property and regeneration, Rock Feilding-Mellen, also announced his resignation.

The decision to adjourn Thursday night's meeting led to a rebuke from Downing Street on Friday.

A Number 10 spokesman said: "The High Court ruled that the meeting should be open and we would have expected the council to respect that."

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Media caption Council tries to ban press and public from meeting

Council leaders claimed an open meeting would "prejudice" the forthcoming public inquiry.

But angry protests followed and Labour councillor Robert Atkinson, whose ward includes Grenfell Tower, branded the abandoned meeting a "fiasco".

Mr Atkinson, the Labour group leader on Kensington and Chelsea, told the BBC he was "ashamed" of the authority.

He accused leaders of "hiding from residents, they have been hiding from backbench councillors for over a week".


Key criticisms of the council

  • Residents condemned the response to the tragedy calling it "absolute chaos" as relief efforts on the ground were limited.
  • They said there was little or no co-ordination in the immediate days after the disaster with claims council officials were nowhere to be seen.
  • It was accused of failing to provide enough support or information to those who had been made homeless.
  • It tried to hold the first cabinet meeting since the disaster behind closed doors.
  • After a High Court order ruled it should be open to the public, the council adjourned the meeting after 20 minutes claiming an open meeting would "prejudice" the inquiry.

The London mayor demanded the resignation of the entire council leadership on Friday morning, adding the council's decision to scrap the meeting "beggars belief".

Mr Khan welcomed Mr Paget-Brown stepping down, saying: "Ever since the awful events of two weeks ago, it has been clear that the local community in and around north Kensington has lost trust in the council and that the administration is not fit for purpose.

"Last night's decision to abandon the council's cabinet meeting has merely compounded the misery for local people who are grieving, traumatised and desperate for answers."

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

Mr Khan later tweeted a letter he sent to the prime minister, asking her to appoint commissioners to take over the running of the council until next May's council elections.

The fire at the 24-storey block in North Kensington destroyed 151 homes, both in the tower and surrounding areas.

Documents obtained by the BBC suggest cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version, which was less fire resistant.

Mr Paget-Brown said many "questions about the cause of the fire and how it spread so quickly" would need to be answered by the public inquiry.

He added: "The scale of this tragedy was always going to mean that one borough alone would never have sufficient resources to respond to all the needs of the survivors and those made homeless on its own.

"We have been very lucky to have the support of other London boroughs, the emergency services and community associations based in north Kensington and I'm very grateful to them."

Mr Paget-Brown said the council had been criticised for not answering "all of the questions people had". He said that was "properly a matter for the public inquiry".

Image caption Deputy council leader Rock Feilding-Mellen has also resigned

But he said his decision to accept legal advice that he "should not compromise the public inquiry by having an open discussion in public" on Thursday night had "itself become a political story".

"It cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or still unaccounted for," he added.

Announcing his resignation, Mr Feilding-Mellen said it had been suggested several times since the blaze that he should step down but he had felt it was his "duty" to back the council's efforts to help the victims.

"It will be for others to judge whether it would have been better for me to resign immediately, but I would have found it hard to forgive myself if I had ducked out at such a moment of crisis for the borough," he said.

Cladding on at least 149 high-rise buildings across 45 local authority areas in England has failed fire safety tests.

Last weekend, Camden Borough Council evacuated five tower blocks which were found to have the same flammable cladding as that of Grenfell Tower.


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