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Poor design ‘contributed to six deaths’ in Camberwell flats fire

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Block of flats where six people, including three children, were killed is described as a ‘maze’ and a ‘death trap’

Local MP Harriet Harman said the flats had no fire escape beyond ‘one central stairwell’ and London Mayor Boris Johnson said any investigation must focus on: ‘to what extent there were design failures in the block of flats.’

According to the Guardian, residents had repeatedly called for Lakanal House – a  50-year-old 12-storey block of flats on the Sceaux Gardens estate in Camberwell - to be made safe or demolished.

Ed Hammond, 37, an accountant who lives on the seventh floor, said he believed the flats were ‘death traps’. ‘If the fire was in the central area, you would virtually have nowhere to go.’

Carol Cooper, 38, who has lived in the tower block for 11 years, said: ‘There is no proper fire escape, just a stairwell down the centre of the building next to the lift. It means it is easy to get trapped on one side of a fire. I have told anyone who will listen to me, including the council, to close the place down.’

Cooper said the firefighters took too long to evacuate the building: ‘Everyone was here. But it took too long for them to get in there and do something. It just seemed like it took too long. I think that’s because it’s just like a maze in there.’

Nick Stanton, leader of Southwark council, said the tower block met fire safety requirements ‘laid down at the time of its construction’, and had recently had a £3.5m refurbishment.

Ian Wingfield, a local Labour councillor and the party’s spokesperson for public housing in the borough, said he believed it was the UK’s ‘worst tower block disaster in history’. He is now calling for a full public investigation into such housing across the country.

However, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme RIBA president Sunand Prasad said: ‘Having had a cursory look at the design I don’t see why this should have happened at all. There are three possible escape routes from each flat.’

‘These flats are no more or less vulnerable in principle than any other.’

Labour MP Harriet Harman, whose constituency includes the tower block, said: ‘There will have to be a thorough investigation in to what caused this fire and whether the prevention was adequate’.

‘There are many blocks with one central stairwell and questions will have to be asked about what happens when a fire breaks out.’

London mayor Boris Johnson said: ‘It does seem suspicious that the fire spread so quickly, and clearly that will be one of the prime subjects for the investigation.

‘The issue really for us is, is there anything we should be doing now as we go forward with our design guides for new properties? Is there anything we should be doing to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of such tragic blazes? Safety has to be paramount and we will certainly be looking at this to see if there are any lessons that can be drawn to make modern buildings even safer.’

‘What we will also be trying to get to the bottom of is to what extent there were design failures in the block of flats.’

Five of the victims have been named. They are Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle; Dayana Francisquini, 26, and Filipe Francisquini, 3, and Catherine Hickman, 31.

The Metropolitan police said all of the dead were on the 11th floor of the block. The fire broke out at around 4.10pm on Friday afternoon and is believed to have started on the ninth floor and then spread rapidly to the 11th floor. The police said they were treating the cause of the fire as suspicious.

The London Fire Brigade said the blaze was brought under control by about 100 firefighters.

Assistant Commissioner Nick Collins, of the London Fire Brigade, said it was ‘one of the most significant fires in some time in terms of lives lost’. He said the block’s construction was ‘common’ in the capital but the blaze’s rapid spread unusual.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Poor design 'contributed to six deaths' did it ?

    Well - this is pure speculation and heresay: not 'news' as such.

    Would it not be better to with-hold opining and await a more considered opinion based on proper evidence?

    We have quite enough hating on architects and architecture without this kind of speculative article putting fuel on the fire and then fanning it so to speak. Bad choice of words I know...

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