Chalcots review: Report says fire brigade would have taken legal action if Camden did not evacuate
Exclusive: Report's author supports Camden Council's decision to evacuate
25 June, 2018 — By William McLennan
An independent review of the evacuation of the Chalcots estate has found that the London Fire Brigade would have forced people to leave their homes if Camden Council did not act voluntarily.
The report said that emergency operation had caused “some degree of trauma” to all residents and in some cases had exacerbated “pre-existing mental health problems”.
More than 3,000 people were forced to leave their homes at a moments’ notice on a Friday evening last summer.
Marian Harrington, who chaired the review, handed over her findings to Camden Council leader Georgia Gould and housing chief Meric Apak at the council’s headquarters in King’s Cross this afternoon (Monday), just over a year later.
It is the first half of a two-part review, looking only at the decision to evacuate and the council’s handling of the aftermath. A second phase, looking at the failings that triggered the evacuation, is yet to begin.
It revealed that a handwritten note written by an LFB officer, containing a 23-point list of safety failings, triggered the evacuation.
The report said: “It would have been extremely difficult for the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive to have ignored this expert advice and to have followed any path other than the evacuation of the Chalcots blocks.”
Ms Harrington said that the LFB was prepared to serve a Article 31 notice, forcing Camden Council to evacuate the blocks. But by acting first, she said, the council was able to manage the process and allow the most vulnerable in the blocks to be looked after.
A third of residents aged 65 or over refused to leave their flats. There was also several examples of people receiving “end of life care in their homes”.
“For all these people any move would have been dangerous, certainly a more imminent risk than the risk of a fire in the block,” the report said.
Asked if the council had made the correct decision – by opting to voluntarily evacuate the blocks on a Friday night, rather than waiting to see if the fire brigade enforced their threat – she said: “That’s hard for me to say. I can see why they did it.”
The report said: “I have not seen any evidence of an assessment, or even of any consideration, by any of the agencies of the risks to individuals of being evacuated.
“The LFB made a decision which fundamentally affected the lives of thousands of individuals and committed the council to expenditure running into millions of pounds. It would seem appropriate for the LFB to consider the risks to individuals in being evacuated, particularly vulnerable people and balance this against their fire risk.”
Asked the the New Journal if she felt the LFB should have done more to consider the impacts on vulnerable residents, she said: “I think it would be a very good idea and I think it would have made life much easier if there had been more of a dialogue.”
“I wonder whether in future there could be more of a dialogue. Their duty is absolutely clear and they fulfilled their duty, which was to notify the landlords of blocks that they were fire risks.”
The main focus of the meeting was on the decision made on June 23.
Ms Harrington said it should have been made “more clear” by Camden Council whether the evacuation was voluntary or not.
She said there was a “real lack of clarity for residents whether it was legally enforceable”. In total dozens of households did not leave on the first night, with some refusing to leave and other too ill to be moved.
She said that the LFB should “consider the risks to individuals in being evacuated, particularly vulnerable people and balance this against their fire risk”. This, however, is not currently a consideration, she said.
Addressing the treatment residents faced by security staff in the first few nights of the evacuation, she said the guards had not bee properly briefed that it was a voluntary evacuation and people had a right to access their homes.
Bob O’Toole, chair of Burnham TRA, said that the media had spread panic among residents. The news was first shared on a TV broadcast. He said: “It was the media that started panicking people, not Camden Council or anybody else.”
Ms Harrington said: “I think it’s very hard to say how, in the days of social media, I think it’s very hard to know how information gets around.”
On receiving the results of the review, which has not yet been read in full by the council, Cllr Gould said: “We are determined to learn from the evacuation of the Chalcots Estate, to ensure the best possible standard of resident safety, and so we’re well placed if an emergency response is needed in the future. We will consider the contents of this report and give our full response to it at the Council’s Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 25 July.
“Our number one priority was, and continues to be, the safety of our residents and I’m proud of how Camden staff and Camden residents reacted to the challenges faced since June last year.”