A council has spent more than £3 million in legal fees preparing for an inquest into the deaths of six people killed in a tower block fire.
Three adults and three children died in the blaze at Lakanal House in Camberwell after a defective television switch started a fire. The six were all on the 11th floor of the 14-storey block.
Sheltering in the bathroom of No 81 were Dayana Francisquini, 26, her son Felipe, three, and daughter Thais, six. Helen Udoaka, 34, and her daughter Michelle, three weeks old, had taken shelter with the family and both women made frantic phone calls to their husbands before they died.
The body of fashion designer Catherine Hickman, 31, was found at No 79 after the fire in July 2009. Firemen saved 40 residents.
Southwark council was told this year that it would not face corporate manslaughter charges, although it has emerged that it knew the block was a fire risk and that it had failed to carry out a fire risk assessment.
Police and the Health and Safety Executive have also held investigations and the HSE could prosecute the council for alleged health and safety breaches after the inquest. Under a Freedom of Information Act request by local newspaper Southwark News, the council said it had spent £3.34 million on legal costs, including barristers’ and administration fees, mostly with legal firm BCL Burton Copeland.
An inquest is due to open on January 14 and is expected to last for 56 days.
John McGrath, chairman of the Sceaux Gardens tenants’ and residents’ association, said: “It’s shocking, why have they spent so much when they can’t be had up for manslaughter?
“We keep being told that we cannot have any input and we feel shut out of the process but they are spending all this money. There are questions we want to ask but we’re being stalled, that’s what bugging us.”
A council spokesman said: “The council has incurred these legal costs in respect of external lawyers, BCL Burton Copeland, which has been assisting the council in its approach to fire risk assessment and fire safety arrangements and in responding fully to HM Coroner’s inquiry.”