Council criticised over `asbestos' flats

Westminster under fire: Report says Tory body housed families in danger blocks to thwart `left-wing' buy-out

CHRIS BLACKHURST

Westminster Correspondent

Police have been handed a damning independent report which criticises the former Conservative leaders of Westminster city council in London for housing homeless families in two tower blocks riddled with potentially lethal asbestos.

Jonathan Rosenberg, spokesman for the housing association building new homes on the site of the since demolished blocks, and itself a target for the Tories' politically motivated policy, last night said it had handed the report to police.

Central to a police inquiry would be the roles of Dame Shirley Porter, the former leader of Westminster, and Barry Legg, the Tory MP for Milton Keynes South West and once her right-hand man. Along with seven colleagues, they are the focus of the "homes-for-votes" inquiry into the Tory flagship council by John Magill, the District Auditor. His report is due shortly.

Following the publication of yesterday's report by John Barratt, the former chief executive of Cambridgeshire county council who was asked by the present leaders of Westminster council to examine the asbestos allegations, Labour immediately called for Mr Legg to resign as an MP. Frank Dobson, the party's environment spokesman, called for a public inquiry. "People who put lives at risk for party political advantage should be driven out of public life," he said.

David Rendel, the Liberal Democrats' local government spokesman, said: "The Conservative Party has sunk to the most appalling depths. All those responsible should be banned from holding public office."

The Barratt report made clear that the decision to move the 100 families into the two blocks, Hermes and Chantry Points, in Paddington, west London, was taken at the highest level in the council.

They were motivated, said Mr Barratt, by the desire to defeat a local community group, whom they regarded as left-wing, from taking over the tower blocks. They were "influenced by considerations of party advantage" and built a "hypocritical smokescreen" around their actions.

The council said expert medical advice suggests the health risk is slight. But Westminster now faces compensation claims from those exposed to the asbestos. Former tenants are being contacted by the council and a helpline has been installed.

Lady Porter issued a statement saying the report showed homeless people were not deliberately put at risk. "At all times the council was concerned to house homeless families safely and cost effectively."

The Barratt report said the two blocks, built by the Greater London Council in 1968, were known by Westminster officials and councillors to be riddled with asbestos when they moved 10 homeless families into them in 1989. Brown asbestos was sprayed on to steel beams then housed in asbestos chipboard panels; internal walls were made from asbestos- faced chipboard; asbestos cement was used to cover heaters; floor tiles contained asbestos; and service ducts were also enclosed in asbestos panels.

The council considered removing the asbestos but that cost money. That plan was put on hold and, Mr Barratt said, a management system should have been set up to warn residents, to avoid housing families, to seal leaks and remove the asbestos in hall ceilings. It was not.

Under health and safety legislation there was a legal duty to minimise the risk to workmen which, Mr Barratt writes, the council "failed to observe".

The flats were not closed down, nor did they have their asbestos ripped out - instead they became a political football for Dame Shirley and her senior colleagues, including Mr Legg.

The health of the occupants was not, Mr Barratt writes, "a clear objective". Instead, from December 1988 until July 1990, "the major informal policy . . . which dominated all decision-making about the Points was to defeat the bid by Wech [Walterton and Elgin Community Homes Limited], a local tenants' group which wanted to take the blocks off the council and remove the asbestos and which the council was convinced was left-wing".

The solution to defeating Wech was to move in homeless families. "I have to conclude that the real reason for the decision to accommodate homeless families in the Points was to assist the hoped-for defeat of the Wech bid; that the decision was . . . influenced by considerations of party advantage."

Mr Barratt accuses the council's former leaders of erecting a "hypocritical smoke screen" to obscure their involvement.

When the first families moved in in March 1989 there was nothing council officials could do. "Senior officers became trapped into defending the indefensible," Mr Barratt writes.

In July 1990, environmental health officers intervened. Four years later the flats were finally demolished.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Middleware Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Java Developer/Designer

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

Domino Developer and Administrator

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?