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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor