Inquiry into homes 'riddled with asbestos': Homeless 'moved into dangerous tower blocks'

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The Independent Online
WESTMINSTER City Council yesterday launched an inquiry into allegations that 60 homeless families were moved into two tower blocks 'riddled' with asbestos as part of the controlling Conservative group's drive to win the 1990 local elections.

The inquiry comes as documents handed to BBC Television's Newsroom South East show that the council was told in 1983 by the Greater London Council that sprayed asbestos on the steelwork of blocks on the Elgin Estate in Paddington was showing 'serious degradation'. The GLC reported 'serious concern' from its medical officer that free fibres were being released into flats in the block.

In 1987, the programme alleged, the Conservatives decided against moving families into the blocks because they were 'riddled with asbestos', but in May 1989 homeless families were moved into the Hermes and Chantry Point blocks. The blocks were in a safe Labour ward and the programme alleged the decision was part of the drive to remove potential Labour voters from marginal wards ahead of the 1990 local elections.

Jonathan Rosenberg, co-ordinator of Walterton and Elgin Community Homes, the housing association which has taken the blocks over and plans to replace them with low-rise housing, said that up until the families were moved in, the council 'had been smashing up toilets and other fittings to make sure that even squatters could not be exposed to the dangers. We wrote repeatedly to the council pointing out the danger, but they took no notice.' People with children, he said, had been used as 'political pawns'.

The families were moved out, he said, after the association contacted Tony Blair, then Labour's employment spokesman, who called in the Health and Safety Executive in 1991. Westminster then agreed it was essential to remove everyone from the blocks as soon as possible, Mr Rosenberg said.

Westminster council said it had appointed an external consultant to investigate the allegations and could not comment further.