Westminster criticised over `asbestos' flats

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The Independent Online
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, a spokesman for the housing association which is building new homes on the site of the since demolished blocks and was itself a target for the Tories' politically-motivated policy, last night said it had handed the report to local police to see if the law had been broken.

Central to a police investigation would be the roles of Dame Shirley Porter, the former Westminster leader, and Barry Legg, the Tory MP for Milton Keynes and once her right-hand man on the council.

Along with seven former colleagues, they are the focus of the "homes- for-votes" inquiry being conducted into the Tory flagship council by John Magill, the District Auditor. Mr Magill's report, expected to recommend surcharging of those controlling the alleged gerrymandering policy, is due shortly.

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

Asked where responsibility lay, Mr Dobson, who called for a full public inquiry, replied: "The ultimate responsibility ... was a committee of chairmen which was chaired by Barry Legg MP, they were the people who took the fundamental decisions.".

David Rendel, the Liberal Democrats' local government spokesman, said: "Conservative councillors showed a scandalous disregard for the health of homeless families, simply because they are not Tory voters. 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. "Despite the availability of the clearest advice and instructions to the contrary, those acting on behalf of a public body repeatedly took risks, for a variety of reasons, with the health of people who ought to have been entitled to assume that such risks were not being taken."

Tenants' time bomb, page 4