Grenfell Tower fire: Theresa May criticises Tory Kensington and Chelsea Council for shutting down its meeting

'The High Court ruled that the meeting should be open, and we would have expected the council to respect that'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 30 June 2017 12:38 BST
Number 10 rebuke for Kensington and Chelsea council over fire meeting shutdown

Theresa May has strongly criticised Kensington and Chelsea Council for shutting down its meeting into the Grenfell Tower fire, after it was ordered to admit journalists.

“We would have expected them to have respected the court ruling about the meeting being open,” the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said.

The criticism follows angry scenes on Thursday, when the beleaguered Tory leader of the council, Nick Paget-Brown, closed the meeting after a brief statement.

He claimed it could not continue with journalists present, as this could prejudice the public inquiry into the tragedy in which at least 80 people died.

The spokeswoman declined to say whether Ms May still had confidence in Mr Paget-Brown after calls for his resignation.

The comments heap further pressure on the council leader, after it was revealed that the cladding used to refit Grenfell Tower was changed to a cheaper version, to save £293,000.

Whereas zinc panels would have been non-combustible, the aluminium cladding eventually used had a flammable polyethylene core.

Housing officials demanded “good costs” to satisfy a council boss, according to emails leaked to The Times, with little evidence of safety concerns being raised.

Opening the meeting at Kensington Town Hall, Mr Paget-Brown apologised for the authority's response to the disaster, as members of the public gathered outside.

But, after just 20 minutes, he shut it down, after reporters entered the room following a judge’s ruling that they should not be excluded.

The claim that reports of the meeting could prejudice the inquiry provoked astonishment, given that it will led by a retired appeal court judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, rather than a jury.

The No 10 spokeswoman said: “Our view is that access to democracy should always be easy and we think that is vital if people want to retain confidence in our democratic system.

“I can't speak for the council, but there are rules that state that all meetings must be open to the public except in certain circumstances.

“In this specific case, the High Court ruled that the meeting should be open, and we would have expected the council to respect that.”

Asked whether the Prime Minister retained confidence in Mr Paget-Brown’s leadership, the spokeswoman said: “We are working very closely with Kensington and Chelsea throughout the ongoing recovery process.”

She also revealed that that number of tower blocks that have failed safety tests has risen to 149, in 45 different local authority areas – which remains a 100 per cent failure rate

The fire safety expert panel – chaired by former London fire commissioner Ken Knight – met for the first time yesterday, the spokeswoman added.

It will “advise on any immediate measures that can be put in place to make buildings safe”.

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