Call for safety investigation of all tower blocks after fatal fire

Author: By Kevin Rawlinson

One resident said: “That must have been the third fire in that building in the past three or four years.”

Southwark Council confirmed there had been a fire in the 12-storey Lakanal House in Camberwell 10 years ago. Ian Wingfield, a local Labour councillor and spokesman for public housing in the borough, demanded an investigation. He said: “We’re living in the 21st century and people are still living in housing like this. Unless we get that investigated, people’s lives are under threat. We need to ensure justice is given for these needless deaths and nothing like this happens again.”

Carol Cooper, 38, who lives on the seventh floor, said that the tenants had called for the block to be demolished three years ago, but had been told it was a listed building, one of the earliest blocks of council flats in south-east London, and could not be knocked down. The council has denied this claim.

Police are treating the fire, which started on the ninth floor, as suspicious. Chief Superintendent Wayne Chance said: “Part of the investigation is to determine how the fire started and how it travelled to other parts of the building. On the basis, that we don’t know how the fire started; it is being treated at this very early stage as suspicious.”

Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle Udoaka were killed, as well as 31-year-old Catherine Hickman. Rafael Cervi, a kitchen porter, was said to be devastated after two of the victims were confirmed as his wife, Dayana Francisquini, 26, and their three-year-old son Filipe Francisquini. The final victim, who has not yet been named, is believed to be their four-year-old daughter, Thais Francisquini.

Residents condemned the building as a death trap, because the only exit was blocked by smoke and flames. One said: “I have always said that these buildings should have come down. Now look what’s happened.”

Assistant Commissioner Nick Collins, of the London Fire Brigade, said his officers were working with the local authority to see if lessons could be learnt.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “The issue really for us [is], is there anything we should be doing now as we go forward with our design guides for new properties?”

Southwark Council said about 175 residents of the tower block had visited its help centre and 75 had been taken to local rest centres. The remainder are reported to be staying with family or friends. A book of condolence has been opened at the town hall and the borough’s flag flew at half-mast yesterday.

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