Grenfell Tower fire: Government to 'keep eye' on council

Grenfell protesters Image copyright EPA
Image caption Supporters of Grenfell survivors took part in anti-government protests in central London on Saturday

The government will keep "a close eye" on Kensington and Chelsea council after its leader quit over the Grenfell Tower fire, the communities secretary says.

Sajid Javid said it was "right" that Nicholas Paget-Brown stepped down and said the process to select a successor would be "independent of government".

London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for commissioners to take over the council.

Earlier, a victims' group said one resident had had rent deducted from their bank account since the fire.

At least 80 people are believed to have died as fire engulfed the Grenfell Tower block, in west London, on 14 June.

Mr Javid said: "It is right the council leader stepped down given the initial response to the Grenfell tragedy," adding: "If we need to take further action, we won't hesitate to do so."

Mr Paget-Brown resigned following sustained criticism of the council and an aborted meeting of its cabinet on Thursday, from which leaders had tried to ban members of the public and press.

The council is due to elect a leader next week.

Yvette Williams, co-ordinator of the Justice4Grenfell campaign, said one former Grenfell Tower resident had had rent deducted from their bank account since the tragedy.

The survivor, who is housed in a hotel, got her bank card back and only realised that the rent had been taken when she went to withdraw funds from a cash point, Ms Williams said.

"It's just disgusting," she added.

Kensington and Chelsea council said to the best of its knowledge rent charges for Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk had been stopped.

"We are very sorry if this has happened and we are working to find out who has been affected so we can offer reassurance and an immediate refund," a council statement said.

"But if anyone has had money inadvertently taken as part of a direct debit or standing order we will make arrangements to have it immediately refunded."

Catherine Faulks, Conservative councillor for Kensington and Chelsea council, told the BBC: "It obviously is a mistake and I'm sorry that that has happened."

She said they would try to put it right.

Supporters of the Grenfell survivors joined anti-government protests through central London on Saturday, calling for an end to austerity measures.

Key criticisms of the council

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
  • Residents condemned the response to the tragedy, calling it "absolute chaos" as relief efforts on the ground were limited.
  • They said there was little or no co-ordination in the immediate days after the disaster, with claims council officials were nowhere to be seen.
  • The council was accused of failing to provide enough support or information to those who had been made homeless.
  • It tried to hold the first cabinet meeting since the disaster behind closed doors.
  • After a High Court order ruled it should be open to the public, the council adjourned the meeting after 20 minutes, claiming an open meeting would "prejudice" the inquiry.

Council leaders claimed on Thursday that an open meeting would "prejudice" the forthcoming public inquiry into the disaster.

But angry protests followed and Labour councillor Robert Atkinson, whose ward includes Grenfell Tower, branded the abandoned meeting a "fiasco".

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Media captionNick Paget-Brown: "I have to accept my share of responsibility"

In his resignation statement, Mr Paget-Brown said he had received legal advice not to "compromise" the public inquiry into the fire by having the meeting open to the public and press.

But he added this decision "has itself become a political story".

"It cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or still unaccounted for," he said.

Reacting to Mr Paget-Brown's resignation, Mr Khan said it had been "clear that the local community in and around North Kensington has lost trust in the council and that the administration is not fit for purpose".

He had earlier called on the prime minister to appoint "untainted" commissioners with "a genuine empathy for local people and the situation they face" to take over the running of the council until the next local council elections.

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Media caption Council tries to ban press and public from meeting

Deputy council leader and cabinet member for housing, property and regeneration, Rock Feilding-Mellen, has also stood down.

The fire at the 24-storey block in North Kensington destroyed 151 homes, both in the tower and in surrounding areas.

Documents obtained by the BBC suggest cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version, which was less fire resistant.

The tower's cladding has been the focus of attention, amid suggestions it was why the flames spread so quickly.

The head of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation has also stepped aside so he can focus on "assisting with the investigation and inquiry".

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