'Fiasco' fury as council scraps Grenfell Tower meeting


The 11th-hour decision to shelve Kensington and Chelsea Council's first cabinet meeting since the Grenfell Tower disaster has been branded an "absolute fiasco".

Under-fire leader Nicholas Paget-Brown apologised for the authority's response to the tragedy in which at least 80 people died before Thursday evening's meeting was abruptly brought to a close.

Meanwhile, Anh Nhu Nguyen, 52, is due before magistrates on Friday charged with five counts of fraud over allegations he falsely claimed to have lost family members in the fire.

Journalists and the public were initially barred from the meeting - with reporters allowed access following a High Court order - but Mr Paget-Brown scrapped the proceedings, claiming the presence of the media would "prejudice" a forthcoming public inquiry.

Labour councillor Robert Atkinson, whose ward includes Grenfell Tower, laid into the authority's leader, yelling: "An absolute fiasco, this is why I am calling for your resignation."

"Our reputation is absolutely in the gutter," another councillor in the room said.

As part of his update before the meeting was stopped, Mr Paget-Brown said: "I realise the council has come in for much criticism for its response. I will acknowledge this and apologise for what we could have done better."

Speaking at the State Of London Debate, mayor Sadiq Khan said the council's decision to scrap the meeting "beggars belief".

He said: "You have a situation where that community have a deep level of mistrust of the local council, of national government, and if I'm being frank, people in positions of power and influence.

"For the council, at the first opportunity they had to provide some answers and to be transparent, to ban local residents and to ban journalists beggars belief.

"One of the great things about our country ... is we believe in open democracy. One of the things the leadership of that council needs to do is reflect on their conduct ... in the days afterwards.

"Frankly speaking, it's madness."

Meanwhile, the Times has claimed to have seen emails which it says suggest cladding at the doomed 24-storey building was downgraded to save money.

The paper said paperwork showed the consultants for the refurbishment of the tower block were placed under pressure to keep costs low.

A retired Court of Appeal judge has warned survivors of the disaster that a forthcoming inquiry might not be broad enough to satisfy all survivors.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick suggested the focus of his investigation would likely be limited to the cause of the fire, why it spread and how it could be prevented in future.

Misgivings soon followed, with several residents, including one woman who lost her 12-year-old cousin in the fire, accusing it of being too "narrow".

Sir Martin travelled to the site of the disaster in north Kensington on Thursday morning, later meeting those who escaped the inferno.

Afterwards, he said: "I've been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development in order to make recommendations about how this sort of thing can be prevented in future.

"I'm well aware the residents and the local people want a much broader investigation and I can fully understand why they would want that, whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I'm more doubtful.

"I will give that some thought and in due course give a recommendation, but there may be other ways in which the desire for that investigation could be satisfied."

Scepticism about the inquiry had already been flagged by several residents who met Sir Martin on Thursday morning.

His background as a specialist in commercial law was cited as a reason why some saw him as too "technical".

Joe Delaney, 37, said Sir Martin "seems a genuine guy" but added: "He seems to want to keep the scope very narrow, to do with why the fire spread so quickly, while we are more looking at why was it started in the first place, why were residents ignored?

Amanda Fernandez, who lost her 12-year-old cousin in the fire, said she had a "complete lack of confidence" in the inquiry and criticised Mrs May for failing to consult with residents before appointing Sir Martin.

In a statement, Ms Fernandez said: "(Theresa May) has already appointed a judge who has told us the inquiry will be very narrow.

"She promised to consult us on this, but has completely gone back on that promise. We are deeply disappointed.

"We now have a complete lack of confidence in the inquiry's ability to address the history of negligence that led to the fire, nor the authorities failures in the aftermath of the fire.

"For the truth to emerge and justice to be done we must be involved in shaping this inquiry."