Embattled council leader resigns after Grenfell Tower blaze

The leader of the council at the centre of the Grenfell Tower fire has resigned following criticism of his handling of the disaster, in a move broadly welcomed by residents and politicians.

Nicholas Paget-Brown said he had to accept responsibility for "perceived failings" by Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council after the tragedy which claimed at least 80 lives.

The council had come under increased pressure after a disaster meeting was halted abruptly on Thursday evening when reporters gained entry, and reports of cost-cutting during the refurbishment of the tower. 

Meanwhile, the organisation which manages Grenfell Tower in west London announced its chief executive would "step aside" to concentrate on the public inquiry, which Jeremy Corbyn has said should be broadened. 

Mr Paget-Brown acknowledged the council had been criticised for "failing to answer all the questions that people have" but that the scale of the tragedy "was always going to mean that one borough alone would never have sufficient resources to respond to all the needs of the survivors and those made homeless, on its own".

He said: "As council leader I have to accept my share of responsibility for these perceived failings.

"In particular, my decision to accept legal advice that I should not compromise the public inquiry by having an open discussion in public yesterday, has itself become a political story.

"And it cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or still unaccounted for.

"I have therefore decided to step down as leader of the council as soon as a successor is in place.

"They will appoint a new deputy leader and cabinet."

Downing Street said the council should have "respected" a High Court ruling that the press and public should be allowed into the meeting, the first cabinet gathering since the disaster.

Mr Paget-Brown, whose deputy leader, councillor Rock Feilding-Mellen, also resigned, added that his successor must ensure the strengths of the borough "are seen to play their part in bringing the community together" and helping residents move forward.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who welcomed the resignation, has written to Prime Minister Theresa May urging her 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.

He said: "The council now needs to find a way to move forward and find a way to restore the confidence in that community.

"That can only be done with new leadership and a new approach that reaches out to residents who quite rightly feel desperately neglected."

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said that it was a personal matter but "given local people had lost confidence in the leader, it is right that he has stepped aside". 

Radical Housing Network, of which Grenfell Action Group is a member, also welcomed the resignation, saying it was "inexcusable that he has spent this long clinging to power". 

But, it added: "His appalling resignation statement shows a dogged inability to understand the concerns of the community he is meant to represent."

It comes as Jeremy Corbyn said he has written to Prime Minister Theresa May urging her to increase the scope of the public inquiry. 

He has asked for a two-part inquiry, the first looking at specific issues around the fire in Kensington, west London and reporting back soon, with an additional second part "looking at the national issues".

Chairwoman of the Lancaster West Residents Association, Olesea Matcovschi, is also calling for it to be widened, citing concerns after members met inquiry head Sir Martin Moore-Bick and were "presented with a very narrow terms of reference".

In a separate development, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) announced it had agreed chief executive Robert Black would "step aside" to "concentrate on assisting with the investigation and inquiry".

An interim chief executive will be appointed, it added.

Built in 1974, Grenfell Tower in west London was recently refurbished at a cost of £8.6 million, with work completed in May last year.

The council is also under pressure following reports that cladding used during the multimillion-pound refurbishment of the high-rise was switched to a cheaper version.

Meanwhile, Anh Nhu Nguyen, 52, was remanded in custody for allegedly conning charities and the council out of almost £10,000 by posing as a victim of the disaster.

His next hearing is at Southwark Crown Court in July.



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