Council leader quits amid criticism of response » Manila Bulletin News

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By Associated Press

The head of the local authority responsible for a London tower block ravaged by fire this month resigned Friday, as pressure increased for more accountability in the disaster that killed at least 80 people.

A general view of the Kensington and Chelsea council offices in Kensington, West London, Friday, June 30, 2017.
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant / MANILA BULLETIN)

Nicholas Paget-Brown, who had previously resisted calls to quit as leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council in the two weeks since the blaze, stepped aside Friday after being rebuked for abandoning a meeting on the high-rise fire because journalists were present.

Theresa May’s Downing Street office criticized the Conservative-controlled borough council for aborting its first council Cabinet meeting since the June 14 Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Paget-Brown initially sought to bar journalists from the meeting, then scrapped the session after media organizations won an injunction allowing reporters to be present. Paget-Brown said that the presence of the media would “prejudice” a public inquiry into the disaster planned by the central government.

Opposition Labour Party Councilor Robert Atkinson, whose ward includes Grenfell Tower, challenged Paget-Brown loudly, yelling: “An absolute fiasco, this is why I am calling for your resignation.”

Citing a court ruling that journalists must be allowed to attend, May’s office pointed out that it was vital for people to retain confidence in democratic systems.

“The High Court ruled that the meeting should be open and we would have expected the council to respect that,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

On Friday afternoon, Paget-Brown said that “as council leader I have to accept my share of responsibility” for perceived failings in the response to the disaster.

“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,” he said.

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

Paget-Brown had previously acknowledged that things had gone wrong in dealing with the aftermath of the fire and apologized.

The council, which owns Grenfell Tower, also faced criticism Friday after reports that it chose a more flammable material over another in renovating the building to save money. Built in 1974, Grenfell Tower had recently been refurbished to add cladding to conserve energy and improve the look of the building

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