POLITICS

Grenfell Tower Councillors Rebuked By No10 For Shutting Down Meeting After Judge Orders Journalists Can Attend

Kensington and Chelsea council wanted to meet behind closed doors.

29/06/2017 20:45 BST | Updated 30/06/2017 18:32 BST

UPDATE: Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown Resigns

Downing Street has rebuked Kensington and Chelsea council over an aborted meeting on Thursday about the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Councillors who presided over the disaster abandoned the meeting after a judge ordered journalists could attend.

The Tory-led council opted to hold the first cabinet meeting since the blaze behind closed doors - shutting out survivors and any scrutiny from the media - claiming it would threaten public safety. 

Journalists appealed for a court order to gain entry and a judge ordered the local authority to allow the media to report on the meeting, saying it was vital the council was open and transparent about its decisions.

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The meeting was almost immediately closed by embattled council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown
Kensington and Chelsea
A previous notice said the meeting was private. The decision was challenged in court

Councillors opened proceedings but then immediately adjourned, so no new information came to light.

But a spokesperson for Theresa May today slapped down the council for shutting down the meeting: "The High Court ruled that the meeting should be open and we would have expected the council to respect that.”

Those at the meeting reacted angrily with one man standing to accuse the council of “complete incompetence”. 

HuffPost UK revealed the authority’s bid to ban the public from the meeting, which prompted the legal challenge. 

Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown, who has been widely criticised for his response to the fire, said their discussion could “prejudice the public inquiry” if made public.

He said: “I’m advised that if there are others present that I cannot have an open discussion.

“I’m told that the press are here because of legal intervention, and that therefore means that we can’t have the discussion that we intended to have, because we will prejudice the public inquiry.”

Downing Street, which has ordered the judge-led public inquiry into the blaze, had expressed concern about the decision to hold the meeting in private. 

Council cabinet members had been due to hear an oral update about the investigation into the fire, which killed at least 80 people.

“I think it was utter chaos and I am ashamed by how the council is proceeding,” Opposition leader and councillor Robert Atkinson told the Today programme on Friday. “They’ve been hiding from residents.”

The Labour councillor added that Paget-Brown’s claims that the meeting might prejudice the judge-led inquiry was “insulting”. 

Jack Taylor via Getty Images
Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown (left, pictured with police commander Stuart Cundy) has been widely criticised for the response to Grenfell Tower

In the wake of the meeting, Paget-Brown sent out a statement, saying: “The council will need to think about how we continue to recognise the enormity of this tragedy. It cannot be business as usual.

“In the next few days, I will announce a sub-committee of the cabinet to oversee the specific challenges posed by the fire and to ensure that we have a co-ordinated and visible response that is respected by the survivors.” 

PA Wire/PA Images

The Metropolitan Police has said that there will be no final death toll announced this year. 

Most of those who died in the blaze on June 14 were said to be in 23 of the North Kensington building’s 129 flats.

The opening of inquests into seven of the victims heard a six-month-old baby was found dead in her mother’s arms.

Flammable cladding on the building is believed to have allowed the blaze to spread rapidly. 

A criminal investigation has also been opened and it will consider corporate manslaughter charges, if necessary, officers have confirmed.