Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council has set aside £3,520,000 for legal fees over the Grenfell Tower fire - over 10 times the amount it reportedly saved by installing the unsafe cladding on the building which allowed the fire to spread so quickly.
A chorus of heckling from residents met the decision which is on top of £1,787,133 already spent on outside counsel, to represent it before the public inquiry and police investigation into the fire that killed 71 people in the tower in June last year.
After half an hour of argument and heckling with residents in the public gallery, the council’s leadership team signed off the money to cries of “shame on you!”.
Council leader Elizabeth Campbell pleaded with the audience to “give us some peace” as the meeting tried to move on to the next agenda item, which was met with scorn and prompted one person to reply: “No justice! No peace!”
The councillors were force to deny the money was a “blank cheque” or that it was “nodded through” as they struggled to progress to the other five items on the agenda at the meeting.
During the argument over the money, Campbell said the council had to spend the money so that those investigating the tragedy could do their work.
She said: “We’re not judges. We can’t do that and we can’t do that tonight...
“I understand there is concern about the amount of money being spent but our priority is the inquiry and the police investigation have all the material to make that judgement.
“We are not here to defend anyone. We are here to provide the documents so that judges can make the judgement.”
The council broke down the money that had been spent up to February 19, which showed £501,236 had gone on an IT package to assist the council in providing a huge number of documents to the inquiry and police, on top of the £1,787,133 in legal fees.
The residents demanded to know why so much money was going on the system.
Tasnim Shawkat, the council’s director of law, said: “These systems are expensive. There are only one or two that provide this kind of support.
“The police use it. If it’s good enough for the police, it’s good enough for us.”
Campaigner Joe Delaney, who lived by the Grenfell Tower, won applause from the members of the public present for asking how expensive the council’s lawyers were.
He asked: “What hourly rate are you giving barristers? Is it more than those on legal aid are allowed to pay? Surely you should be going and finding a firm willing to use legal aid hourly rates?”
Mary Weale, the council’s lead member for communities, asked if there was “any chance of getting money back from Government”.
“The fact we’re spending a lot of money is a good argument for looking at the wider public purse,” she said.
She added the money was not for any individual’s legal representation but the council’s “active and swift support of the public inquiry”.
Campbell said the council would provide monthly updates on the spending to offer more information on how it was spent.
At one point, she was asked if councillors felt “sorry” about what happened.
“I feel so sorry. We’re all human. Of course, we do,” she answered. “We can’t give you justice tonight.”