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June 29, 2017updated 30 Jun 2017 10:31am

Kensington council declares Grenfell fire meeting closed as journalists arrive because reports could ‘prejudice inquiry’

By Dominic Ponsford

A meeting of senior councillors linked to the Grenfell Tower tragedy descended into chaos when it was scrapped as journalists entered the room.

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea leader Nicholas Paget-Brown claimed the presence of reporters would “prejudice” a forthcoming public inquiry.

He was furiously confronted by opposition councillor Robert Atkinson who stood up to demand the cabinet’s resignation.

Journalists had initially been barred from the meeting until an order from the High Court permitted them entry.

Paget-Brown had already begun a statement on the authority’s response to the crisis when reporters arrived.

After giving a short update, he announced to the room: “Given the public inquiry, we want to ensure our meetings do not descend into informal inquiries without all the facts to hand.

“As you will be aware this is a private meeting of the cabinet, to which other Kensington and Chelsea councillors have been invited.”

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Atkinson intervened: “Why are press here, then?”

Representatives of the press have a legal right to attend public meetings of local authorities.

Paget-Brown continued: “I have agreed the meeting be held in private, given the subject under discussion and the recent real threats of assault on council staff and damage to buildings.

“I am advised that, if there are others present, we cannot have an open discussion.”

Paget-Brown continued: “We can’t have an open discussion.”

“You can’t even organise a cabinet meeting,” Atkinson interjected, angrily.

The council leader said: “We can’t have an unprejudiced discussion in this room with the public inquiry that is about to take place, if journalists are recording and writing our comments.

“I’m told the press are here as a result of legal intervention, that therefore means we cannot have a discussion as we were intending to have as that would prejudice the public inquiry.

“That is the advice I have received and therefore I have to declare the meeting closed.”

As cabinet members filed out of the room, Atkinson – who represents the Notting Dale ward, in which Grenfell Tower is based – admonished them.

He said: “What you have done is used this as opportunity for you to make a statement and nobody else gets to say anything at all.

“You could have issued that statement, in fact you should have issued that statement, eight days ago.

“An absolute fiasco, this is why I am calling for your resignation.”

Residents from the Grenfell Tower neighbourhood had earlier gathered at the door of Kensington Town Hall, demanding entry.

Repeated calls for the resignation of Paget-Brown have been made in the wake of the fire, due to the council’s handling of the aftermath.

The councillor himself admitted during the meeting that the authority’s reputation had been “tarnished and diminished” in the eyes of the neighbourhood.

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