Chaos as Kensington and Chelsea Council scraps Grenfell Tower meeting amid furious protests

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

It came as furious members of the public gathered at the door of Kensington Town Hall demanding entry after they had earlier been barred.

Kensington and Chelsea council had opted to exclude the media and the public, citing allowing the public to enter would “likely result in disorder”.

The press was able to gain access after a judge ordered the council to lift a ban on the media attending the meeting, after numerous media organisations launched a legal challenge.

I have got into @rbkc cabinet meeting with other press members. Two furious members of the public left outside.

— Nick Wallis (@nickwallis) June 29, 2017

But as the meeting began, the 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.


Labour councillor Robert Atkinson speaks to the media outside Kensington Town Hall (PA)

Mr 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.”

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

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


A woman holds a sign outside the meeting of senior councillors (PA)

Mr 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.”

He added: “We can’t have an open discussion.”

“You can’t even organise a cabinet meeting,” Mr 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.


Journalists wait to gain access to the Kensington and Chelsea council meeting (Getty Images)

“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.”

Meeting dissolved. Shouting and tears.

— Nick Wallis (@nickwallis) June 29, 2017

As cabinet members filed out of the room, Mr 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.


Local councillor, Beinazir Lasharie speaks with journalist (Getty Images)

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

Meanwhile, one furious resident was filmed confronting council officials outside the town hall after she was told she would not allowed in unless she was a member of the press.

Furious campaigners held back by security as they try and enter #GrenfellTower council meeting. Journalists now allowed. Police drafted in.

— Connor Gillies (@ConnorGillies) June 29, 2017

She shouted: “It opens in public session, then it closes if they want to keep everyone out, but it has to open in public session.”

Numerous campaigners have travelled to Kensington town hall to protest being excluded from the meeting.

The council has been fiercely criticised in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, during which at least 80 people are believed to have been killed.

Protesters stormed Kensington Town Hall two days after the disaster amid growing criticism the council had been slow to offer support and aid to victims.

Council chief executive Nicholas Holgate resigned following the public backlash.

Controversial retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been appointed to lead a public enquiry into the blaze.

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