'A total shambles'
SPOTLIGHT: Barrow Borough Council chief executive Tom Campbell is surrounded by reporters as he leaves court after the Legionnaires’ inquest LINDSEY DICKINGS REF: 0389524
A CORONER has blasted Barrow Borough Council over the “total shambles” which led to the Legionnaires’ outbreak.
Ian Smith also slammed the authority for not saying sorry to victims’ families.
The tragedy occurred when a faulty air-conditioning unit at the council-run Forum 28 spewed killer Legionella bacteria into the air in the summer of 2002. Seven people died.
This week Furness and South Cumbria coroner Mr Smith held an inquest into the deaths.
During the four-day hearing at Furness Magistrates’ Court, he quizzed various people, including council staff, contractors and medical experts.
Mr Smith said: “The overall picture I’ve got of Barrow Borough Council in the specific areas that we’re interested in; health and safety in general, this contract (for the maintenance of the air conditioning), that plant at Forum 28, the cooling system etc, is it was a total shambles.
“It wasn’t being managed. Nobody was really responsible. Things were not happening that should have been happening.”
Mr Smith said the purpose of a local authority was to improve people’s quality of life, but he suggested that the council’s failings had, to some extent, led to the deaths of people it should have been protecting.
Mr Smith said the putting in place of the contract was “extremely sloppy”. He said: “No formal contract was ever drawn up at all. I’ve got to say that was the responsibility of (design services manager) Gillian Beckingham. She was the one dealing with the contract arrangement and quite why she didn’t do it is unclear.”
Mr Smith talked about another council worker, Kevin Borthwick, who was “suddenly” told he was the health and safety person at Forum 28.
Mr Smith said: “In his evidence he made it quite clear what he thought of that — he did nothing.”
Mr Smith said council chief executive Tom Campbell had accepted “a number of failings” on behalf of the council.
Mr Smith said Mr Campbell had accepted his job included responsibility for health and safety but explained how he had a lack of knowledge on Legionella/Legionnaires’.
Mr Smith said Mr Campbell had recalled seeing vapour in the alleyway but “didn’t appreciate it was a risk”.
Victims’ families had called on Mr Smith to consider a verdict of unlawful killing.
But Mr Smith said nobody had been found guilty of manslaughter and he could not bring in any verdict inconsistent with a previous criminal trial.
Mr Smith said Harriet Low, Wendy Millburn, Georgina Somerville, Christine Merewood and Richard Macaulay died as a direct consequence of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease.
He said Elizabeth Dixon died of natural causes, the treatment of which was compromised in part by Legionnaires’ Disease, and that June Miles died of natural causes contributed to by Legionnaires’ Disease.
In closing, Mr Smith told relatives: “I suspect if someone, anyone, had ever come to you and said ‘sorry’, you’d have been able to bear this a great deal easier than you’ve had to bear it.
“But as I understand it, nobody has ever come to you and said: ‘we’re sorry’.”
Mr Campbell said: “The council’s already expressed its regret. We haven’t contacted the families individually personally.
“It’s true the council hasn’t been in touch because of the litigation.”
lSEE OUR VIEW — P8
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