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Shirley Towers residents demand answers into fatal fire
Tanya Stevens, Rhiannon Judd and vice-chairman of the residents’ association Tanya Hayes outside flat 72 on the ninth floor of Shirley Towers, where the fire started
IT was a fire that left them traumatised and homeless for weeks.
But almost one year on, residents of Shirley Towers say they have still not had answers over why the blaze got so out of hand that it claimed the lives of two firefighters.
They have also demanded council chiefs end their wall of silence and tell them whether the 15-storey building is safe.
Yesterday it emerged police are still probing the deaths of brave firefighters Alan Bannon, 38, and Jim Shears, 35, who were overcome by extreme heat while fighting the blaze on April 6 last year.
A week before the anniversary no reports have yet been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service or the coroner.
But people who consider themselves lucky to escape with their lives have told the Daily Echo they are struggling to move on.
They say landlords Southampton City Council have also failed to tell them how they are going to improve fire safety and whether the building is structurally sound.
However last night the council said it was satisfied the block was safe and that it had kept residents fully informed.
Work to repair the damaged flats only began in January.
Tanya Stevens, who lives two doors from the now empty flat where the fire took hold, is not alone in asking why it has taken so long.
She said: “It is a constant reminder of what happened. A lot of people want to forget but you can’t.”
The 37-year-old recalled watching in horror as one of the firefighters lay dying in her corridor amid belching smoke.
“I can clearly remember it.
Every one of us is still affected.
Sometimes I can’t sleep at night and I still see that man on the floor.
I saw him die. I can see him there. It is in my head all the time.”
Along with everyone else there she managed to flee unharmed. But she says she has been traumatised along with her sixyear- old son, Jack. The mum-of-three also echoed concerns of her neighbours when she talked about feeling “unsafe”.
Lack of information is blamed for mounting fears over the block’s safety as well as questions over a lack of improvements to fire safety.
“If there had been smoke alarms in the hall maybe we would have heard it sooner and maybe the fire officers would not have died – I think it should not have happened,” Miss Stevens added.
Neighbour Stephen Slack, 47, said: “The lack of information has been unbelievable.”
Tanya Hayes, 44, who lives on the same floor and is also vicechairman of the residents’ association, said all the changes had been “cosmetic”.
Halls have been painted and smoke damage repaired but no steps have been taken to bolster fire safety such as introducing a communal fire alarm system, hall fire extinguishers and hoses as well as an extra fire escape on the side of the building.
Mrs Hayes said: “The council is not interested.
They were in the first week or two after the fire. As soon as attention died down they didn’t want to know.
“If someone had popped by now and again that would be good.”
Bad feeling also remains after thieves targeted seven homes, left insecure after residents were evacuated and told to stay away for more than three weeks.
Cash, jewellery, computer games consoles and electrical goods were stolen but no one was ever charged. They hold the council responsible as their landlords for not keeping their homes secure.
The council last night did not comment on the thefts, but insisted all residents had been reminded of evacuation procedures.
A council spokesman said: “Despite the tragic events at Shirley Towers a year ago we remain satisfied that the building is safe. We have written to all our residents living in tower blocks reminding them of what to do in an emergency – and are working closely with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service to ensure that Shirley Towers and all our tower blocks remain safe for all our residents.”
He added: “We wish to reassure our residents again that the building is safe and we will be speaking to any residents who have concerns to ease any fears they may have.”
Lessons have been learned
HAMPSHIRE’S Chief Fire Officer says lessons have been learned from the Shirley Towers tragedy, which has led to some changes in the way firefighters across the country approach blazes in high-rise buildings.
John Bonney said investigations into the fire that claimed the lives of Alan Bannon and Jim Shears are still ongoing, almost a year later.
The fire service, police and Health and Safety Executive are all preparing files for the coroner. It is not yet known when those will be completed, but Mr Bonney said it is not unusual for investigations to take more than 12 months.
He said the fire left a lasting impression on the service. “We look at all significant incidents and debrief and try to learn from them. That’s not to say mistakes were made, but we do learn how to improve our service. The approach to high-rise buildings has changed, not just in Hampshire but across the whole country, and in part that is because of what happened at Shirley Towers.”
Mr Bonney said the other thing to come from the tragedy was a realisation of the support for the service from the community it serves.
He said: “The incident was a reminder to us we’re very human and that it was a very stark reminder of the danger that firefighters and other emergency service workers face.
“But we’ve attended over 20,000 incidents since then, so the work goes on.
“We think that doing that work and to the best of our professional ability is the best tribute we can pay our lost colleagues because that’s exactly what they did that night.”