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Council leader who tried to ban press from Grenfell meeting quits

rbkcThe council leader who tried to ban the press from a meeting to discuss the Grenfell Tower tragedy has quit his role.

Nicholas Paget-Brown, Tory leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, announced his resignation after his attempts to hold a meeting of the council’s cabinet in secret met with widespread condemnation.

As previously reported by HTFP, Thursday night’s meeting was adjourned after media organisations won a legal challenge which saw a judge order the council to lift a ban on reporters attending.

Mr Paget-Brown then halted the meeting as the journalists entered the room, claiming their presence would ‘prejudice’ a forthcoming public inquiry.

The Society of Editors described the move as “truly shocking” while a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said she would have expected the council to abide by the court judgement.

Mr Paget-Brown stepped down along with his deputy, Rock Feilding-Mellen, saying he needed to take responsibility for the “perceived failings” in the council’s handling of the disaster.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said earlier: “Our view is that access to democracy should always be easy and we think that is vital if people want to retain confidence in our democratic system.

“I can’t speak for the council, but there are rules that state that all meetings must be open to the public except in certain circumstances. In this specific case, the High Court ruled that the meeting should be open, and we would have expected the council to respect that.”

A spokesman for the SoE said: “The decision by the council to attempt to hold the meeting behind closed doors in the first place was met with astonishment and rightly resulted in numerous media organisations launching a legal challenge to grant them access.

“The fact that upon being ordered by a judge to allow reporters to attend, the council leader then took the decision to halt the meeting is truly shocking.

“Not only do journalists have a legal right, as recognised by the judge, to attend public meetings of local authorities, there is a huge public interest in the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the media has a vital role to play in keeping the public informed.

“The conduct of Kensington and Chelsea council in refusing to open themselves up to public scrutiny is an affront to democracy and shows utter contempt for the public’s right to know.

“It is essential that lessons are learnt from Grenfell Tower and, in order to achieve that, all individuals linked to the tragedy must be willing to engage in open and frank discussion and allow legitimate reporting of any dialogue.

“Any further attempts to prevent scrutiny by the media will be met with similar legal challenges.”

In a statement issued following the meeting, the council said: The Cabinet meeting was arranged as a Private Meeting because of the potential public disorder and the assaults on staff after the protests at the Town Hall in the previous weeks.

“However, members of the press sought and acquired an injunction which was served on the Council shortly before the Cabinet meeting started. Members of the press therefore joined the meeting after it had started.

“The Cabinet received legal advice that in order not to prejudice the public inquiry the meeting could not proceed as it would not be possible to restrict the discussions without straying into areas that would fall within the remit of the public Inquiry.

The Leader of the Council therefore closed the meeting. We will explore opportunities for open discussions that do not prejudice the public inquiry.”