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Mystery of fire death of man in demolition council block

Victim yet to be formally identified and no clear explanation as to how blaze began

20 February, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The scene at Aspen House

AN investigation has been launched into the mystery flat fire death of a man in a council housing block earmarked for demolition.

The second-floor flat in Aspen House, Maitland Park, was destroyed on Friday afternoon but as of last night (Wednesday) the man had not been formally identified and the cause of the blaze was unknown.

The last of 36 tenants in the seven-storey block was rehoused in September ahead of a delayed regeneration project to build 112 replacement homes on the Maitland Park Villas site.

Sources have suggested there are questions to be answered over whether there had been an “unauthorised let” at the block but Camden Council said it would not comment until the man was formally named.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had been called in following reports of a possible explosion on the site but it said “police are now leading the investigation”.

Aspen House has been protected from squatters around the clock by security firm First Response Facilities Management Ltd, which has so far declined to comment.

The housing project, part of the council’s Community Investment Programme (CIP), has dragged on for more than five years after planning permission was approved. Many tenants have been left in limbo and wondering when they will be able to return.

Kristian Lawton, a former Maitland Park tenant, said: “I was told I could move back when the new block is built – that was in April 2017. I haven’t heard anything since from the council and this is the first I have heard that the block is actually being demolished. We were promised that the new block would be finished within two years.”

Letters had gone out to residents in remaining blocks in the Maitland Park estate a fortnight earlier warning of the “partial regeneration” that was due to end in May.

Another former tenant, Carole Nash, said her children had recently enrolled in a primary school in east London and it would not be easy to come back to Camden when the homes were built. “We have been treated terribly throughout this,” she said.

Tony Brooksby, who lives in Maitland Park estate, said: “No one was really too worried when the fire started because we thought the block was empty. There was a terrible smell. It’s awful that someone has died. I just hope it was an accident.”

Jill Fraser, a former Liberal Democrat councillor, said she had been campaigned for residents against the regeneration of the estate back in 2011.

Demolition works were due to begin last week and end in May and surveys for potential hazards such as asbestos were believed to be underway, according to plans agreed in December.

Bouygues UK – the lead contractor for the regeneration – redirected requests for comment to Camden Council.

St Pancras Coroner’s Court said it had not opened an inquest the fire victim’s death

A Met Police spokesman said: “While there has been no formal identification, officers believe they know the identity of the deceased and have informed next of kin.  The cause of death is yet to be determined and is currently being treated as unexplained at this time. Enquiries continue, led by Central North CID.”

A Camden Council statement said: “The London Fire Brigade have confirmed that a person has been found dead at the property. We are deeply saddened by this news.  “The London Fire Brigade are investigating the cause of the fire, with which they have our full support. “We will be working with them to understand what has happened.”

The council said tenants had been offered the right to return to a newly built council home on the estate once completed.

The London Fire Brigade added: “The Brigade was called at 3.34pm and the incident was over by 5.11pm. Fire crews from Kentish Town, Euston and West Hampstead fire stations were at the scene.”

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