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‘Whitewash’ claim as council clears its own homes chief over Chalcots tape

Internal investigation finds exchange 'unfortunate' and 'easily misinterpreted'

10 January, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Camden’s housing chief Labour councillor Meric Apak

AN investigation into a recording between Camden’s housing chief and the director of the Chalcots Estate project where they appeared to make light of problems at the estate has been branded a “whitewash” after it found no wrongdoing.

Labour councillor Meric Apak referred himself to Camden’s borough solicitor Andrew Maughan last month after an exchange between himself and Astrid Kjellberg-Obst.

In it, he said a New Journal article about the latest delays at the estate showed people “running out of ideas”, meanwhile Ms Kjellberg-Obst labelled the issue “same old, same old” and “boring”.

Mr Maughan found it “unfortunate…[the exchange] could and was so easily misinterpreted”. The conversation was broadcast to participants in a meeting about procurement at Chalcots.

It appeared to some who listened to the recording that Cllr Apak had also laughed about news of a fire at the Burnham block of the estate – which he strenuously denied, claiming he had not heard that part of the conversation.

Mr Maughan’s findings agreed that Cllr Apak expressed unhappiness with the article, but said this was “a sign of a healthy and challenging dynamic”.

He said that the recording was made covertly and it was “unfortunate” the complainant chose to go public with the recording before the council had a chance to investigate it.

Mr Maughan added that it was “unfortunate” that the discussion took place in a public form and “could and was so easily misinterpreted”.

In his conclusion, there is no mention of Ms Kjellberg-Obst’s role in the conversation. She has not commented personally or through the council’s press office since the New Journal first offered to print a response from her.

Conservative group leader Councillor Oliver Cooper said the inquiry had been an “internal whitewash”, adding: “The only thing that’s ‘same old’ about the Chalcots are Camden’s delays, disrespect, and dismissal of residents’ views. [Cllr Apak’s] refusal to apologise at all is an insult to residents and an embarrassment to Camden, and he must consider his position.”

He added: “The cabinet member was caught red-handed, and it beggars belief that the council is pretending that he wasn’t. This needs to be investigated by an external party, not an internal whitewash, as do Camden’s longstanding failures at Chalcots.”

The estate was evacuated in 2017 amid a fire safety crisis in the wake of the Grenfell tower tragedy. Some residents ended up sleeping on a leisure centre floor.

Cllr Apak said he was “extremely pleased” by Mr Maughan’s findings, adding: “The facts are I did not nor would I ever laugh about such an incident, even one which thankfully proved to be minor. Rather I have and continue to dedicate myself to ensuring the safety of our residents and will continue to put all my energy into this over the coming years.”

He added: “I do regret that the conversation was and has been misinterpreted and if that has caused any distress to any of our residents.”

But Hasan Shah, who is former head of Burnham Tenants and Residents Association, said there should be a change of faces at the top of the department, warning: “There is a distrust with Camden from many residents.”



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