Dorset Council didn’t evacuate over Legionella despite responsibility for H&S

Dorset Council didn’t evacuate over Legionella despite responsibility for H&S

An FOI request has revealed that at no point did Dorset Council officials require that residents be removed from the Bibby Stockholm, even though they knew there was Legionella on board for over 4 days after Legionella was identified. And yet, Dorset Council is the organisation which is responsible for health & safety on the Bibby Stockholm.

On 13 August I asked Dorset Council the following question:

“Did Dorset Council insist that the men should be evacuated from the barge as soon as Dorset Council became aware of the presence of Legionella?

They replied on 6 September, but it can’t have taken long to type the reply:


Dorset Council didn’t even tell the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) about test results until the evening of Wednesday 9 August – and it was actually the UKHSA which recommended evacuation to the Home Office (but even that wasn’t until the night of Thursday 10 August). In the event, residents weren’t removed until the night of Friday 11 August.

That’s shameful.

No one wants this poisoned chalice –

Establishing who has regulatory authority over the Bibby Stockholm barge is like trying to unpick a bucket full of spaghetti upended onto your desk. From planning to fire safety to health concerns, to whether it’s even a vessel (or a ‘permanently moored structure’), it’s a mess. Of course, it shouldn’t your job or mine to unpick all of that. But do we really trust anyone in an official capacity to do a good job?

As a result of our enquiries with some of the many government agencies involved, we know both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have said that health & safety on board the barge is nothing to do with them, honest, guv. They say that health & safety on the Bibby Stockholm is the responsibility of Dorset Council.

Dorset Council are unlikely to be thrilled about this. They didn’t want the Bibby Stockholm in the first place, and it’s caused them no end of headaches. They’ve even been told they could be named co-defendants in the legal case over planning.

but the buck stops with Dorset Council

It seems that, despite the fact that all sorts of agencies and organisations were involved at the time the Legionella problem came to light – operators CTM and Landry & Kling, the Home Office and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) as well as Dorset Council – the buck actually stops with Dorset Council. It seems they were responsible for not only for the testing and removal of the Legionella, but also the welfare of the asylum-seekers and staff on board.

They were late doing the test

We are told the tests were done on 25 July, exactly a week after the Bibby Stockholm arrived at Portland Port on the morning of 18 July. Why did they wait? Nevertheless, the test was done – and came back positive for Legionella on the very day the asylum-seekers arrived on board. Wouldn’t you think Dorset Council would insist the Home Office wait for the test results before embarking anyone? On a barge which is nearly 50 years old and has been sitting empty in other countries for four years?

Dorset Council left the men on board for over 4 days

The most disappointing thing of all, and what has been so shocking, is that the men were left on board for a full four and a half days after Legionella was confirmed. Since Dorset Council is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of those on board, shouldn’t they have insisted that the men be removed? And yet they did not.

If someone had died from Legionella, either because arrivals weren’t delayed until the test results came back, or because people weren’t evacuated as soon as the results were known, surely Dorset Council would be responsible?

Legionella IS a big deal

I’ve had several people tell me Legionella isn’t such a big deal – including a councillor at Dorset Council. It gets found ‘all the time’, apparently, and just needs to be treated until it goes away. Tell that to the 166 people infected with Legionella in Poland this month, and the families of the 19 who have so far died in that outbreak. You’re particularly at risk if you have an underlying health condition – which is extremely likely among asylum-seekers, for a wide range of reasons.

And let’s not forget how frightened the asylum-seekers were. We know from the letter they wrote, after they were evacuated:

“On the morning of August 11th, news spread about the presence of an epidemic on the ship. Some of us displayed symptoms of Legionella disease, but no one responded to us, Home Office did not contact us, and everyone was in shock and fear.”

The letter written by the 39 asylum-seekers

We know there’s a lot wrong with that vessel. First, there was the Legionella. Then the FBU said it isn’t fire-safe and has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Home Office, in advance of applying for a judicial review. Wessex Water says the water system isn’t compliant and needs major work. And one of the 39 men on board was driven to attempt suicide during those four and a half days.

Dorset Council didn’t want the barge within its boundaries. If they want to get rid of it, perhaps greater rigour on health & safety – and standing up to the Home Office as a result – is what’s needed.