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Man dies following fire in tiny London flat housing nearly 20, despite residents' complaints of overcrowding

Residents on Shadwell's Tarling West estate had complained about overcrowding before a fatal fire which killed one man

It took 30 firefighters over two hours to get the blaze under control. Image: Mohammad Rakib/Twitter

A man has died after a tiny east London flat which was home to nearly 20 people caught fire on Sunday, despite residents warning the council about overcrowding at Maddocks House in Shadwell.

Firefighters called to the three-room flat  in the early hours of Sunday discovered at least 16 people had been living there. A man, named as 41-year-old Bangladeshi Mizanur Rahman, was rescued from a bedroom and taken to hospital but died on Thursday evening.

One local told The Big Issue a series of complaints had been made since at least last May, and that residents of the flat included students as well as workers in hospitality and warehouses.

Tower Hamlets council said it had acted on complaints using the powers available to it.

One resident told The Big Issue: “It just seems inevitable that there was going to be a fire one day.”

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Neighbours on the Tarling West estate are raising money for the 17 people made homeless by the incident, who are currently being put up in temporary accommodation by the council. Money raised for the occupants who had “lost everything” will be used for “clothing, phones, replacement bikes, and resettlement”, the fundraising page said.

The cause of the fire, which took nearly 30 firefighters over two hours to get under control, is being investigated but is not considered to be suspicious.

Half of the flat, on the top floor of Maddocks House, was damaged in the blaze.

Local authorities’ role in fire safety and supporting tenants has been a sensitive and widely-reported issue since more than 70 people died in a fire at Grenfell Tower, west London, in 2017.

Tarling West Tenants and Residents’ Association said in a statement on Friday morning: “We offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased, and we will continue to fight for safer, more secure housing for all residents. 

“It is unacceptable that people continue to lose their lives due to the negligence of those responsible for providing safe and adequate housing. We demand justice for Mizanur Rahman and all those who have suffered as a result of a broken system that prioritises profits over people.”

The association has organised a vigil for Rahman, scheduled to take place from 3-5pm on Sunday 12 March, in Aldgate’s Altab Ali park.

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A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “We are all profoundly saddened to hear the news that a man died as a result of injuries received in the fire at Maddocks House. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time. They have our deepest condolences.

“We are working with the police and London Fire Brigade on investigations into the cause of the fire and into the living conditions of the flat. We are supporting those who have been affected with a weekly allowance and signposting to advice and have provided emergency hotel accommodation, which we have now extended for a further week. We have also started work to make the immediate area safe for residents.” 

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman said on Tuesday that the council would be taking back control of more than 20,000 homes in the borough under the control of Tower Hamlets Homes, to have “direct control of housing conditions in our borough, including oversight of overcrowding and damp and mould”.

Concerns have been raised over exploitation and overcrowding in the borough before and after the fire. Tower Hamlets is London’s poorest borough, and Ali Brown, a spokesperson for London Renters Union, said it was the “inevitable outcome of our rigged housing system”, with migrants and working class people “forced into overcrowded accommodation”.

It comes just weeks after social tenants and leaseholders in the borough discovered their monthly service charge, heating, and rent fees are to rise by a third from the start of April.

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