Research Methods

This was a longitudinal journalistic enquiry which employed many conventional and non-conventional investigative techniques.

The research process by which these fundamental questions were addressed required forward planning, management of personal risk in dangerous locations, and the use of complex research methods including: analysis of primary source materials (documents), cultivation of contacts over time, a wide range of in-depth interviews, use of data sets and web data scraping techniques, freedom of information requests, crowdsourcing/public contributions and statistical quantitative analysis.

These inquiries drew on a detailed knowledge of the disciplines of history, law, public administration, government, politics and economics, as well as of the complex ethnic make-up of a global city such
as London.

Investigating the Lakanal Fire itself involved investigation of public records (land registry, fire authority minutes, Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) and several separate Freedom of Information based inquiries (establishing a dataset on Fire Risk Assessments, Tower Blocks, High Risk evaluations).

Each story identified new research questions and these were each pursued and published as the story evolved in the form of news stories. The research explored the extent to which the legal process was working correctly and to which public agencies were complying with the spirit of the law.

The research gave the facts of everyday life meaning by placing them in a legitimate policy context to explain complex realities of the regulatory framework for fire safety.

Statistical analysis of research from Freedom of Information requests focusing on how many fire risk assessments had been carried out on all London’s high rise blocks revealed for the first time that public authorities were ignoring fire risks and the laws that governed their public responsibilities.

The Freedom of Information returns established a legitimate methodology, with the facts they revealed supporting the presentation of stories on the Lakanal fire and ensuring that they accurately represented a verifiable and therefore justifiable narrative.

The ultimate sanction for getting the journalistic inquiry wrong was not peer review and critique, but legal challenge in the English courts.

“I am extremely grateful to be able to use the Lakanal Fire footage courtesy of Nigel Saunders and Paul Wood.

All the fire footage of the Lakanal House fire is their copyright.

All other material is BBC Copyright and available through public access online or through the 'box of broadcasts' portal.”

Professor Kurt Barling - 2017