IT is 20 years this month since a legionella outbreak caused by a faulty council air conditioning unit claimed the lives of seven people and affected hundreds more.

Barrow Council is reassuring the people there will no repeat of the outbreak from its buildings.

At least 180 people contracted Legionnaires' disease in August 2002 after the vent sprayed deadly bacteria onto the alleyway next to The Forum theatre.

Barrow Council faced legal action over the deaths and was cleared of corporate manslaughter but fined £125,000 for breaching health and safety laws.

The council’s design services manager was also cleared of manslaughter following an eight-week trial but convicted of health and safety breaches.

A report by the Health and Safety Executive later found the council failed to act on concerns that had been raised before the outbreak.

The HSE report concludes there were poor lines of communication and responsibility on the part of the council, a failure to carry out a risk assessment and poor management of contractors paid to ensure the air conditioning system was clean and working.

Finally it says there were individual failings, but the design services manager's failures were 'more significant than others'.

“The number of fateful ‘coincidences’ involved was scarcely credible. Such basic failings should not have occurred and, sadly, these failures could have been easily prevented," the report said.

The alleyway was quickly cordoned off by police in the days since the outbreak and later confirmed as the area from where the epidemic originated.

The Mail:

Two decades on Barrow Council says no other similar units exist at any other of its buildings.

A spokesperson for Barrow Council said: "The legionella outbreak in Barrow 20 years ago was a tragedy and the council acknowledged failings that resulted in the deaths of seven people at this time with deep regret.

"The authority worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure the right processes are in place to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

"Strict procedures continue to be followed to ensure compliance with all current legislation linked to building maintenance.

"The air conditioning system at the source of the outbreak was decommissioned and no other systems of the same type exist in any buildings under council ownership."