Legal action could be taken against shopkeepers if they do not take the deadly legionella bug seriously, council bosses in Barrow have warned.

It follows 'critical and serious' issues being found during council-ordered risk assessments at shops it leases out in Barrow, Walney and Dalton.

A meeting was told that shopkeepers have been changing water systems on the premises without the ‘consent or knowledge’ of the council. The council's housing management forum was told that changes to things such as sinks made it ‘difficult’ to keep on top of those premises which were 'non-compliant' with strict legionella guidance.

Legionnaires' Disease can flourish in water systems while an outbreak at the council-run Forum 28 in 2002 was responsible for the deaths of seven people. None of the latest checks identified the 'highest' risk of legionella.

The council owns 19 shops and councillors have been told that one shop has still not been assessed due to problems ‘gaining access’.

Janice Sharp, assistant director for housing, said: “If we don’t get access within the foreseeable future we will have to take action.

"If we can't get access to do a safety check on a property we can go to court to get a warrant to do it."

Shop-owners have been written to and given a Legionella factsheet. They have also been given advice such as running underused taps or showers to prevent any build-up of the killer bug.

The council has pledged checks and ‘re-inspections’ to ensure standards are being met.

Council leader Ann Thomson has arranged for all of Barrow’s 36 councillors to get a copy of the Legionella factsheet.

Cllr Martin McLeavy said the matter was ‘serious’ because of the town’s history.

Cllr Bill McEwan said: "The outbreak caused families a lot of deaths and grief. We have to reassure the public we are on top of this and there is no risk to the public."

Barrow mayor Cllr Kevin Hamilton said: "There's nothing more valuable than people's healths."