UK leader visits London fire victims as public anger grows

  • 17/06/2017

Under mounting pressure after a botched election and facing criticism for not meeting victims of the London apartment blaze sooner, British Prime Minister Theresa May has visited the injured in hospital as the death toll rose to 30.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, London mayor Sadiq Khan, Prince William and 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth have all visited residents from the 24-storey Grenfell Tower.

It was destroyed by fire on Wednesday as many slept, and anger is growing in the community.

Ms May has been criticised from within her own Conservative Party over her response and she pledged on Thursday to hold a public inquiry into the fire at the social housing block which was home to about 600 people. The toll is expected to rise.

Ms May met victims privately at a central London hospital on Friday and had expressed her sorrow on television on Thursday after meeting emergency services personnel.

"She should have been there with the residents. You have to be prepared to receive people's emotions, and not be so frightened about people," former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo told the BBC.

Mr Khan wrote to Ms May on Friday, saying residents felt increasingly enraged and frustrated by the slow response from the authorities.

"The local community feels their grief has been made worse by the lack of information about their missing family members and friends," he wrote.

Residents in other blocks with the same exterior cladding as Grenfell Tower were "terrified that the same thing could happen to them," Mr Khan wrote.

Ms May's response has been contrasted with that of Mr Corbyn, who hugged locals at the estate during his visit on Thursday, and the royals who met residents and volunteers on Friday.

"That's one of the most terrible things I have ever seen," Prince William said of the tower's blackened shell.

There has been growing fury on the low-rent estate where residents wanted answers on why the fire was able to spread so rapidly and why complaints about safety had been ignored.

However, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took to Facebook to attack Labour politicians for "political game playing", defending his record regarding the fire service as mayor of London between 2008-2016.

"Any attack on emergency services performance is outrageous politicking by Labour," he said.

Grim search for bodies continues

More than 70 people are believed to be unaccounted for since the blaze, which police fear was so devastating that some victims may never be identified.

Six bodies have been recovered from the gutted 24-storey tower, while 11 have been located inside, but cannot yet be removed.

Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy responded to speculation that the number of dead could exceed 100, saying: "For those of us that have been down there, it's pretty emotional, so I hope it is not triple figures, but I can't be drawn on the numbers."

On Friday fire crews again used water to damp down the charred building as they began a third day of picking through the tower's charred remains.

Teams were forced to leave the building on Thursday afternoon when the fire restarted, delaying further the efforts to reach upper floors, where some victims are thought to have been trapped.

The streets around the high rise block in north Kensington are plastered with posters begging for information about those who were in the building.

A criminal investigation led by a senior detective from Scotland Yard's homicide and major crime command is under way with calls for "corporate manslaughter" arrests to be made.

Meanwhile, experts have said sprinklers could have been fitted in the tower but Nick Paget-Brown, the Tory leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said there was not a "collective view" among residents in favour of installing them.

Reuters