Facing fierce criticism over its response to London high-rise inferno, the British government has sent its staff to assist local council authorities in rehabilitation of victims of the deadly blaze that claimed at least 58 lives and rendered hundreds homeless. The move follows widespread criticism of the local Kensington and Chelsea Council’s performance as residents of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, which was engulfed in fire early on Wednesday, condemned the relief efforts and lack of information. A team of civil servants has been embedded into the Kensington and Chelsea Council office to bolster relief work.
Other measures outlined by Prime Minister Theresa May following a meeting with residents at Downing Street on Saturday, included more staff covering phone lines and ground staff wearing high-visibility clothing so they could be easily found. She said: “Frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough.” “I have heard the concerns and I have ordered immediate action across the board to help victims’ relatives and the survivors,” she said.
May herself had come in for a barrage of criticism for failing to visit residents and her response to the disaster.
On Friday, she was heckled on a visit to the North Kensington estate, and protesters marching on Friday and Saturday called for her resignation. Her First Secretary of State, Damian Green, defended the prime minister, saying she was as “distraught as we all are”.
Scotland Yard has said the rescue operation by emergency services on the site will take weeks and the death toll is also expected to rise further, though not all victims may be identified due to the nature of the burns. Metropolitan Police Stuard Cundy said: “Sadly, our work will be ongoing for many, many weeks. We know that there are still bodies of those who died inside the building and we want to return those people to their families as soon as we possibly can. “The work to search the building is challenging, but naturally could never be done quickly enough for those currently having to live with the uncertainty of knowing where their loved ones are.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan has said that tower blocks in the city built during the 1960s and 1970s could be torn down following the Grenfell Tower fire. “Nowadays, we would not dream of building towers to the standards of the 1970s, but their inhabitants still have to live with that legacy. It may well be the defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s are systematically torn down,” he said. The cause of the massive blaze is still under investigation, but anger has mounted in the community amid reports that the rain-screen cladding on the exterior of Grenfell Tower may have spread the flames.
UK Chancellor Philip Hammond today indicated that flammable material suspected to have been used was most likely banned in the UK. “My understanding is that the cladding in question, this flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and the US, is also banned here. That’s my understanding,” he said. “Second question is were they correctly complied with? And obviously that will be a subject that the (public) inquiry will look at. It will also be a subject that the separate criminal investigation will be looking at,” he said.
On the lack of sprinklers in Grenfell Tower, and other buildings, he said: “My understanding is that the best expert advice is that retrofitting sprinklers may not always be the best technical way of ensuring fire safety in a building.”