Grenfell Tower latest: Theresa May fails to meet survivors as grim search for victims continues

Theresa May has been criticised for not meeting survivors amid fears the death toll from the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in west London will continue to rise today.

As investigators trawl through the wreckage in the search for other victims, the Prime Minister visited the site – but did not meet residents because of reported “security reasons”.

At least 17 people have died after the huge fire destroyed the 24-storey building in north Kensington, where flames could still be seen burning more than a day on from the disaster.

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, branded the tragedy “corporate manslaughter” amid growing concern that the disaster could have been averted.

Dany Cotton, Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, warned it will be a miracle if anyone is found alive inside the building.

The charred upper floors of Grenfell Tower on Thursday morning. (SWNS)
Rescuers are still searching for survivors inside Grenfell Tower. (SWNS)

“The fire is now out, there are small pockets of smouldering, you will see wisps of smoke coming out all day due to the heat of the building and the remaining contents,” she said.

Tragically we are not expecting to find anyone else alive. The severity of the fire will mean it would be an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive.”

More than £1 million has been raised to help those affected as fire tore through the building while volunteers and charities helped feed and shelter people who could not return to their homes overnight.

The Prime Minister has ordered a full public inquiry into the fire. Her demand for the “terrible tragedy” to be “properly investigated” echoed calls from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

However, the announcement was overshadowed by claims that she refused to meet the media and residents – while Mr Corbyn did meet survivors.

Judith Blakeman, a Labour councillor who raised concerns about the substandard building work inside Grenfell Tower described it as a “sign of cowardice”.

Mr Corbyn said the “truth has got to come out and it will” after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Asked why she didn’t meet residents, Mrs May dodged the question, saying:

“I visited the scene of this terrible fire this morning. I wanted a briefing from the emergency services. They’ve been working tirelessly in horrific conditions and I’ve been overwhelmed by their professionalism and bravery. I heard stories of firefighters running into the building.”

You can watch the full response below:

The Labour leader visited St Clements Church, where volunteers have set up a refuge centre after the tragedy, and volunteers and community leaders showed him the donations that have been pouring in.

“It’s great that you’re in place,” he told them.

Jeremy Corbyn comforts a local resident at St Clement’s Church (PA)

Community representative Ishmael Blagrove told him: “This country needs you – somebody has to be held accountable and responsible.

“We don’t want the Government to kick this into the long grass.”

A wall of condolence was put up near the scene with photographs showing dozens of messages left for loved ones.

Grenfell Tower late on Wednesday, as investigations continue. (Rex)
The charred floors of Grenfell Tower on Thursday morning, as the search for victims continues. (PA)
Firefighters at the scene of the blaze on Wednesday. (Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA)

Prime Minister Theresa May has promised a “proper investigation” after the building went up in flames early on Wednesday morning amid growing concerns about how the fire could have spread so rapidly.

Residents’ groups have claimed they voiced concerns about the safety of the building, which had been recently refurbished, while those who escaped complained their fire alarms had not been set off by the blaze.

One focus for the investigation will be the building’s cladding, which TV architect George Clarke said may have accelerated the blaze.

Mr Clarke, who lives locally and appears on Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces, told BBC’s Newsnight: ” I saw those cladding panels, the cladding on the outside and the insulation was just peeling off, like you’d peel a banana.

The building was used for homes and a boxing club (PA)

“It was fully on fire. I could see the flames behind – there’s a new cladding system put on the outsides that looks like a new skin, there’s an air gap an insulation behind that, to me that looks like a fantastic chimney for the fire to rage around.”

Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, was recently refurbished at a cost of £8.6 million, with work completed in May last year.

Kensington and Chelsea Council admitted it had received complaints over the works, after a residents’ action group said its warnings about safety had fallen on “deaf ears”.

A blog post from Grenfell Action Group in November said “only a catastrophic event” would expose the concerns residents had.

The group said there was one entry and exit to the tower during improvement works and it had issues with evacuation procedures.

Concerns had also been raised about exposed gas pipes weeks before the devastating blaze.

David Lammy has labelled the Grenfell Tower fire “corporate manslaughter” as he called for arrests to be made.

The Labour MP described the fire as an “outrage”, stating: “This is the richest borough in our country treating its citizens in this way.

“We should call it what it is, it’s corporate manslaughter, that’s what it is and there should be arrests made, frankly.”

Mr Lammy, who was speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, also said he had heard nothing from family friend Khadija Saye, 24, since the fire.

“As the seconds pass we grow more sad and bleak every second,” he said.

 

Mr Lammy said he had known Ms Saye, who worked for his wife, for a “number of years”.

He said she was a “beautiful young woman with an amazing career ahead of her, wonderful artist, her work is on show in Venice at the moment, and we’ve heard nothing”.

Rydon, the firm that carried out the refurbishment work, said the project “met all required building regulations”, in its latest statement following the fire.

But a line stating that the project had met all “fire regulation and health and safety standards”, which was included in an earlier release, had disappeared.

Two of the desperate pleas for information on missing residents following the Grenfell Tower blaze. (PA)

When questioned about residents’ worries about fire safety at the block, the council’s deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen told the BBC: “My understanding is that their concerns were looked at and officers and the TMO (tenant management organisation) made inquiries and felt we had done what was necessary.”

Meanwhile, work is continuing to tackle “pockets of fire” in the block, with several residents reporting one man had said it started in his faulty fridge.

Many people are still unaccounted for with firefighters saying the operation was now in the “recovery phase”.

Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said: “This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12.”

The blaze at its worst in the early hours of Wednesday. (Rex)

Witnesses described hearing screams for help from people trapped on the upper floors of the block as flames engulfed the building, which contains 120 flats thought to be home to between 400 and 600 people.

Children and a baby were seen being thrown out of the windows to be caught by emergency workers and members of the public below.

London Fire Brigade said it had rescued 65 people as flames engulfed the block, and had managed to reach all 24 floors, though a full search of the building has not been completed.

NHS England said 74 patients were treated in six hospitals across London. Thirty-four remain in hospital including 18 who are in critical care.

On Wednesday evening, dozens of people gathered for a vigil in the shadow of the tower as the sun began to set.

Many were moved to tears after pausing for moment of silent contemplation outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church in west London.

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