Housing minister Alok Sharma refuses to say how many Grenfell Tower victims are still missing in car-crash interview

·Data and Politics News Editor, Yahoo News UK

New Conservative Housing Minister Alok Sharma today refused to confirm how many Grenfell Tower victims are still missing in an excruciating interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

In a tense exchange, Mr Sharma was forced to respond to accusations of a cover-up over the true death toll after the tragedy in West London.

Asked how many people were still missing he swerved the question, saying: ’79 is the number of people who are confirmed dead or missing and presumed dead.

‘Where people know that there were individuals in that block please come forward and tell us.

‘We want to build as clear a picture as possible as to all those who have been affected.’

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Pressed on the fact that 600 people may have been in the building but far fewer have been relocated or reported missing, he said: ‘That’s exactly why we need to build up that picture and I appeal to people who are listening to this who know people who were in that building to come forward and tell us.

‘This is not about a cover-up.’

He also dodged questions over how many of the families who had lost their homes have been relocated so far far.

Refusing to give a definitive number, Mr Sharma said: ‘We are in the process of talking to the families who were affected by Grenfell tower and Grenfell walk and what were also doing is makings sure that each of those families has an assessment for their housing needs.

‘There are a couple of hundred households who have been affected.’

His performance was criticised on Twitter, with many accusing him of refusing to give clear answers.

The newly appointed minister also appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, where he refused to be drawn on whether the cladding used on the Grenfell Tower was illegal, despite being asked at least five times.

He said: ‘From what we’ve seen it would suggest that the material used was combustible.’

The building regulations, he said, were ‘very clear’ that that type of cladding was ‘non-compliant’ on buildings over 18 metres tall.

Asked if a builder putting up a tower block today would be allowed to use this type of cladding, Mr Sharma replied: ‘The building regulations are very clear. Any building above 18 metres, this would be non-compliant.

Presenter Susanna Reid asked: ‘When you say non-compliant, do you mean it’s banned?’

He said: ‘It means that you are not allowed to do it.’

Pressed again on whether this meant it was illegal, he said: ‘Well, you are not allowed to do it, it is non-compliant.

‘The regulations are very clear on this point, and clearly the public inquiry has been set up to investigate precisely what happened and we will get to the bottom of this.’

Cladding is currently being tested on 600 tower blocks across the country. So far 60 high-rise buildings have failed the safety tests and none of them have passed.