Grenfell Tower fire: Government staff sent into Kensington and Chelsea council


Mourners pay tribute at Notting Hill Methodist ChurchImage copyright
Getty/AFP

Government staff have been drafted in to manage the response to the Grenfell Tower fire after criticism of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council.

A team of civil servants has been embedded in the council office after residents complained they had been left with little support or information from officials.

At least 58 people are dead or presumed dead, and many others are homeless.

The council says it will cooperate “in full” with the government’s inquiry.

The BBC understands the death toll could rise to about 70 people in total.

The recovery operation in the tower has resumed, but could take weeks.

Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown says questions about how the fatal fire spread so quickly through the tower block “will be answered”.

Meanwhile, the Home Office has said it is making arrangements for the family of one of those who died in the fire to travel from Syria to Britain for his funeral.

Mohammed Alhajali, who was 23 and a civil engineering student, was the first victim to be named.

Image copyright
Syria Solidarity Campaign

Image caption

Mohammed Alhajali became separated from his brother as they tried to escape

Following criticisms of Kensington and Chelsea Council’s handling of the disaster, Mr Paget-Brown said “lessons must be learned”, adding that he was “heartbroken by the tragic fire and the appalling loss of life”.

He said: “Kensington and Chelsea council is working closely with the government, charities, volunteer and resident groups and the emergency services to help re-house and assist all those affected.

“Of course, people rightly have questions about the causes of the fire and why it spread so quickly and these will be answered.”

On Saturday Theresa May admitted support for families in the “initial hours” was “not good enough”.

The statement came after Mrs May met volunteers and some of the people made homeless by the fire.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Victims of the Grenfell Tower block fire and volunteers met the prime minister in Downing Street

Residents caught up in the fire have previously condemned the relief effort as “absolute chaos”.

As they left Number 10, one representative spoke to reporters briefly, saying they had spoken to the prime minister for two and a half hours about their demands and what they expected.

In her statement, Mrs May 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.”

She said phone lines would be better staffed and more staff would be deployed in the area.

They would wear high-visibility clothing so they could easily be found, dispense advice and ensure the right support is provided, she added.

Mrs May also said she expected to announce the name of the judge for a public inquiry within the next few days.

The inquiry will report back to the prime minister.

She has told councils to complete urgent safety checks on similar tower blocks.

Image caption

Protesters marched on Whitehall on Saturday afternoon

Mrs May has come in for a barrage of criticism over her response to the disaster, including being jeered when she visited the North Kensington estate on Friday.

On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of protesters gathered in Whitehall, to call for her resignation.

But First Secretary of State Damian Green defended the prime minister, saying she was as “distraught as we all are”.

The government has committed £5m for clothes, food and emergency supplies for the victims.

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Media captionLaura Trant walks around the closed and silent Kensington and Chelsea town hall

The Queen used her official birthday message to reflect on the “sombre national mood” following tragedies in London and Manchester in recent weeks.

She said, in an unprecedented statement, that she had been “profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need”.

So far in the investigation:

Six victims have been provisionally identified by police

Three have been named so far, including Syrian refugee Mohammed Alhajali, 23., five-year-old Isaac Shawo, and artist Khadija Saye
Of those killed, one died in hospital
Nineteen people remain in hospital, 10 in critical care
A criminal investigation has been launched
UK councils are carrying out urgent reviews of their tower blocks, the Local Government Association says
A British Red Cross appeal is launched to raise money for those affected
The emergency number for people concerned about friends and family is 0800 0961 233

The fire broke out at the 24-storey block, which contained 120 one and two-bedroom flats, shortly before 01:00 BST on Wednesday.

It tore through all floors of the building and took more than 200 firefighters 24 hours to bring under control.

Two neighbouring Tube lines are to be partly suspended into a second day amid safety concerns of debris falling on to the tracks.

The Hammersmith and City Line has been suspended between Edgware Road and Hammersmith, and the Circle Line is also closed, Transport for London said.

TfL said the lines were expected to be suspended until 14:00 on Sunday.

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