POLITICS

Grenfell Tower Fire: Minister Alok Sharma On Verge Of Tears As He Describes 'Unimaginable Pain' Of Families

Meeting survivors was 'most humbling and moving experience of my life', said Alok Sharma.

05/07/2017 15:22 BST | Updated 05/07/2017 15:27 BST

A Government minister was choked up with tears as he described the “humbling and moving experience” of meeting Grenfell Tower families in the House of Commons. 

Alok Sharma, Theresa May’s Housing Minister, was overcome with emotion as he updated MPs on the blaze, which has claimed the lives of at least 80 people.

But as he ended his statement, his voice faltered and he struggled to complete his sentences.

He said: “Mr Speaker, on my visit to the Westway, hearing the harrowing accounts of survivors has been the most humbling and moving experience of my life.

“The families that I have met have been through unimaginable pain. This is a tragedy that should never have happened and we are determined to do all that we can to ensure something like this never happens again.” 

Today marks the three-week deadline to temporarily rehouse every former Grenfell Tower resident set by the prime minister.

Sharma said 158 families from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk had been allocated a temporary home and stressed “no-one will be forced to move to a house they do not want to move to”.

PA Wire/PA Images
What remains of Grenfell Tower after the blaze that killed at least 80 people

A total of 139 have received offers of permanent accommodation while 19 families “have not yet been ready to engage” in the process, he said.

As reports condemning the Government for failing to move swiftly on rehousing residents, Sharma added: “We need to respect that. Some are still in hospital as a result of their injuries.”

Addressing concerns about the quality of the accommodation, Sharma said Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has visited “an example of the kind of property on offer”.

He said he has met 30 residents and heard many reasons why they are reluctant to take up the offers with a “lack of trust” in officials being one.

Sharma said: “Some families were told they were moving in to Grenfell Tower on a temporary basis, and then years later they were still there.

“Their concerns are entirely understandable. That is trust we need to work hard to earn.”

On reports people are being asked to move far away from London or deemed homeless if they do not accept an offer, Sharma added: “If this is ever suggested to a victim then it is completely unacceptable.”

Peter Nicholls / Reuters
A total of 139 Grenfell families have received offers of permanent accommodation

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “I have to say to him, the Government’s been slow to act, it’s been off the pace at each stage following this terrible tragedy and it’s clear from the statement that in some ways it still is.”

Whole families who had lost everything, he added, were still in hotels and hostels, while “just three” of the 158 families from Grenfell Tower had moved into a fresh temporary home.  

Some, he said, had been offered accommodation with too few bedrooms, in another tower block or with bizarre conditions attached, including no overnight stay for family or friends.

PA Wire/PA Images
Shadow Housing Minister John Healey: 'the Government’s been slow to act'

It comes as Kensington and Chelsea council is to have key services taken over by a specialist “taskforce” following its heavily criticised response to the disaster

The west London council will hand over its housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance to outside experts, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid will confirm to Parliament on Wednesday.

The move, which has been agreed in conjunction with the borough’s leaders, will be phased in once the current emergency team gradually steps aside from the immediate aftermath of the blaze. 

Meanwhile, police investigating the disaster say they have recovered the “last of the visible human remains” from the high-rise, three weeks on from the devastating blaze.

Commander Stuart Cundy, who is overseeing the Metropolitan Police response to the fire, said “87 recoveries” had been made, but stressed “the catastrophic damage” inside meant “that is not 87 people”.

Some 21 bodies have been formally identified by the coroner and their families informed.

While 80 are presumed dead a final death toll figure will not be available this year, emergency services have confirmed.