UK

Grenfell Families Told Of ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenes As Authorities Confront Claims Of Cover-Up

Several survivors walked out of the meeting.

05/07/2017 10:23 BST | Updated 05/07/2017 13:54 BST

Several survivors of the Grenfell Tower blaze reportedly walked out of a meeting with police and the coroner after being told of the “apocalyptic” scenes faced by emergency workers. 

The families affected by the blaze that claimed at least 80 lives met with Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy and Westminster coroner Fiona Wilcox last night, as a three-week Government deadline to house displaced residents passed today. 

The majority of survivors remain in hotels with just nine households hoping to be moved out of emergency accommodation accepting offers for more permanent living arrangements, Grenfell Response Team (GRT) said. Some 139 offers had been made following 158 housing needs assessments.

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Families affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy walked out of a meeting with police and the coroner last night after becoming emotional 

The meeting also came as police confirmed on Wednesday that they had now made “87 recoveries” but stressed that due to the “catastrophic damage” inside the tower “that is not 87 people”.

Cundy said that on Monday police recovered the “last of the visible human remains” from the tower.

“In total we have made 87 recoveries, but I must stress that the catastrophic damage inside Grenfell Tower means that is not 87 people.

“Until formal identification has been completed to the Coroner’s satisfaction I cannot say how many people have now been recovered.”

Lotifa Begum from Muslim Aid - a charity helping or organise funerals for some of the victims - said that survivors and relatives were distressed to learn the recovery process could take until the end of the year. 

She said many were “very upset and angry”. 

Relatives expressed concern about the overall death toll and the time it was taking to identify the dead and were told in graphic detail why the process was so challenging. Questions were submitted before the meeting and residents have expressed anger at not being told to question Cundy or Wilcox directly.

The Coroner told the families that “apocalyptic” scenes had greeted emergency workers at the tower.

Families who attended the meeting were told not to speak to media afterwards, so exact details about what they were told are scarce. 

More than 50 relatives and members of survivors’ families attended the meeting at Olympia London in West Kensington, just over a mile from Grenfell Tower. The meeting was closed to media.

Leon Neal via Getty Images
The family of victim Jessica Urbano wore t-shirts celebrating what would have been her 13th birthday

The family of Jessica Urbano, who lived on the 20th floor of the building, arrived at the meeting wearing t-shirts saying ‘Happy Birthday Jessie’ along with a picture of the little girl. Her family said it was her 13th birthday.

Chris Imafidon, whose close friend Mohamed Amied Neda had lived on the 23rd floor of the tower, told he felt “insulted” that victims’ families were not allowed to ask questions. 

“Why would you not take questions if you don’t have anything to hide?” Imafidon asked.

Relatives and survivors were told those seriously injured would receive payments of £10,000, by GRT. Next of kin of those who died in the blaze would get an initial £20,000. Those made homeless would be eligible for a “fresh start” grant of £10,000 once they are rehoused. 

Meanwhile, GRT said every household that wanted to move from emergency accommodation had been made offers in Kensington and Chelsea or neighbouring boroughs, while 19 families were contacted and had either refused assistance or were abroad.

This was for a range of reasons, including some who were looking after relatives in hospital, and the response team was “ready to provide them with accommodation when they were ready”.

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Chris Imafidon said he felt 'insulted' that victims’ families were not allowed to ask questions

Campaigners and residents claim little headway has been made, with some survivors reportedly being offered new accommodation with rent up to triple the amount they paid before.

Many are said to have been offered properties that are either out of the borough, too expensive or on a one-year contract.

One resident reported being shown a two-bed property when they required a three-bed, others had been offered places in high-rises, and another survivor was said to have been offered permanent accommodation with the caveat that no guests could stay overnight.

GRT has said rent will be suspended for one year and thereafter will be of a “similar scale to a council house social rent”, while survivors should feel under no pressure to take up the first offers.

Pilgrim Tucker, a campaigner working with Grenfell Tower families, said: “Their concern is they are not being talked to properly, just being presented with an offer.

“People are being texted saying ‘here is your offer, it is rent free for a year and then it is £400 a week’ - that is triple what they are paying before.”

She said the example of tripled rent had come from one specific survivor from the tower. It is not clear how many others had been offered similar deals.

Jamal Williams, a resident from a block nearby which has also been evacuated, said he had spoken to survivors being offered homes in different boroughs.

“I spoke to one woman who has been offered a place in Harlesden.

“The concern really is that residents are not happy about the tenancy agreements - it is not clear enough.

“There have been some that are being offered ones where they will be put for a year.

“The concern is what it will be afterwards. I think people are looking for a lifetime tenancy arrangement.”

A spokesman for the North Kensington Law Centre called on the Government to ensure messages were being communicated clearly on the ground to prevent survivors experiencing “additional stress”.

He said: “Three weeks on from the Grenfell Fire disaster, many of our clients are still staying in short-term, temporary accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs.

“The Government have made promises about putting the survivors in temporary and permanent housing, which is welcome.

“However, there are unanswered questions about whether those residents will have to pay more rent than they did previously, and whether their new tenancies, both temporary and permanent, will guarantee them the same rights and protections they had before.”

Most of the 160 households evacuated from the “finger blocks” surrounding the tower - Testerton Walk, Hurstway Walk and Barandon Walk - are still in emergency accommodation, a Kensington and Chelsea council spokesman said.

A number of households had gone back to their homes, he said, while some families were returning in the day to cook meals and spending the nights in hotels.

Repair work on a broken boiler affecting the properties was due to be completed by Wednesday, he added.

It comes as the Lord Chancellor stepped in to defend the chairman of the public inquiry into the disaster, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, amid political pressure for him to quit.

David Lidington said he had “complete confidence” in the retired judge, after shadow fire minister Chris Williamson and Labour MP Emma Dent Coad called for him to step down amid concerns from survivors.

It was also revealed that cladding from 190 high-rise buildings in 51 local authority areas have failed combustibility tests conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Every sample sent in has been found to be combustible, continuing the 100% failure rate, the DCLG said.

Buildings at three NHS trusts in England - North Middlesex University Hospitals, King’s College Hospital and Sheffield Children’s NHS Trusts - have also failed the tests, health officials said.