After fleeing Kensington pursued by people shouting “coward”, Theresa May has declined to say whether she misread the enormous public anger aimed at her in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The prime minister was bundled into a car and sped away from her visit to a church where victims of the blaze were being looked after, as protesters shouted “shame on you”.
Anger spilled over about the fire, which killed at least 30 people and left many more homeless or missing.
People stormed Kensington Town Hall demanding answers and marched on Downing Street calling for May to go, as protest gripped London on Friday evening.
The anger has focussed on May, already severely weakened by last week’s election result, who infuriated people by visiting emergency services at the scene on Thursday but not residents, citing “security concerns”.
She visited a hospital and church on Friday to answer the criticism but her departure from the church saw her briskly dart out to avoid the baying locals.
After fleeing Kensington, she struggled in a BBC Newsnight interview that was meant to focus on the £5 million aid package for the fire’s victims.
After May described what victims had told her, Emily Maitlis said people needed to hear her say: “Something has gone badly wrong. It is our fault. We acknowledge that and accept responsibility.”
“Something awful has happened,” May began. “This is an absolutely awful fire that has taken place.”
Maitlis interrupted to ask whether she would admit she misread the public mood by not going to visit the victims until now.
May answered that she had worked to “ensure the emergency services have the support they need”.
Maitlis told the prime minister: “But that’s three days on prime minister. This is Friday evening. They needed those things in place on Wednesday.”
The presenter described the support efforts for people made homeless by the fire as “chaos”, adding: “No one was in charge.”
May’s answer focussed on the £5 million: “What I have done today is ensured that, we, as a Government, are putting that funding in place for people in the area.”
Ignoring Maitlis’ questions about how victims would get the money, May said: “This has been absolutely terrifying experience for people.”
Later, Maitlis asked again if he had misread the mood.
May’s answer was to acknowledge the “terrible tragedy” and “horrifying stories” she had heard but not to give a direct response to the question.
Her position as prime minister already precarious, May failed to win over any new fans on social media or convince anyone charges she is unempathising and brittle are unfair.
The more charitable reaction on Twitter was that May was affected by the tragedy but struggled to show it in a way expected of prime ministers.
But others felt she was ‘arrogant and aloof’, ‘robotic’ and had shown ‘blind panic in her eyes’.