NEWS
05/07/2017 17:54 BST

87 Recoveries Made From Grenfell Tower But Death Toll Uncertainty Remains

Police investigating the Grenfell Tower 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. 

Specialist officers have begun "meticulously" sifting through about 15.5 tonnes of debris on each floor by hand for any human remains still within the tower, he said.

Of the operation, one of the largest and most complex in the Met's history, Mr Cundy said: "Tragically, there are still 23 flats where despite our investigative efforts we have been unable to trace or speak to anyone who was in those properties on the night.

"We assume that sadly no-one from any of those flats survived."

He said he did not want there to be any "hidden victims" but was unable to say "with any certainty" how many people may have been in those flats, either as occupiers or visitors, until the search was complete. 

It comes as most survivors displaced from Grenfell Tower and Walk are still living in hotels three weeks after the deadly blaze as the Government attempts to find them suitable accommodation.

Fourteen households hoping to be moved out of emergency accommodation have accepted offers for permanent or temporary living arrangements, Grenfell Response Team (GRT) said. 

It also emerged a specialist taskforce will be sent in to Kensington and Chelsea Council to take over the running of key services, following heavy criticism of its response to the disaster.

Campaigners and residents claim little headway has been made, with residents said to have been offered properties that are either out of the borough, too expensive or on a one-year contract.

Some 139 offers had been made following 158 housing needs assessments by Wednesday, the three-week deadline the Government set itself for offering housing to all of those displaced by the blaze.

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 relatives who were looking after loved ones in hospital, and the response team was "ready to provide them with accommodation when they were ready".

One resident reported being shown a two-bedroom property when they required three bedrooms, others had been offered places in high-rises, and another survivor was said to have been offered 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.

Grenfell survivor Sid-Ali Atmani, currently living in a hotel, turned down the offer of a home because it was too far from the area and the local school.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Some families ... they don't want a temporary house.

"Personally, I speak with a few families, they are not asking for a temporary house.

"Can the Government give them back their houses, their life back?

"We are not the criminals here, the crime has been happening in the building."

Pilgrim Tucker, a campaigner working with Grenfell Tower families, told the Press Association residents were concerned they were "not being talked to properly, just being presented with an offer". 

She said one tower survivor had been offered accommodation which, after a year of paying no rent, would be triple what they were paying before. 

It is not clear how many others had been offered similar deals.

Jamal Williams, a resident from a nearby block which has also been evacuated, said he had spoken to a woman who had been offered a place in Harlesden.

He expressed concerns over the clarity of tenancy agreements, adding: "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 said many of its clients still staying in hotels and B&Bs had "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.

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).

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.

Kate Webb, from housing charity Shelter, which has people on the ground helping survivors, told Victoria Derbyshire that she could not under-estimate "how much trust has broken down" between residents and the authorities. 

A lot of people feared if they took up the offer of temporary accommodation they would be "out of sight, out of mind" and miss out on permanent places to stay, she said.

Eleanor Kelly, speaking for the GRT, said the "vast majority" of residents want to remain in the borough. 

She also said 100 empty buildings in Kensington and Chelsea were being offered to families on the basis of temporary and in many cases permanent accommodation.

Some 68 flats in Kensington Row are under construction and due to be ready for permanent occupation by the end of July.

By midday on Wednesday, the number of cladding samples that have failed government combustibility tests had risen to 199, the DCLG said.

These are from buildings located across 55 local authority areas.

The total number of buildings that have failed the tests is 202, including three NHS trusts.

In 12 local authority areas which the DCLG did not identify, 54 buildings have failed the tests.

One sample has passed the test - the first to do so since the testing programme was rolled out. It is not known which building or area the sample was from.

All of the 14 households that have accepted offers of accommodation have been offered places either in Kensington and Chelsea, a neighbouring borough, or another area of London following a specific request, the GRT said.