The police’s criminal investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire is likely to last until 2019 at the earliest and could even take several years to complete, the Metropolitan Police commissioner said on Wednesday.
Cressida Dick said it will take a “considerable period of time” to go through the interviews and evidence the force has collected in the past six months.
Relatives of the victims have told HuffPost UK that the most important thing was for police conduct a thorough investigation, with one adding it represented “our last hope”.
The head of the Metropolitan Police Service relayed the enormity of the scale of the investigation to the London Assembly earlier today.
Dick added that she had requested extra government funding for the police operation to help cover the costs of the criminal investigation.
Her comments come after the first hearings of the long-awaited public inquiry were held this week.
The procedural sessions, held on Monday and Tuesday, focussed on issues including how documents should be disclosed to “core participants”, including residents, survivors and relatives of those who died in the blaze on June 14.
Scotland Yard announced on Monday that they are investigating misconduct in public office charges as well as breaches of fire safety regulations, manslaughter and corporate manslaughter.
In an update to London Assembly members, Dick said: “I think we will be looking at the best part of next year before we finish all the reconstruction and forensic examination.
“As you know there are a very, very, very large number of people and records to either take statements from or either examine forensically so I’m not going to put a timescale on that.”
Dick said officers had sifted through more than 15.5 tonnes of debris while collecting evidence.
In addition to the 1,000 statements and 2,500 exhibits seized, police have also contacted 336 organisations linked to Grenfell Tower, including those involved in the maintenance and management of the building.
The police operation involves speaking to 2,400 people, including the emergency services and residents.
The Met boss, who took over from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe earlier this year, said the police were working closely with the public inquiry, which will run parallel to the criminal investigation.
Dick said: “This will be a very significant, a very important matter for the Metropolitan Police for many, many, many months to come.
“Indeed, I would be astonished if we were finishing the criminal investigation within 12 months. I’m sure it will be much more than that.”
The capital has seen three terror attacks this year. Dick said she had been in talks with the Home Secretary in a bid to secure extra funding for the force.
She said: “We are cautiously hopeful that we will be able to make applications for this year in relation to the special grant that can be made available from the government in relation to both the terrorist attacks and Grenfell.
“And I have made it clear that this is an investigation which will go on into future years and that therefore that needs to be factored in as well.”
Relatives of those who died in the blaze, which killed 71 people, have previously voiced concerns about the pace of official investigations into the fire.
But Clarrie Mendy and Judy Bolton, both of whom lost relatives in the fire, told HuffPost UK that the main priority was for police to carry out a thorough investigation.
“We just got to trust the police to do their job,” Mendy, whose cousin Mary Mendy and Mary’s daughter Khadija Saye died in the fire, said.
“I have confidence in the police... because I have seen it’s affected everybody... there’s no place for them to hide and no corner because they (the police) will leave no stone unturned.
“I do believe that they (the police) will do their job, because they are our last hope, really.”
Judy Bolton, from campaign group Justice for Grenfell, said that the procedural hearings held this week shed light on the scale of evidence investigators had to go through.
Bolton, who lost her uncle in the fire, said that there was an element of “frustration” from the bereaved and the survivors that the process could take years, but that their first priority was to find out the “truth”.
“It’s not a surprise to us and it’s not a surprise to me that this is going to take long. I think we’re more concerned with the process of how they come to their decision,” Bolton told HuffPost UK.
“People know that this is going to take years.
“We know because when it’s authorities that are being challenged and criminal convictions, whether it be corporate manslaughter or criminal manslaughter, if it’s anything to do with central government, local government, authorities, they can drag these things out for years.”
The public inquiry and criminal investigation can run parallel to one another.
A spokesperson for the Grenfell Tower inquiry said in a statement: “The public inquiry and the Metropolitan Police Service investigation are independent of each other and each is being conducted under separate legal powers.
“The inquiry has a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Police.
“This MoU formalises the arrangement for sharing information with the Met Police and will enable the Inquiry to proceed and use relevant evidence that is obtained in the course of the police investigation, but in a manner that does not risk or prejudice their investigation or any subsequent criminal proceedings.”