What the family of a Grenfell Tower victim told Theresa May when they met her

'That's not the caricature is it?' 

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The Independent Online

A young girl evacuated amid the Grenfell Tower fire and a man saved from the 19th floor of the burning building moved the Prime Minister to "well up" as she listened to their harrowing accounts.

Theresa May met survivors of the disaster and others who helped get people out as the fire raged, prompting her to release a strongly-worded statement saying support for victims in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity "was not good enough".

Those she met on Friday evening near the site in west London were invited to Downing Street on Saturday to "continue the conversation" after Mrs May had to be rushed away from the scene due to angry protests, the Area Dean of Kensington said.

The Rev Mark O'Donoghue, who attended the meeting alongside Bishop of Kensington Dr Graham Tomlin and people from the area, said the country's leader had not been the "caricature" expected.

Stories of incredible survival moved Mrs May to become emotional, he said.

"The first guy who spoke was somebody who had been rescued from the 19th floor and he told this harrowing tale about a wall of smoke and not being able to see his hand, and an arm grabbed him and he couldn't see who it was who was rescuing him.

"He was led with a towel over his head, having to leave his dog. And you could just see her welling up. And that's not the caricature (of the Prime Minister) is it?"

Ms May was able to offer answers to their questions about how people would be cared for and practicalities addressed, Mr O'Donoghue said.

He recalled a young girl, who he believed to be no older than 10, who had been evacuated from a nearby block, telling the Prime Minister: "Children saw things that no child should ever have to see."

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He said it was "another kind of welling-up moment on the part of the Prime Minister".

Less than 24 hours after hearing the comment Mr O'Donoghue said Mrs May told the group she was "really struck" by what the child had said, adding: "So we've decided there will be long-term counselling support for all the schools in the area."

Mr O'Donoghue said: "Somebody else said there was a mother in a coma who would wake up to be told that her baby had died in the fire - what was going to happen to her, how was she going to be cared for?

"This is the kind of question yesterday, today the solution is NHS London are providing counsellors in all the hospitals for all the patients (affected by the fire)."

In the course of both days Mrs May spent around two-and-a-half hours with the residents, mostly listening to their concerns, Mr O'Donoghue said.

Dr Tomlin said Saturday's meeting had been a chance for people to voice their concerns and frustrations directly to the Prime Minister.

He said: "That's why I'm positive about it, because I think in the past local residents here have not always been listened to."

He said that feeling of being ignored was a source of much "deep frustration", and told how people had been left feeling "that decisions are taken about their lives and their homes that they are not party to".

Dr Tomlin said the residents had gone from living normal lives before the tragedy to sitting around the Cabinet table as they addressed the very top of government.

He said: "Clearly it's quite unprecedented for 16 very ordinary people, who this time last week were walking their dogs or talking to each other in the streets around here and north Kensington, actually to be in 10 Downing Street talking face-to-face with the Prime Minister.

"I think it was a good thing to do."

Asked if there were angry exchanges, he said: "We tried to hold it well as a meeting. There was passion, there was anger, but there was good, hard, reasoned argument used by the residents."

Dr Tomlin said he believed people left the meeting feeling "reassured that they were listened to", but added: "Time will tell as to whether it makes a difference.

"We wait to see what action will come from it, but they were reassured that they were listened to."