The death toll from the Grenfell Tower fire has risen to 30 and is expected to increase further, amid fury that the scale of devastation has been understated and the disaster could have been prevented. However, more than 70 are unaccounted for, including whole families.
At least one of those who died had initially been taken to hospital, where 24 victims are still receiving treatment, including 12 who are in critical care, Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy confirmed on Friday.
Local residents have disputed the figure, claiming the true scale of death is being underplayed, with scores of protesters heard during a protest at Kensington Town Hall chanting: “Not 17” – referring to the original death toll reported on Thursday.
Police fear the blaze was so devastating that some victims may never be identified. Mr Cundy told reporters the bodies of those have been taken to a morgue, but added that more remain in the building following the fire, and that they do not expect to find any survivors.
Two people previously reported as missing have now been confirmed dead. Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee, was named as the first victim of the fire on Thursday, before local artist Khadija Saye, 24, was named the following day.
When asked why it was taking so long to identify the victims, Mr Cundy said he would only give figures the police are certain about, but confirmed that everyone being treated in hospitals had been identified.
Relatives and friends have been circulating appeals on social media since Wednesday in a desperate bid to locate missing loved ones, but hope has begun to wane, and anger has been rising over how the fire was able to cause so much devastation.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the town hall early on Friday evening demanding answers, before scores of protesters surged towards the building’s entrance, apparently trying to get in. Demonstrators chanted “justice” as they burst into the building, carrying a list of demands they said authorities must meet.
Police later arrived at the town hall, including a number of mounted officers, prompting a chorus of booing from those gathered. Other large protests later emerged in other parts of London, including on Kensington High Street and Downing Street.
Police said an investigation into the disaster would take weeks, but that there was nothing to suggest at this time that the fire was started deliberately.
Mr Cundy said the building was in a “very hazardous state” and that it would take a period of time for “specialists, both from the police and from the London Fire Brigade, to fully search that building to make sure we locate and recover everybody that has sadly perished in that fire”.
Ms May later announced that victims of the disaster would be asked how the public inquiry into the fire should be carried out, and that families of those who died would be given state funding for legal representation at the probe.
An investigation led by a senior detective from Scotland Yard’s homicide and major crime command is under way with calls for “corporate manslaughter” arrests to be made. Mr Cundy vowed that police “will get to the answer of what has happened and why”, adding: “If criminal offences have been committed it is us who will investigate that.”
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