Grenfell Tower fire: Theresa May leaves church by side door surrounded by protesters chanting 'coward'

Witnesses report Ms May being bundled into a car by police amid fury from a pushing crowd

May Bulman
Friday 16 June 2017 17:36 BST
Grenfell Tower Fire: Theresa May leaves church to chants of 'coward'

Theresa May has left a church, which is in use as a support hub for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, through a side door to chants of “coward” and “shame on you”.

The Prime Minister had been meeting victims, residents and volunteers at St Clement's Church in north Kensington, after she was accused of failing to show “humility” when she refused to meet locals during a visit the day before.

Witnesses described Ms May being bundled into a car by police amid “fury from the pushing crowd,” less than an hour after protests erupted outside Kensington town hall close by.

She reportedly left the church through a side door without facing the public, at which point police had to hold back an angry crowd, breaking up a scuffle as the the Prime Minister’s car drove off.

Footage shows a woman holding what appear to be posters of missing people, screaming “murderer” as the black car drives away, while a man repeatedly demands: “Answer the people.”

Another woman outside the church was seen crying, saying it was because Ms May had declined to speak to anyone outside the meeting, which lasted less than hour.

The Prime Minister had earlier visited London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where she spent almost an hour speaking to patients and staff affected by the fire, a day after paying a “private” visit to the site during which she met only with emergency services crews, and not affected residents.

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom was earlier confronted by an angry local man at a community centre near the site of the disaster, as she defended the Prime Minister's decision not to meet residents, insisting that she was “absolutely heartbroken” by the blaze.

Local people contrasted Ms May’s response to the tragedy with that of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was seen with his arm around the shoulders of people affected.

The Prime Minister was also criticised by Conservative former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo of failing to show “humanity”, saying Ms May should have been prepared to face residents’ anger. Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman meanwhile said it was “not OK” for Ms May to go to the area but not meet residents.

Also on Friday, the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge met volunteers, local residents and community representatives while visiting Westway Sports Centre, near the charred remains of the tower block in north Kensington.

More than 70 people are believed to be unaccounted for since the blaze, which police fear was so devastating that some victims may never be identified. Mr Cundy of the Met Police told reporters that bodies 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.

Police have 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 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.

Ms May announced during her visit to the church that victims of the blaze 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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