Theresa May visits Grenfell Tower fire survivors in London hospital as allies deny she failed to engage with residents

The Prime Minister spent almost an hour speaking to patients and staff

Andrew Woodcock,Helen William
Friday 16 June 2017 16:54 BST
Theresa May leaves the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London after visiting people who were injured in the Grenfell Tower fire
Theresa May leaves the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London after visiting people who were injured in the Grenfell Tower fire (PA)

Theresa May visited survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in hospital, as allies defended her against claims that she was failing to engage with those affected by the tragedy.

The Prime Minister spent almost an hour speaking to patients and staff at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, a day after visiting the scene of the blaze in west London to talk to firefighters, police and other emergency workers.

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom was confronted by an angry local man at a community centre near the site of the disaster, as she rejected allegations that the PM had shown a lack of “humanity” in her response.

Local people have contrasted the style of Ms May’s private visit with those of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was seen with his arm around the shoulders of people affected by the disaster.

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.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo said Ms May should have been prepared to face residents’ anger.

He told BBC’s This Week: “She should have been there with the residents, which is what Jeremy Corbyn was. She wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn’t use her humanity.

“The Prime Minister would have been shouted at by the residents, but she should have been willing to take that.”

But Ms Leadsom, who visited the area in her role as Leader of the Commons, rejected Mr Portillo’s criticisms, insisting that Ms May was “absolutely heartbroken” by the blaze and was simply trying to make sure the Government did everything it could to deal with its aftermath.

As she spoke to Sky News at the site of the fire in west London, Ms Leadsom was confronted by a local resident, who said opportunities had been missed to make the 24-storey block safe following a report into the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, south London.

May to visit Grenfell Tower fire victims in hospital after criticism

The man said: “Why are Sadiq Khan and Corbyn coming down here to speak to people and Theresa May is coming here with police, walking around, not meeting no one, not meeting families?

“This fire could have been stopped a long, long time ago ... There’s not even sprinklers in there.

“In 2009, the last block was on fire. What has changed since then? Nothing. Enough is enough, I have got friends in that tower. I have a right to be angry. Because of people saving money, people are dying.”

Ms Leadsom said: “The Prime Minister came yesterday to look at the operation, to try to make sure that everything that can be done by the Government is done.

“The Prime Minister is absolutely heartbroken ... The whole sense in the House of Commons is absolute horror and shock. I don’t really think it is appropriate to be talking about whether people have humanity or not.

“Understandably, people are desperately traumatised and, yes, people are angry and that is totally understandable.

“What we need to do is to get a grip of this and make sure we are meeting their immediate needs as well as their ongoing needs and that is really the priority for Government.”

Asked if Ms May would visit the scene again to meet those affected, Ms Leadsom said: “The Prime Minister is doing everything she can. I’m sure if it is felt that that would be helpful, then she will do that.”

Following her hospital visit, the PM was due to chair a cross-Government meeting in Downing Street to consider what actions the authorities can take to assist communities and families.

Labour former deputy leader Harriet Harman said it was “not OK” for the Prime Minister to go to the area but not meet residents, and called on her to invite them to talk to her in Downing Street, as victims of the 2009 Lakanal House fire were.

Government minister Tobias Ellwood suggested that security concerns had prevented Ms May from speaking to local people.

And Tory MP Chris Philp told BBC’s Newsnight that she may have been “keen not to intrude and cause disruption at a time of intense anxiety and grief”.

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