Grenfell Tower fire: Angry residents shout 'arrest someone' as they heckle council on month anniversary of tragedy

'Everyday, 100 times a day, we burn and come back again, this is four weeks now, it’s gone on too long. Why are you not protecting us?,' survivor tells public meeting

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Wednesday 12 July 2017 23:14 BST
Grenfell residents question the council at public meeting a month after fire

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire clashed with Kensington council representatives and the senior investigating officer leading the criminal investigation into the disaster during a tense public meeting.

Residents of the local community gathered at St Clements Church in north Kensington to hear from the panel leading the Government’s “gold command” response to the tragedy.

But the meeting quickly descended into chaos as fury over the handling of the tragedy spilled over.

Residents berated council leader Elizabeth Campbell for hiding from survivors, accusing her of making no effort to seek out those who needed the most help.

Investigating officer Matt Bonner was also quizzed by residents who expressed their anger and frustration that no arrests had yet been made in connection with the tragedy.

Ms Campbell spent the first minutes of the meeting speaking of the “small steps” taken to clean up the surrounding area, including window cleaning.

But one survivor, sobbing, told her: “Why is this meeting even taking place? So we’re hear to talk about scaffolding, housekeeping and people cleaning windows but what about those people in that building who died?

“We were there and saw what happened, we can't even describe the pain. those who we've lost, we can't bring them back, but what about those of us who remain? You're not doing anything for us.

“Everyday, 100 times a day, we burn and come back again, this is four weeks now, it’s gone on too long. Why are you not protecting us, we know you exist, we know councils exist, but we don't exist, we don't count for anything.

“We just want you to understand us, to protect us, to do something for us, that’s all we want from you.”

Ms Campbell, who admitted on Tuesday she had never set foot inside a high-rise council tower block, said it was “very difficult” to respond in the face of “such despair and such grieving”, but promised to meet the woman outside or tomorrow.

Kensington council leader Elizabeth Campbell addresses Grenfell residents at public meeting

But another survivor interrupted the exchange to shout angrily: “You need to meet all of the survivors. it’s all of us, not just her, there’s more than one, there’s loads of us everywhere.

“You haven't made any effort to meet us… we've had fraudsters find out where we are, how come you can't find out where we are?”

Later Mr Bonner attempted to give residents an update on the criminal investigations into the tragedy, but said he was unable to share specific details about the case. He said 60 companies had been identified by police as being involved in the refurbishment of the tower in 2016.

"I cannot tell you about the case as it would put the investigation at risk," he said as residents shouted “arrest someone”.

Cries of “this is state terrorism” and “mass murder” rang out in the church, as one resident urged people to remain calm, shouting from the front: “They are trying to paint us as savages so it’s in our best interests to stay calm.”

But one man said he was angry and deserved to be heard, shouting at the panel: “You murdered our friends, you murdered our neighbours.”

Mr Bonner called for the crowd to "listen", telling them: “The test of my investigation will be whether it's done properly not whether it's done quickly.

“Unfortunately an investigation of this scale will not be quick but it will be thorough, it will get to the bottom of whatever happened and hold those to account, anyone that needs holding to account whether that be an individual or an organisation.

“We will do all of that but we won't do that all tomorrow.”

Detective Matt Bonner: The Grenfell investigation will be thorough but it won't be quick

Another resident, hands trembling and voice hoarse, screamed at him: “Listen, just listen, listen, listen, listen.

“Bereaved with tears in their eyes are asking these questions. We cannot sleep, because we dream of this again. Don't you have humanity?”

The panel was made up of a number of senior figures involved in the Government-led response on the ground, including Hilary Patel, part of community engagement for the Grenfell Response Team, Met police chief superintendent Robyn Williams and Rachel Wright-Turner, director of tri-borough commissioning.

Also in attendance was Barry Quirk, chief executive of Lewisham council, who spoke multiple times on behalf of Ms Campbell.

Dr Deborah Turbitt, deputy director for health protection at Public Health England, also spoke to reassure concerned residents about air and water quality.

She admitted that asbestos had been released in the fire but that the temperature was such that it would have been dispersed. She said air quality was still being monitored by an independent body.

Ms Patel also offered reassurances about the tower’s structural integrity, telling locals they should not be worried about the building collapsing.

"The building has never been at risk of falling down," she said.

The meeting coincided with the one month anniversary of the devastating blaze that killed at least 80 people.

Many residents expressed their scepticism over the death toll, with one survivor saying: “We all know at least 300 died.”

Police said more than 250 residents survived the fire, and investigations had led them to conclude 350 people lived in the west London block but 14 were not there when the building went up in flames on 14 June.

Authorities believe 255 people escaped and 80 are still estimated to have died or are missing.

Thirty-two victims have been positively identified, with 55 postmortem examinations having taken place, according to investigating officers speaking at a briefing on Monday.

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