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Dublin: 23°C Tuesday 9 August 2022

Angry protesters storm town hall shouting 'We want justice' over London tower block fire

Theresa May faced cries of “coward” and “shame on you” when she went to a local church today.

Protesters outside Kensington town hall in west London, the headquarters of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea,
Protesters outside Kensington town hall in west London, the headquarters of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea,
Image: Yui Mok

Updated 10.45pm.

ANGRY PROTESTERS STORMED local authority headquarters this evening demanding justice as the death toll from the London tower block fire reached 30, with dozens more unaccounted for.

They shouted “Killers” and “We want justice”, accusing the authorities of ignoring the plight of the victims of the Grenfell Tower block blaze.

Firefighters continued the search for human remains in the burnt-out shell of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, as anger grew over the use of cladding blamed for spreading the flames. Sky News is reporting that up to 70 people are dead.

Residents had long complained about fire safety risks at Grenfell Tower, but said the concerns of the multi-ethnic, largely working-class inhabitants had been brushed off by local authorities.

“It was a death trap and they knew it,” one person shouted as demonstrators swelled outside the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council offices, with dozens going inside and clashing with police and security guards.

Tower block fire in London Protesters try to enter Kensington town hall in west London Source: Yui Mok

“I have friends in the tower and they are not telling us anything,” said Salwa Buamani, 25, who came with her three-year-old niece on her shoulders.

May faces angry crowd

Prime Minister Theresa May had come under criticism for not meeting residents when she visited the site yesterday to talk with emergency service chiefs.

She faced cries of “coward” and “shame on you” as she returned today to meet survivors, residents and volunteers at a local church.

Dozens of police officers had to hold back angry crowds and break up scuffles as her car drove off afterwards.

Tower block fire in London Prime Minister Theresa May leaves St Clement's Church in west London, which has provided shelter and support for people affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower. Source: David Mirzoeff

She also met with injured survivors in hospital and announced a £5 million (€5.7 million) fund for emergency supplies, food and clothing.

Everyone affected by this tragedy needs reassurance that the government is there for them at this terrible time – and that is what I am determined to provide.

Earlier police announced that the number of confirmed deaths had risen from 17.

“We know that at least 30 people have died as a result of this fire… I do believe the number will increase,” police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters in front of the charred high-rise.

Cundy said police had started a criminal investigation but there was nothing to suggest “that the fire had been started deliberately”.

He also said the last flames had finally been extinguished, two days after the fire broke out early Wednesday in a working-class enclave of the wealthy Kensington district.

More than 70 people are unaccounted for, according to media reports, although it was not known whether some of those were among the bodies recovered so far.

Britain London Fire A woman touches a missing poster for 12-year-old Jessica Urbano on a tribute wall after laying flowers on the side of Latymer Community Church next to the fire-gutted Grenfell Tower Source: Matt Dunham

Police have warned some of the victims may never be identified due to the state of the remains.

Cundy said one of the victims was a person who died in hospital. Twenty-four injured survivors are still being treated, 12 of them in critical care.

Firefighters were using drones and sniffer dogs to search the building, saying some of the upper floors are still inaccessible to humans due to concerns about the stability of the structure.

Queen visits survivors

The area surrounding the council-owned tower has been plastered by desperate relatives with pictures of the missing, from grandparents to young children. Large numbers of volunteers are assisting survivors.

Queen Elizabeth II and her grandson Prince William visited a community centre where some of the survivors are being housed.

Tower block fire in London Queen Elizabeth II meets members of the community affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London during a visit to the Westway Sports Centre which is providing temporary shelter for those who have been made homeless in the disaster. Source: Dominic Lipinski

The government has ordered a judge-led inquiry into the disaster, which is under pressure to act quickly, as anger grows among local residents about allegations that fire safety concerns were ignored for years.

“Something’s gone drastically wrong,” Communities and Local Government Minister Sajid Javid told BBC radio.

Javid said inspections of similar buildings had been ordered, with particular attention to the modern cladding used to beautify and add insulation to ageing concrete and steel structures.

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Syrian refugee victim

The fire forced residents to flee through black smoke down the single stairwell, jump out of windows or even drop their children from the building.

One of the victims was named as Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee, who came to Britain in 2014 with his brother.  The Syrian Solidarity Campaign said in a statement:

Mohammed undertook a dangerous journey to flee war and death in Syria, only to meet it here in the UK.

Alhajali was a civil engineering student at West London University.

“His dream was to be able to go back home one day and rebuild Syria,” the campaign group said.

A second victim named Friday was Khadija Saye, a 24-year-old photographer who had exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

Questions over cladding

Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing the tower’s 120 apartments.

The focus is on the cladding fitted to external walls of the 1974 tower as part of an £8.7 million (€9.9 million) refit completed last year.

Tower block fire in London Source: Rick Findler

The cladding had a plastic core and was similar to that used by high-rise buildings in France, the United Arab Emirates and Australia which had also suffered fires that spread.

The Times newspaper reported that the company that manufactured the cladding also made fire-resistant models that cost fractionally more than the standard version.

Questions have also been raised over why there was no sprinkler system in the tower which could have helped stop the fire spreading, or any central smoke alarm system that would have woken sleeping residents.

- © AFP, 2017

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