Prime Minister Theresa May met victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster for over two hours yesterday amid growing criticism of her initial response to the tragedy. May chaired the Government task force on the disaster and met victims, volunteers and community leaders afterwards at Downing Street.
However, the Prime Minister was struggling to contain the backlash against her decision to not meet the victims sooner. On Thursday, she opted to meet emergency service workers, rather than the people who had lost loved ones or who had been made homeless, only to return 24 hours later to be greeted with cries of “coward” and “shame on you”.
Demonstrators later stormed the offices of Kensington and Chelsea Council over its handling of the crisis amid concerns that earlier renovation work was linked to the dramatic spread of the blaze. Hundreds of protesters also marched on Whitehall, central London, to voice their frustration at the Government’s response to the fire, which ripped through the tower block in north Kensington on Wednesday morning.
May was also criticised for a television interview in which she sidestepped questions over whether she had failed to judge the public mood.
Told there was a need for the public to hear her say something had gone badly wrong and the Government accepted responsibility, May said: “Something terrible has happened. This is an absolutely awful fire that took place. People have lost their lives, people have had their homes destroyed, they have fled for their lives with absolutely nothing.”
After yesterday’s meeting, survivors said they made “demands” of the Prime Minister during an extended meeting.
A spokesman for the victims’ group said they had made clear their “demands and what we expect” as they left. He told reporters they would make a full statement “in the community”.
Meanwhile, the Queen issued a message on her official birthday that focused directly on the tragedy. She said: “Today is traditionally a day of celebration. This year, however, it is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood. In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies. As a nation, we continue to reflect and pray for all those who have been directly affected by these events.”
Meanwhile, May’s most senior minister, First Secretary of State Damian Green, defended the way she had handled the tragedy. Green said suggestions the Prime Minister did not seem to have what it takes to respond to such a disaster were “terribly unfair”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “She’s distraught by what happened as we all are. Absolutely she has the same degree of sympathy and horror at these events that we all have.”
Green said the Government expected to appoint a chairman to lead the public inquiry “in days rather than weeks”.
“We want it to be able to have interim reports as well,” he added. “So this is not going to be one of those exercises of using a public inquiry to delay a response. Actually, we want the response to be as fast as possible.”
Green said the probe will look at whether sprinklers should be retrofitted to tower blocks and the Government will “follow the recommendations of the public inquiry”.
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