British government struggles with Grenfell building fire fall-out, as ministers concede cladding may have been banned in UK
Police say at least 58 people are either confirmed or presumed dead, with the figure likely to rise in coming days
The British government on Sunday scrambled to contain political fallout from the London high-rise inferno that has claimed at least 58 lives as officials focused on building materials that may have spread the fire quickly.
The cause of Wednesday’s blaze is still under investigation, but anger has mounted in the community amid reports that exterior panelling used in an extensive renovation completed last year may have been banned by UK rules.
Two government ministers – Treasury chief Philip Hammond and Trade Minister Greg Hands – said Sunday the cladding used on the building’s exterior seems to be banned by British regulations.
“My understanding is that the cladding that was reported wasn’t in accordance with UK building regulations,” Hands told Sky News. “We need to find out precisely what cladding was used and how it was attached.”
He said the government is carrying out an “urgent inspection” of other tower blocks in Britain to assess safety. He said there are roughly 2,500 similar apartment towers throughout Britain.
Labour Party lawmaker David Lammy said that the government and the police should immediately seize all documents relating to the building’s renovation to prevent the destruction of evidence that could show criminal wrongdoing.
“The prime minister needs to act immediately to ensure that all evidence is protected so that everyone culpable for what happened at Grenfell Tower is held to account and feels the full force of the law,” Lammy said.
He said all records, including emails, minutes of meetings, correspondence with contractors, safety assessments, specifications and reports – must be kept intact.
“When the truth comes out about this tragedy, we may find that there is blood on the hands of a number of organisations,” Lammy said.
In addition, British health authorities will provide long-term bereavement counselling for those who lost loved ones in the tragedy. Counsellors are already working with 52 families.
There has been a public outcry at the government’s initial failure to provide up-to-the minute information.
Prime Minister Theresa May, criticised in the first few days after the blaze for failing to meet with victims, says the public inquiry looking into the tragedy will report directly to her.
She says she will receive daily reports from the stricken neighbourhood, where hundreds of people have been displaced. Anger among residents has been mounting in recent days as information about the missing has been scanty and efforts to find temporary housing have faltered.
British officials say they are helping the Syrian family of the first officially confirmed victim of the London tower blaze to come to Britain.
The Home Office said late Saturday night it will make arrangements for the family of Mohammad Alhajali to “travel to the UK in these terribly sad circumstances.”
The 23-year-old Alhajali is the only victim of the Grenfell Tower fire to be officially named as the difficult process of identifying human remains continues.
His family said in a statement that Alhajali “came to the UK because he had ambitions and aims for his life and for his family.”
Police say at least 58 people are either confirmed or presumed dead, with the figure likely to rise in coming days.
Officials are using dental records, fingerprints and DNA samples to try and positively identify victims. They say they will also use visual elements like tattoos and scars, in the painstaking process.
Sixteen bodies have been taken to a mortuary for examination.