London protesters storm council HQ as fire death toll reaches 30

Angry residents heckled Prime Minister Theresa May and stormed the local authority headquarters as they demanded justice for the victims of a London tower block fire that left 30 people dead, with dozens more unaccounted for.

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May was criticised for avoiding locals when she visited the burnt-out shell of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower on Thursday, but faced cries of “shame on you” and “coward” when she returned the following day.

Dozens of police officers held back booing crowds and broke up scuffles as her car drove off from local church, where she had met survivors, residents and volunteers and promised new funds for those affected.

0:00 Tower victims ‘may never be identified’ Share Tower victims ‘may never be identified’

There were also angry scenes outside the offices of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which was responsible for managing the 1970s social housing block, in a working-class enclave in one of London’s richest areas.

There are questions about why the block was not fitted with sprinklers or a central smoke alarm, and whether a recent refurbishment, including new external cladding, helped fuel the flames.

0:00 May pledges rehousing Share May pledges rehousing

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

“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.

The crowds were later joined by thousands of peaceful protesters in a carnival-like atmosphere, although a few young men tried unsuccessfully to break through the police cordon outside the tower.

May faces angry crowd

The death toll rose to 30 on Friday but authorities warned it would increase further, as fire crews picked their way through the wreckage of the building which was engulfed in flames in the early hours of Wednesday.

May has announced a judge-led inquiry into what happened, and on Friday promised a £5 million ($6.4 million, 5.7 million euro) 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,” she said.

0:00 Investigation launched into cause of blaze Share Investigation launched into cause of blaze

But criticism of her response has heaped further pressure on the premier, whose Conservative government remains in limbo after losing its parliamentary majority in last week’s election.

Queen Elizabeth II and her grandson Prince William visited a community centre Friday where some of the survivors are being housed, and where volunteers have been inundated with donations of clothes and food.

Police commander Stuart Cundy earlier updated the death toll from 17 to 30, adding: “I do believe the number will increase.”

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

Firefighters were using drones and sniffer dogs to search the building, as some of the upper floors have not yet been made safe.

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More than 70 people remain unaccounted for, according to media reports, and many of those protesting Friday were demanding the return of their loved ones’ remains.

Police have said recovery process could take weeks, and warned some of the bodies may be too burned to be identified.

“We are not stupid, we aware people are dead. Just tell them!” said local resident Karen Brown, 36.

One of the confirmed victims died in hospital, police said, while 24 injured survivors are still being treated, 12 of them in critical care.

Syrian refugee victim

0:00 Syrian refugee identified as London blaze victim Share Syrian refugee identified as London blaze victim

The area surrounding the tower has been plastered by desperate relatives with pictures of the missing, from grandparents to young children.

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 Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee who came to Britain in 2014 with his brother and was studying civil engineering.

“Mohammed undertook a dangerous journey to flee war and death in Syria, only to meet it here in the UK,” the Syrian Solidarity Campaign said in a statement.

“His dream was to be able to go back home one day and rebuild Syria.”

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, with the focus on the cladding fitted to external walls of the 1974 tower as part of an £8.7 million ($11 million, 9.9 million euros) refit completed last year.

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.

0:00 Call for urgent fire safety audit of Australian buildings Share Call for urgent fire safety audit of Australian buildings

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

“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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