Grenfell fire: Protests, anger as death toll rises

DNA evidence needed to identify victims of London incident likely to be destroyed due to the intensity of the fire.

Scores of people attending a rally on Friday for victims of a tower block fire tragedy in London stormed a local town hall as the death toll rose to at least 30.

The angry protesters barged their way through an automatic door at Kensington and Chelsea town hall and sought to gain entry to an upper floor. Police barred their way and scuffles broke out.

“We want justice!”, “Shame on you!”, and “Killers!”, the protesters shouted, with some holding up pictures of those still unaccounted for and now feared dead.

A larger crowd of people remained outside. Some people then left the building, though others remained inside.

“We don’t want violence, we just want answers,” one young woman outside the town hall told Al Jazeera, expressing anger and incredulity that so many had lost their lives in a building that had been recently renovated at a cost of more than $10m.

“Give us answers. Apologise. Just own up. Do something,” she said.

READ MORE: Death toll to rise after Grenfell Tower fire

Earlier, Commander Stuart Cundy said police would examine whether criminal offences had been committed although there was nothing to suggest the massive blaze at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in West London on Wednesday was started deliberately.

London: Police launch investigation into Grenfell Tower fire

“We know that at least 30 people have died as a result of this fire,” Cundy said. “Sadly, it is expected that the total will rise and it is not expected that any survivors will be found.”

The exact number of missing people is still undetermined. Cundy said that 24 people were still in hospital and 12 were receiving critical care. 

As firefighters keep searching the charred ruins of the Grenfell Tower public housing complex with sniffer dogs and drones, Cundy said there was “a risk that, sadly, we may not be able to identify everybody”.

Experts said the intensity of the fire will make naming victims extremely difficult.

“When you have a fire that takes hold like that, that is literally an inferno. You get a lot of fragmentation of bodies, charring of bones and sometimes all that’s left is ash,” said Peter Vanezis, a professor of forensic medical sciences at Queen Mary University in London.

He said the temperature of the blaze at Grenfell Tower was comparable to a cremation.

The exact number of missing people is still undetermined [Reuters]
The exact number of missing people is still undetermined [Reuters]

Another complicating factor is that much of the DNA material that would normally be used to help pinpoint victims – such as toothbrushes or combs – were probably also incinerated in the blaze.

“Even if we get some DNA, the question will be, do we have anything to compare it to?” said Denise Syndercombe Court, a forensic science expert at King’s College London.

Questions, anger

While the disaster has prompted an outpouring of generosity, there was also anger at politicians as the charred tower was cast as a deadly symbol of a divided society.

“As well as sadness, there is a tremendous amount of anger and a vast number of questions,” Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from London, said.   

Facing criticism for not meeting victims of the fire much sooner, British Prime Minister Theresa May visited the injured at a central London hospital on Friday.

May has been criticised from within her own Conservative Party over her response and she pledged to hold a public inquiry into the incident.

‘People were jumping out of windows’

“She should have been there with the residents. You have to be prepared to receive people’s emotions, and not be so frightened about people,” former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo told the BBC.

May’s response has been contrasted with that of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who hugged locals at the estate during his visit on Thursday, and the royals who met residents and volunteers on Friday.

British newspapers, including those that backed May in the June 8 election, sharpened their criticism of the government.

They cited a series of unanswered issues, including whether the cladding used on the building helped the blaze to spread.

Planning documents detailing the recent refurbishment of the block did not refer to a type of fire barrier that safety experts said must be used when high-rise blocks are re-clad.

Residents in the area told Al Jazeera they have been ignored by central and local government for years, and expressed anger at the deprivation in housing estates compared to the vast wealth on neighbouring streets in what is London’s richest borough.

“It’s a completely different world up the road and they don’t care about us – and that shows,” one resident told Al Jazeera, gesturing to the burned out tower.

Another resident pointed out that a several high profile current and former Conservative politicians live nearby.

“This [tragedy] happened in England, in London, in the 21st century,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s an embarassment for all of them. Those people – I don’t even know how they’re sleeping right now.”

Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from the neighbourhood, said residents were also suspicious of the government’s pledge to hold an inquiry.

“They suspect it’s a delaying tactic. Trust in authority has gone up in smoke,” he said.

Locals were expected to stage a march in Kensington starting at 14:00 GMT, while a rally to demand justice for the victims was due to start in the government district of Westminster at 17:00 GMT.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies