Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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London fire: Prime minister orders full public inquiry


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May-and-Fire-OfficialsPrime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry into the fire that engulfed a west London block of flats, killing at least 17 people.


That figure is expected to rise, as fire chiefs do not expect to find any more survivors in the burnt-out Grenfell Tower in north Kensington.


The PM said people "deserve answers" as to why the fire spread so rapidly.


The first victim has been named by the Syria Solidarity Campaign as Syrian refugee Mohammed Alhajali, 23.


In a statement, the organisation said the civil engineering student was in a flat on the 14th floor when the fire broke out, and spent two hours on the phone to a friend in Syria.


He was trying to get through to his family while he was waiting to be rescued.


The group said: "Mohammed bid his friend goodbye, saying that the fire had reached him. He asked his friend to pass on the message to his family...


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


"Mohammed came to this country for safety and the UK failed to protect him."


His older brother, Omar, lost him on the way out and survived, the organisation said.


Six victims of the Grenfell Tower blaze have been provisionally identified, Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said, but "there is a risk that sadly we may not be able to identify everybody”.


Earlier, Mrs May made a private visit to the scene, where she spoke to Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton and members of the emergency services.


She said: "[The emergency services] told me that the way this fire had spread and took hold of the building was rapid, it was ferocious, it was unexpected.


"So it is right that, in addition to the immediate fire report that will be produced and any potential police investigation, that we do have a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of this."


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also visited the site, meeting residents affected by the fire. He told community leaders "the truth has to come out".


Number 10 confirmed the inquiry will be judge-led.


The BBC's assistant political editor Norman Smith said: "It (the inquiry) will almost certainly hold its evidence sessions in public and those who will give evidence will include the local council, the builders, the contractors but yes too, I suspect the tenants and the relatives of some of the victims.”


Housing minister Alok Sharma said the government is working with the local authority to ensure that "every single family will be re-housed in the local area".


Fire minister Nick Hurd called the fire a "national tragedy" and said there was "no room for plodding bureaucracy".


He said there should be "no stone unturned on this because we completely understand the shock, the concern, the anger, the frustration, the fear that is out there”.


Firefighters were called to the 24-storey residential tower in the early hours of Wednesday, at a time when hundreds of people were inside, most of them sleeping.


Many were woken by neighbours, or shouts from below, and fled the building.


Fire crews rescued 65 adults and children, but some stayed in their homes, trapped by smoke and flames.


Thirty people remain in hospital - 15 of whom are in a critical condition.


The Queen earlier said her "thoughts and prayers" are with families.


On Thursday morning, London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said her crews had identified a "number" of those killed, "but we know there will be more".


Asked how many were still missing, Met Police Commander Stuart Cundy said it would be "wrong and incredibly distressing" to give a number.


"I know one person was reported 46 times to the casualty bureau," he said.


A brief search of all floors in the tower had been carried out, but the severity of the fire and amount of debris meant a thorough search would be "difficult and painstaking", Commissioner Cotton said.


Sniffer dogs will now be sent in to search for evidence and identification of people still inside.


Temporary structures will be built inside the block to shore it up, before more thorough work can begin.


The cause of the fire, which took more than 24 hours to bring under control, remains unknown.


Throughout the morning, only wisps of smoke were seen coming from the charred building, but flames were later seen flaring up on a lower floor.


London-born Adele and her husband visited the scene on Wednesday evening, and the singer was seen comforting people.


Singer Rita Ora pitched in by helping to sort donations outside the tower.


Photographs and messages in English and Arabic have been left for loved ones on a wall of condolence near the tower block.


Alongside them are words of anger and calls for justice, with people saying their safety concerns were not listened to.


The local authority - Kensington and Chelsea council - said 44 households had been placed in emergency accommodation so far.


Throughout Wednesday night, people donated food, clothes and blankets for those left without homes.


By early morning, some volunteers said they had been overwhelmed with donations and were turning people and vans away.

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