Royals attend memorial service to mark six months since Grenfell Tower fire
Britain yesterday marked the six-month anniversary of London’s Grenfell Tower fire that killed 71 people, with most survivors still awaiting permanent housing and sagging confidence in a public probe into the tragedy.
Those who escaped the inferno and the families of the dead were joined by the royal family and Prime Minister Theresa May in a national memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral.
While the service was an opportunity for quiet reflection, anger is still simmering as the aftermath remains unresolved.
The fire, which started with a faulty refrigerator on the fourth floor, engulfed the 24-storey west London tower in the early hours of June 14, rapidly spreading up the new cladding on the outside.
The painstaking process to identify all the remains found in the tower took months.
“December 14 will be a special day for our community,” Grenfell United survivors’ group chair Shahin Sadafi said.
“We are coming together to remember the loved ones we lost, to unite as a community and start to build hope for the future.”
May joined mourners for the service, after being forced to try to restore confidence in the public inquiry into the fire.
Sandra Ruiz, who lost her niece in the fire, said: “We will welcome her, but she will have to face us and we will be asking those questions of her. It’s not much to ask.”
Retired appeal court judge Martin Moore-Bick is presiding over the probe. However, a 16 000strong petition called for a diverse panel to assist him, fearing he would not understand issues like living in public housing.
A separate police investigation is also under way and will determine whether any criminal charges can be brought against individuals or corporate entities.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, May promised that survivors would be guaranteed new homes on the same terms, within three weeks, as close as possible to the north Kensington area where they had been living.
However, of the 208 households needing rehousing, 118 are facing Christmas in emergency accommodation – many in hotels – or with friends, Grenfell United said.
Forty-two families have moved into permanent accommodation and 48 others have accepted offers for permanent housing but are still living in temporary quarters.
Many families do not want to accept temporary accommodation, fearing they will be parked there and forgotten about.
“We continue to do everything we can to support those affected, and take the necessary steps to make sure it can never happen again,” May told parliament on Wednesday.
The Kensington and Chelsea local authority, which ran the tower, has been criticised by survivors and victims’ families for its handling of the aftermath and for not heeding residents’ prior warnings about fire safety in the building.
Grenfell residents had voiced concerns about a lack of sprinklers and the single staircase escape route – a common feature of tower blocks built in the 1970s.
New local authority leader Elizabeth Campbell said she understood the anger directed at the council and out of respect would therefore not attend the service at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Prince Charles, his wife Camilla, princes William and Harry and William’s wife Kate joined the mourners at St Paul’s.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, London mayor Sadiq Khan and firefighters who took part in the rescue also attended the multi-faith service.
Survivors wept, while bereaved relatives held pictures of their loved ones.
The service reflected the multicultural character of the Grenfell community, with Christian and Muslim prayers and music from Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Western traditions.
It also addressed the anger of many survivors over perceived neglect of their community before and after the fire.
“Today we ask why warnings were not heeded, why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to,” Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, told the congregation.
“Today, we hold out hope that the public inquiry will get to the truth of all that led up to the fire at Grenfell Tower and we trust that the truth will bring justice.”
After the service, bereaved families and survivors left together in silence, holding white roses.
In the evening, a monthly memorial march was due to take place near the tower.
The charred ruin still serves as a tragic visual reminder in north Kensington, a poor, multicultural enclave in one of Europe’s plushest city districts. – AFP, additional reporting Reuters