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Monday 24 July 2017

Tears as heroes join minute's silence for tower fire victims

Firefighters join in a minute’s silence near Grenfell Tower
Firefighters join in a minute’s silence near Grenfell Tower

There were emotional scenes at the site of a horror blaze in London at 11am yesterday as firefighters joined residents for a minute's silence to remember those who died.

The silence was also observed throughout Britain.

Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said the death toll may still change from the current 79 but not as significantly as it has in recent days.

He said "the awful reality is that we may not be able to identify all those that died" inside what is now a blackened and charred shell.

Mr Cundy fought back tears as he told reporters about the scene inside the tower.

Footage from inside the gutted building has been released, showing the extent of the damage.

Mr Cundy said it had been "incredibly emotional working in there", adding: "On Saturday I went in myself and went to the top floor. It is incredibly hard to describe the devastation in some parts of that building.

"I have investigated major crime for most of my service and I have seen some terrible things. But I don't think anything prepared me for what I was going to see when I was in there.

Feelings

"It's hard to describe my feelings, because I cannot imagine, and I would not want to put myself in the position of those families who have lost their loved ones.

"But being with colleagues from the London Fire Brigade when I was in there, colleagues from the London Ambulance Service and other police officers, I think it's fair to say it is incredibly emotional working in there.

"But we will do it with our utmost professionalism and we will do everything we can as quickly as we can to locate everybody who is in there."

Five people who had been reported missing after the disaster have been found safe and well, he added.

Amid anger in the wake of the disaster, which was described by London Mayor Sadiq Khan as a "preventable accident", the Government announced that those left homeless will be given at least £5,500 from an emergency fund.

Residents will be given £500 in cash followed by a bank payment for the rest from Monday with the money coming from the £5m fund announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May last week.

Mr Cundy said police had received 70 pictures and videos of the fire from the public and urged them to send more as officers investigate the blaze.

He would not be drawn on the specifics of the criminal investigation of the fire, including whether anyone had been arrested or raids carried out.

He said a team of 250 investigators were working on the case, with a primary aim being to identify victims.

Mrs May was due to chair a meeting of the Grenfell Tower Taskforce yesterday afternoon to drive forward the official response to the tragedy.

Downing Street confirmed that several London boroughs had come together in a Gold Command structure to co-ordinate assistance to those affected by the disaster.

Asked whether Mrs May had considered resigning over criticism of her performance, a spokeswoman said: "These are incredibly challenging times, with a couple of terrible incidents in a week and she is leading the country through this difficult time."

Following reports that some families had been offered alternative accommodation as far away as Preston, in Lancashire a spokeswoman said Mrs May stood by her promise that all those affected will be rehoused within three weeks either in Kensington & Chelsea or a neighbouring borough, unless they want to move elsewhere.

Rehoused

It is thought some families have asked to be rehoused outside the area to be near relatives.

The Downing Street spokeswoman rejected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's call for empty homes near the fire scene to be requisitioned to house families, saying: "We do not support proposals to seize private property."

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has written to councils and housing associations throughout the country, asking them to check by the end of yesterday whether tower blocks in their areas have been cladded using similar materials to those at the Grenfell Tower.

Councils with properties more than 59ft (18m) high with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding must supply samples of the panels to DCLG for tests to establish whether materials in their core are combustible.

DCLG permanent secretary Melanie Dawes' letter said: "There has been much public concern and comment about potential flaws in the cladding that was on Grenfell Tower.

"While the exact reasons for the speed of the spread of fire have yet to be determined, there are additional tests that can be undertaken on the cladding."

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