London fire: Theresa May meets with victims at Downing Street
LONDON (CNN) — A day after protesters chastised her near the scene of the deadly Grenfell Tower disaster, British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting Saturday with victims and local residents at 10 Downing Street.
According to police, 58 people are missing and presumed dead in the fire, though they say this could change. At the moment, police said 16 bodies have been recovered.
Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy later clarified that the number of people confirmed dead is 30, but another 28 remain missing and are presumed dead.
The latest statement came as May met with a number of those affected by the fire.
Her invitation came after she faced cries of “Shame on you!” and “Coward!” on Friday as security staff bundled her into her car following a meeting with locals at a church hall.
The embattled May has been under relentless criticism since visiting and leaving the scene Thursday without talking to any of those who had lost their homes in the blaze.
The attempt to quell the growing anger over her response to the fire comes as May is under unprecedented pressure following her party’s loss of its parliamentary majority last week in the country’s general election.
Many residents who spoke to CNN were angry at the Prime Minister’s decision not to meet with victims when she visited the area Thursday.
May has promised a full public inquiry and announced a fund of £5 million ($6.4 million) to help those affected by the blaze.
But on Friday she continued to sidestep questions over whether she had failed to grasp the mood of the public by failing to meet with residents in the fire’s immediate aftermath.
In an interview with the BBC, May was asked numerous times whether she had misjudged the situation and why she had not met with those affected by the blaze.
“This was a terrible tragedy that took place,” she said Friday. “People have lost their lives and others have lost everything, all their possessions, their home and everything.
“What we are doing is putting in place the support that will help them. But it is a terrible tragedy. I have heard horrifying stories from the fire brigade, from police and from victims themselves who were in that tower but also from other local residents, some of whom of course have not been able to go back to their homes either.”
May’s meeting Saturday with victims, residents, volunteers and community leaders came as Queen Elizabeth II marked her official birthday with a statement saying it was “difficult to escape a very somber national mood.”
On Friday, Elizabeth and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, visited the area and met residents and community representatives.
In her official birthday message Saturday, the queen addressed the latest tragedy to hit the nation.
“Today is traditionally a day of celebration,” the Queen said in a statement. “This year, however, it is difficult to escape a very somber national mood. In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies.”
She said her visits to London and Manchester — the latter the site of a terror attack last month — have highlighted the people who offer comfort and support to those affected.
“Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity,” she said. “United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favor, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”
The anger on the streets of London’s North Kensington has been growing in the past 48 hours.
Residents furious over the handling of the Grenfell Tower disaster descended on the local town hall Friday in west London, shouting, “We want justice.”
Some wore T-shirts with images of missing loved ones as they climbed the front steps and pushed their way into the building.
A second protest began later at Britain’s Home Office, which oversees fire prevention and policing nationally. Organizers handed out fliers that read, “Your anger must be heard.” The protesters eventually made their way to busy Oxford Circus, where they staged a sit-in.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan demanded the government publish a list of other tower blocks checked by investigators. In a letter to May, he listed a litany of residents’ concerns, including a lack of information about missing relatives, the chaotic response of the local council and worries over safety in other tower blocks.
“They feel the government and local council haven’t done enough to help them in the aftermath of this horrific incident, or to provide answers to their increasingly urgent questions,” Khan wrote.
Police have opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the blaze. They examined the apartment where the fire started and determined “there is nothing to suggest the fire was started deliberately.” A team of senior detectives is investigating.
One member of Parliament has called for corporate manslaughter charges after learning flammable material was used to clad the building during a recent renovation. No sprinkler system was installed.
In the fire’s aftermath, the London Underground on Saturday suspended subway service between Edgware Road and Hammersmith on two lines at the request of the London Fire Brigade.
The fire and rescue service cited “the short term risk of debris falling onto the track.”
Details of victims emerge
While the political fallout from the tragedy continues, the names of those who died are beginning to emerge.
One was Gloria Trevisan, 26, an Italian architect living in London because her family was having financial difficulties back in Italy.
A lawyer for the family told CNN that Trevisan spoke with her parents before she died, telling them: “I am going to heaven. I will help you from up there.”
Mohammad Al-Hajali, 23, a refugee who fled Syria for the UK in 2014, was identified as another victim.
Mohammad and his brother Omar, both students, lived together on the 14th floor.
Omar, 25, survived, but the brothers were separated as firefighters tried to rescue them from the burning building early Wednesday.
The UK government has promised that all those left homeless by the disaster will be rehoused in the local area. But the government has been criticized for failing to act on recommendations from previous tower block fires.
The Prime Minister is facing particular scrutiny over the role of her new chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his parliamentary seat in last week’s election.
Barwell had told lawmakers that the government intended to review fire safety standards following a fatal fire at Lakanal House, a London high-rise in 2009. Three women and three children died. Exterior paneling helped the fire spread.