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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Grenfell: survivors joined by royals at memorial held six months after the tragedy 

Survivors, the bereaved, rescue workers were joined by the prime minister and members of the royal family to remember those who lost their lives in the tower block blaze

Mourners hold up photographs of victims as they leave the Grenfell Tower National Memorial service at St Paul's cathedral. Daniel Leavl-Olivas-Pool Getty Images
Mourners hold up photographs of victims as they leave the Grenfell Tower National Memorial service at St Paul's cathedral. Daniel Leavl-Olivas-Pool Getty Images

Survivors of a blaze that killed 71 people six months ago in the Grenfell Tower social housing block in west London joined firefighters and members of the royal family at a national memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The memorial was attended by the bereaved, survivors and rescue workers. They were joined by the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, as well as the singer Adele, who was pictured at the scene on the night of the tragedy.

The fire broke out in the middle of the night on June 14 and quickly gutted the 24-storey building, which was home to a close-knit, multi-ethnic community living in a poor area within one of London’s richest boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea.

The disaster profoundly shocked Britain, highlighting extreme disparities in living conditions between rich and poor and fuelling a debate over why safety concerns voiced by tower residents before the fire had been ignored.

“Today we remember with sorrow, with grief, with tears,” Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, told the congregation.

”Today we ask why warnings were not heeded, why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to.

“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.”

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Police are investigating the fire and say charges may be brought against individuals or organisations. A separate public inquiry is under way on the causes of the fire and the authorities’ response.

The service began when a white banner bearing a large green heart emblazoned with the word “Grenfell” was carried through the congregation to the pulpit by a Catholic priest and Muslim cleric from the area around the charred tower.

Later, a young Syrian musician played a mournful tune on the oud, an instrument commonly played in the Middle East and parts of Africa, where many Grenfell residents had ties.

The Al-Sadiq and Al-Zahra Schools Girls' Choir, who participated in local vigils, performed a song and sang out the words: "Never lose hope."

A recording was played of voices of survivors and members of the local community describing their experiences on the night of the fire and in the following days and months, including expressions of anger at the authorities.

Many of those in the cathedral wept as they listened.

At the end of the service, bereaved families and survivors left the cathedral in silence, holding white roses.

Prime Minister Theresa May, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry were among those attending the service along with bereaved families and emergency services personnel.

Members of Kensington and Chelsea council, which owns Grenfell Tower and has been widely criticised for its actions before and after the fire, were asked not to attend the service because survivors and bereaved families did not want them there.

The devastation inside Grenfell Tower was such that it took police and forensic scientists several months to recover and identify all human remains. The final death toll was 53 adults and 18 children.

Hundreds of people displaced by the fire are still staying in hotels six months later as the council has so far been unable to permanently rehouse them.

Council leader Elizabeth Campbell has said it was doing everything it could to secure quality homes for affected families, but members of the Grenfell community have complained of a slow, confusing process.

Huge sums of money have been being donated by the public and funds set aside by the government.

Before the service, Bishop Tomlin told the BBC: "There was a very strong desire within the local community to have the service here, because faith is very important to a lot of people in the local area, and that can bring a real sense of strength to people."

One of those in attendance is Tiago Alves, who escaped the blaze with his family.

He told the BBC his thoughts would be with bereaved families during the memorial: "Today is a day not about survivors; today is purely about the bereaved, their families and the loved ones they have lost."

He said the memorial would be "quite emotional" and would bring back a lot of awful memories for many people.

But he added: "The reason we are doing this today is so that people never forget - we want people to remember."

Clarrie Mendy, who lost her cousin Mary and Mary's daughter, Kadije Saye, in the fire, said the service was "what the community needs, what the survivors need".

"It is a very emotional day," she said. "I just hope everybody will get something from it."

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