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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Tower blaze survivors heckle council chief as she apologises for failures

Officials promise new housing but families claim they have been forgotten

A survivor brandishes a piece of building debris at a council meeting about the Grenfell Tower disaster. REUTERS/Neil Hall
A survivor brandishes a piece of building debris at a council meeting about the Grenfell Tower disaster. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Survivors of the London tower block disaster that left at least 80 dead heckled the new leader of the local authority at a chaotic public meeting on Wednesday as she apologised for failures in dealing with the crisis.

“No ifs, no buts, no excuses. I am deeply sorry. We did not do enough to help you when you needed it most," said Elizabeth Campbell in a speech punctuated by booing and shouts from survivors.

Her predecessor as leader of Kensington and Chelsea council quit following complaints about shoddy work at the public housing block, an ineffective response to the disaster and attempts to prevent scrutiny of decision-making by officials.

Her own tenure began with accusations that she was out of touch with the people she represented after admitting in a radio interview that she had never been inside a high-rise tower block in the borough.

Ms Campbell said that the council would spend some of the £250 million it held in reserves on new housing for residents of the gutted Grenfell Tower, but her speech was greeted with hostility. Some people who were unable to get into the meeting banged on the council chamber doors.

Survivors who spoke after Ms Campbell criticised the council’s response to the tragedy. One told the meeting that he had been living in a hotel room with a double bed for him, his wife and three children since the tragedy. “I was forgotten about,” he said.

Labour councillor Judith Blakeman was particularly scathing, saying that “everyone in a position of authority ignored and dismissed Grenfell residents until it was too late.

“Councillor Campbell, you apologised for the council's response after the fire, you must apologise for behaviour before the fire. Survivors were far more eloquent than we can be, and do more justice to their plight than we can. Cabinet, [you must] rethink your position'

Fellow councillor Beinazir Lasharie gave a very personal take on events, saying “I saw the fire, my son doesn’t want to go home because on Friday night there was a second fire.”

The meeting was eventually suspended after a survivor of the fire fainted after giving evidence about her ordeal.

The British government has ordered a public inquiry into the disaster following complaints of substandard refurbishment work on the 24-storey building in one of Britain’s most wealthy boroughs.

It will examine the use of cladding on the outside of the block that caught alight and left victims unable to escape the burning building.

Schools, residential buildings and hospitals have all been refurbished used similar materials which have failed fire safety tests carried out since the blaze.