Grenfell Tower fire: Government staff sent in to Kensington and Chelsea Council

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image copyrightGetty/AFP

Government staff have been drafted in to bolster the official response to the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London.

The move follows widespread criticism of the local council's performance.

Residents condemned the relief effort as "absolute chaos" and complained that Kensington and Chelsea Council had provided little support or information.

Councils across London are now involved in the operation, with humanitarian assistance being provided by the west London borough of Ealing.

Kensington and Chelsea Council said it would cooperate "in full" with the government's inquiry into the fire, in which at least 58 people are believed to have died.

Many have been left homeless by the massive fire that engulfed the 24-storey block of flats on Wednesday.

Police fear the number of the dead could increase. The BBC understands the death toll could rise to about 70 people in total.

As part of the new move by the government, a team of civil servants has been embedded into the council office.

Other measures outlined by the prime minister following a meeting with residents on Saturday, included more staff covering phone lines and ground staff wearing high-visibility clothing so they could be easily found.

At the scene

By BBC reporter, Mark Lobel

image copyrightPA

The residents here are now telling us the volunteers are at breaking point.

There are expected to be government civil servants down here, on the ground, helping out.

Whether they are in hi-vis jackets or whether they are meant to be replacing the volunteers, there has been no sign of them so far.

I've been speaking to residents, speaking to people who've been here all morning, I've been speaking to the police and they haven't noticed a change yet.

The Home Office said it was making arrangements for the family of civil engineering Mohammed Alhajali, who died in the fire, to travel from Syria to the UK for his funeral.

Questions continue to be asked about why the fire spread so quickly, with some suggesting new cladding fitted during a recent refurbishment could have been to blame.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said a criminal investigation would examine whether building regulations had been breached when the block was overhauled.

The public inquiry set up by the government following the tragedy would also examine if rules had been broken, he told BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

image copyrightSyria Solidarity Campaign
image captionMohammed Alhajali became separated from his brother as they tried to escape

Asked whether the government had revised building regulations, as recommended by a coroner, following another deadly fire in south London tower block in 2009, Mr Hammond said the government had responded "correctly and appropriately" to the recommendations.

He said if the public inquiry found something needed to be done to make buildings safe, it would be done, he added.

Asked about his council's poor response, leader Nicholas Paget-Brown said staff were "working closely" with the government, charities, volunteer and resident groups and the emergency services to help re-house and assist those affected.

"People rightly have questions about the causes of the fire and why it spread so quickly and these will be answered," he said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told ITV's Peston on Sunday that the council seemed to "lack the resources to deal with a crisis of this magnitude", despite being the country's "wealthiest borough".


Meanwhile, Labour MP David Lammy, whose friend Khadija Saye is among the dead, has called for urgent action to make sure all documents relating to the refurbishment and management of the Grenfell Tower fire are protected.

After speaking to residents, he said: "Suspicion of a cover-up is rising.

"We need to make sure that the emails, minutes of meetings, correspondence with contractors, safety assessments, specifications and reports are not destroyed," he added.

Theresa May has also come in for a barrage of criticism over her own response to the disaster.

On Friday, she was jeered on a visit to the North Kensington estate, and protesters marching on Friday and Saturday called for her resignation.

First Secretary of State Damian Green defended the prime minister, saying she was as "distraught as we all are".

media captionLaura Trant walks around the closed and silent Kensington and Chelsea town hall

So far in the investigation:

  • Six victims have been provisionally identified by police
  • Three have been named so far, including Syrian refugee Mohammed Alhajali, 23, five-year-old Isaac Shawo, and artist Khadija Saye
  • Of those killed, one died in hospital
  • Eighteen people remain in hospital, nine in critical care
  • A criminal investigation has been launched
  • The government has committed £5m for clothes, food and emergency supplies for the victims
  • UK councils are carrying out urgent reviews of their tower blocks, the Local Government Association says
  • A British Red Cross appeal is launched to raise money for those affected
  • The emergency number for people concerned about friends and family is 0800 0961 233

The fire broke out at the tower block, which contained 120 one and two-bedroom flats, shortly before 01:00 BST on Wednesday.

It tore through all floors of the building and took more than 200 firefighters 24 hours to bring under control.

Two neighbouring Tube lines are partly suspended until 14:00 BST on Sunday amid safety concerns of debris falling on to the tracks.

The Hammersmith and City Line has been suspended between Edgware Road and Hammersmith, and the Circle Line is also closed, Transport for London said.

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