Grenfell Tower: Government sends in 'taskforce'

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Media captionAlok Sharma was close to tears when making a statement

The government has ordered a taskforce to take over parts of Kensington and Chelsea Council in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The council has been heavily criticised for its handling of the disaster on 14 June that killed at least 80 people.

Both the council leader and chief executive have resigned as a result.

Only 14 out of the 158 affected families have accepted offers of temporary accommodation but ministers say no-one will be forced to move.

Housing minister Alok Sharma fought back tears as he told the Commons of hearing "harrowing accounts" from survivors, saying it had been the most "humbling and moving experience of my life".

He said 19 families "have not yet been ready to engage" in the process of being rehoused, while others were waiting for offers of permanent tenancy and many were still in hotels.

A statement from the Met Police said 250 specialist investigators were working on the operation and the last visible human remains were removed from Grenfell Tower on Monday.

Met Police Commander Stuart Cundy said there had been a total of 87 recoveries but, due to the "catastrophic damage" inside, that did not mean 87 people.

So far, 21 people have been formally identified and their families informed.

The taskforce is to take over the housing department, as well as other council operations.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: "The challenge of providing that support is, and will continue to be, significant. I want to help the council meet that challenge. "

'Can't stay in crisis mode'

Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, who was chosen as Kensington and Chelsea Council's new leader on Monday said: "The unprecedented scale of this incident makes it impossible for one organisation to cope on its own. That's why my first action as leader was to ask the Department for Communities and Local Government for help.

"I look forward to working with their staff as we all concentrate our efforts on healing the wounds in the north of our borough and to regain the trust of a community traumatised by disaster."

BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said it was not yet clear who would be on the taskforce - but a statement from DCLG said the detail would be confirmed in the "following few weeks".

Eleanor Kelly, chief executive of Southwark Council and spokeswoman for the Grenfell Response Team, said the team would be "very welcome".

She told BBC Radio London: "We can't stay in a crisis mode for an extended period of time because everybody needs to actually feel that things have gone back to a level of stability [and] a level of control."

Image copyright Reuters

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said putting the taskforce in place was the "absolute minimum" the government should do, but called for external commissioners to take charge of the council until elections next year.

Meanwhile, the government has said 190 buildings in England that underwent fire tests on their cladding have failed, the government. It also announced that cladding from one building had passed the test - the only sample to do so to date.

What have the residents been told?

The news about the taskforce comes after a tense three-hour meeting on Tuesday between survivors, Cdr Cundy and Westminster coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox.

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Media captionSid-Ali Atmani and daughter Hayam lived on the 15th floor in Grenfell Tower

Survivors were reportedly angry as they asked for information about people who were still missing.

However, they were told the "recovery phase" could last until the end of the year, as Dr Wilcox described the inside of the tower as "apocalyptic".

Police also faced questions at the meeting as to why there had not been any arrests.

Where has the investigation got to?

Cdr Cundy warned it may never be possible to identify all the victims.

"Such is the devastation caused by the fire it may be that tragically we cannot find or identify all those who lost their lives," he said.

Police again appealed for the public to come forward to ensure there are no "hidden victims" from the fire.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption It could be months until the final death toll is known, police have warned

What is happening with rehousing survivors?

The taskforce announcement came on the same day as the government-set deadline to find temporary accommodation for all those made homeless by the fire.

The Grenfell Response Team says 139 formal offers of housing have been made to survivors, after the prime minister promised housing would be offered to those in need by Wednesday.

Housing Minister Alok Sharma told the Commons the temporary homes were in Kensington & Chelsea or neighbouring boroughs and being offered on a rent-free basis - but no-one will be "forced into a home they do not want to move to".

A spokesman for North Kensington Law Centre - which represents more than 100 Grenfell victims - said many of the offers had been unsuitable.

Father-of-two Mahad Egal escaped the fire with his family from their fourth floor flat and is now staying with friends, as the hotel room he was given was "too small" for four people.

He has been offered a property but it is in a different borough and is bigger than his flat in Grenfell, which he worries will lead to higher rent costs.

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Media captionGrenfell Tower survivor Antonio is living in a hotel and has turned down two flats.

Robert Atkinson, leader of the Labour Party at Kensington and Chelsea Council, said decisions about accommodation should be taken by survivors when they are ready - and not just to meet government deadlines.

"I want these arrangements to be made in the timescale and at the pace at which the victims and survivors wish to make these decisions."

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said the government has been "off the pace at each stage following this terrible tragedy" and the latest statement on the numbers rehoused show "that in some ways it still is".

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