After fire, May’s government says will act to protect Britons

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An apartment inside Grenfell Tower in north Kensington is seen in a handout picture released by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain on June 18, 2017. Metropolitan Police Handout via REUTERS
By Paul Sandle and Emily G Roe | LONDON

The government said it would act on recommendations from a probe into the London tower block fire, responding to a disaster critics said showed something had gone “badly wrong” in the country.

Police said on Sunday the number of people feared to have died in the blaze would rise from the current total of 58, which includes 30 confirmed fatalities, as they carry out a full forensic and systematic search of the building. They said they would provide an updated figure on Monday.

Prime Minister Theresa May, criticised for keeping her distance from angry residents during her visit to the charred remains of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, said on Saturday the response to the disaster had been “not good enough”.

Her government is trying to make up ground in reacting to a fire that trapped people in their beds in the early hours of Wednesday, with many unable to escape as the flames raced up the building, cutting off exit routes and forcing some to jump.

May and her ministers have said they will do all they can to help those left homeless after the blaze and make sure other high-rise buildings, usually home to poorer people, are checked and safe.

But with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, emboldened by a better-than-expected result in an early election that wiped out the Conservatives’ majority, May’s government has been forced to justify spending cuts at a time when talks to leave the European Union are beginning.

“If something needs to be done to make buildings safe, it will be done,” Chancellor Philip Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

“Let’s get the technical advice properly evaluated by a public inquiry and then let’s decide how to go forward.”

May has announced a fast-tracked public inquiry into the fire and said on Sunday every household affected by the blaze would receive a minimum payment of 5,500 pounds from a 5-million-pound emergency fund.

A “Grenfell Fire Response Team”, pooling resources from local and national government, the British Red Cross, police and fire brigade is also being set up, to focus primarily on finding new homes for survivors as quickly as possible.

On the streets, there is anger over a block renovation project that did not install safety devices such as sprinklers. Suspicions have grown that flammable materials were used to clad the building and accelerated the spread of the fire.

“YEARS OF NEGLECT”

After a church ceremony to pay respect to those who died in the fire, London mayor Sadiq Khan said he found “a community frustrated and angry”.

“Angry not simply at the poor response in the days afterwards from the council and the government, but the years of neglect from the council and from successive governments,” he added.

But the Conservative leader of the local council, Nick Paget-Brown, said he and others had been working hard.

“It’s not true to say there are no councillors around, it’s not true to say Kensington and Chelsea council is not evident. It is,” he said.

Labour’s Corbyn, who unlike May was quick to meet local residents and was praised for showing empathy, led calls for the government to drop its spending cuts – demands that Hammond said he was listening to.

“In the wake of (the) Grenfell fire we have to recognise that something has gone badly, badly wrong in this country, that predominantly poor people die in a towering inferno because possibly in the long term (there had been a) lack of public investment,” Corbyn told ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme.

(Writing by Elizabeth Piper and Costas Pitas; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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