LONDON (Reuters) – Furious survivors of the London tower block fire that killed at least 80 people booed the new leader of the local authority during chaotic scenes on Wednesday at the council’s first meeting since the blaze.
About 70 survivors of last month’s fire at the Grenfell Tower apartment block and other local residents gathered to protest as councillors met amid tight security at Kensington Town Hall in north London.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council has been criticised by locals and politicians for its slow and ineffective response to the fire while many accuse the authority, which administers one of Britain’s wealthiest areas, of having turned its back on social housing.
“We did not do well enough in our initial response to the tragedy … tonight I want to reiterate my apology to you directly,” said council leader Elizabeth Campbell.
“No ifs, no buts, no excuses. I am deeply sorry. We did not do enough to help you when you needed it most.”
Kensington’s previous leader Nicholas Paget-Brown resigned following his decision to abruptly suspend the last council meeting on June 29 when he said holding it in public could interfere with a future inquiry.
Campbell promised there would be a new direction at the council and that it would spend some of the 250 million pounds ($325 million) it held in reserve on new housing for those who had lived in Grenfell.
But her election was greeted with cries of “shame on you” and her subsequent speech was repeatedly interrupted by shouts and boos, while some residents who could not get into the meeting banged loudly on the council chamber doors.
After Campbell’s speech, a succession of survivors were invited to speak, many furiously berating the council for its failures.
Holding up the key to her Grenfell Tower apartment and weeping Iranian national Mahboobeh Jamalvatan said: “Every time I look at this key, I wonder and I ask ‘what’s the difference between us human beings?’. We are all created human beings.
“The UK is accusing other countries about a lack of human rights, but there are lots of people from those counties living in the UK. Why don’t you care about human rights here?”
British police have said the final death toll from the blaze that gutted the 24-storey block might not be known until next year.
Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Robin Pomeroy