Friday 15 December 2017

Grenfell tower disaster: Families told victims 'may not be identified until end of year'

Grenfell Tower in west London after a fire engulfed the 24-storey building. Photo: PA
Grenfell Tower in west London after a fire engulfed the 24-storey building. Photo: PA Newsdesk Newsdesk

THE families of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire have been told at a meeting with a coroner and the Met Police that their relatives may not be identified until the end of the year.

The private meeting took place on Tuesday evening at the Olympia London in West Kensington, just over a mile from Grenfell Tower itself, with Westminster coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox and Met Police Commander Stuart Cundy in attendance.

Lotifa Begum, a coordinator for the charity Muslim Aid, who left partway through the meeting, said the families had been told that the "recovery phase", where the authorities identify bodies, could take until the end of the year.

She said some of the families inside the meeting were "very upset and angry", and a few had been overwhelmed and had to leave.

The family of Jessica Urbano, who lived on the 20th floor of the building, arrived at the meeting wearing t-shirts saying 'Happy Birthday Jessie' along with a picture of the little girl, on what a family member online said was her 13th birthday.

Families of victims greeted each other at the entrance before going inside, some ushered in by police staff.

People look at the burnt Grenfell Tower apartment building in London (Frank Augstein/AP)
People look at the burnt Grenfell Tower apartment building in London (Frank Augstein/AP)

According to an email inviting families to the meeting seen by the Press Association, it was an opportunity for victims' families to "have some questions answered".

But the families were told before the meeting that they would not be allowed to put questions directly to Dr Wilcox or Commander Cundy, and had to email their questions in by 11am the day before.

The Press Association understands that some family members were not happy with how the meeting was organised.

Ms Begum said: "A lot of the families would have appreciated a lot more time and notice."

At least 80 people died or are presumed missing after the block of flats caught fire early on June 14.

Chris Imafidon left about two and a half hours after the meeting began, and said he felt "insulted" that victims' families were not allowed to directly ask questions inside.

"Why would you not take questions if you don't have anything to hide?" Mr Imafidon asked.

His close friend Mohamed Amied Neda had lived on the 23rd floor of the tower.

The 57-year-old was found outside the tower and died from multiple injuries consistent with a fall.

Mr Imafidon added that many people did not know about the meeting until lunchtime on Monday, just hours after it was called, and a day before it happened.

Emerging from the meeting, he said he had been told inside not to speak to members of the press afterwards.

Mr Imafidon also criticised the daily newsletter provided to update friends and family of victims.

"After reading this letter you know less" he said.

"There is nothing in this that is specific to any case, they just tell you generalities."

Several families emerged from the meeting more than three hours after it had begun, but it was unclear whether the meeting was still going.

Nabil Choucair, who still does not know what happened to six members of his family who were in the tower on the night of the fire, said the meeting had left him "devastated" although the police had divulged little new information.

"There was a lot of information not being given out to the members of the families," he said.

"Everybody wants to know the truth."

He said police liaison officers allocated to families had not been able to answer their questions due to a lack of information from people higher up.

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