'87 recoveries' made from Grenfell tower but death toll still unclear

Police investigating the Grenfell Tower disaster say they have made "87 recoveries" but stressed "the catastrophic damage" inside means "that is not 87 people".

Most survivors displaced from Grenfell Tower and Walk are still living in hotels three weeks after the deadly blaze as the Government attempts to find them suitable accommodation.

Fourteen households hoping to be moved out of emergency accommodation have accepted offers for more permanent living arrangements, Grenfell Response Team (GRT) said.

It also emerged that a specialist taskforce will be sent in to Kensington and Chelsea Council to take over the running of key services, following heavy criticism of its response to the disaster.

Commander Stuart Cundy, who is overseeing the Metropolitan Police response to the fire said: "On Monday, we forensically recovered the last of the visible human remains from Grenfell Tower and transferred them to Westminster Mortuary.

"In total we have made 87 recoveries, but I must stress that the catastrophic damage inside Grenfell Tower means that is not 87 people.

"Until formal identification has been completed to the Coroner's satisfaction I cannot say how many people have now been recovered."

Some 21 bodies have been formally identified by the coroner and their families informed, Mr Cundy said.

He added: "Work continues using all available techniques, supported by experts and specialists, to identify all those whose remains we have recovered."

A search by hand has started and will involve investigators "meticulously" sifting through about 15.5 tonnes of debris on each floor, he said.

On Tuesday evening, families of those who died in the fire and those who are missing and presumed dead met Mr Cundy and the senior coroner, Dr Fiona Wilcox.

Relatives heard at the private meeting that their loved ones may not be identified until the end of the year.

Mr Cundy said he does not want there to be any "hidden victims", adding that his team has spoken to at least one person who lived in 106 of the 129 flats within Grenfell Tower.

He said: "Tragically, there are still 23 flats where despite our investigative efforts we have been unable to trace or speak to anyone who was in those properties on the night.

"We assume that sadly no-one from any of those flats survived.

"Until our search operation is complete, I cannot say with any certainty how many people may have been in those flats, as occupiers or visitors, that night."

Meanwhile, campaigners and residents claim little headway has been made in finding accommodation, with residents said to have been offered properties that are either out of the borough, too expensive or on a one-year contract.

Some 139 offers had been made following 158 housing needs assessments by Wednesday - the three-week deadline the Government set itself for offering housing to all of those displaced by the blaze.

GRT said every household that wanted to move from emergency accommodation had been made offers in Kensington and Chelsea or neighbouring boroughs, while 19 families were contacted and had either refused assistance or were abroad.

This was for a range of reasons, including some relatives who were looking after loved ones in hospital, and the response team was "ready to provide them with accommodation when they were ready".

One resident reported being shown a two-bedroom property when they required three bedrooms, others had been offered places in high-rises, and another survivor was said to have been offered accommodation with the caveat that no guests could stay overnight.

GRT has said rent will be suspended for one year and thereafter will be of a "similar scale to a council house social rent", while survivors should feel under no pressure to take up the first offers.

Grenfell survivor Sid-Ali Atmani, currently living in a hotel, turned down the offer of a home because it was too far from the area and the local school.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Some families... they don't want a temporary house. Personally, I speak with a few families, they are not asking for a temporary house.

"Can the Government give them back their houses, their life back? We are not the criminals here, the crime has been happening in the building."

Pilgrim Tucker, a campaigner working with Grenfell Tower families, told the Press Association: "Their concern is they are not being talked to properly, just being presented with an offer.

"People are being texted saying 'Here is your offer, it is rent-free for a year and then it is £400 a week' - that is triple what they are paying before."

She said the example of tripled rent had come from one specific survivor from the tower. It is not clear how many others had been offered similar deals.

Jamal Williams, a resident from a nearby block which has also been evacuated, said he had spoken to a woman who had been offered a place in Harlesden.

He expressed concerns over the clarity of tenancy agreements, adding: "The concern is what it will be afterwards. I think people are looking for a lifetime tenancy arrangement."

A spokesman for the North Kensington Law Centre said many of its clients are still staying in short-term, temporary accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs.

It said there are "unanswered questions about whether those residents will have to pay more rent than they did previously, and whether their new tenancies, both temporary and permanent, will guarantee them the same rights and protections they had before".

Most of the 160 households evacuated from the "finger blocks" surrounding the tower - Testerton Walk, Hurstway Walk and Barandon Walk - are still in emergency accommodation, a Kensington and Chelsea Council spokesman said.

It was also revealed that cladding from 190 high-rise buildings in 51 local authority areas have failed combustibility tests conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Every sample sent in has been found to be combustible, continuing the 100% failure rate, the DCLG said.

Buildings at three NHS trusts in England - North Middlesex University Hospitals, King's College Hospital and Sheffield Children's NHS Trusts - have also failed the tests, health officials said.


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