Six months on, Grenfell fire survivors weep at London memorial

Six months on, Grenfell fire survivors weep at London memorial

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Survivors of a blaze that killed 71 people six months ago in the Grenfell Tower social housing block in west London wept during a multi-faith memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday attended by members of the royal family.

Bereaved relatives held pictures of their loved ones as they commemorated Britain’s deadliest fire since World War Two, a tragedy that has profoundly shocked the nation.

Fire broke out in the middle of the night on June 14 and quickly gutted the 24-storey building, which was home to a multi-ethnic community living in a poor area within one of London’s richest boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea.

The disaster highlighted the area’s extreme disparities in living conditions between rich and poor and fueled a debate over why safety concerns voiced by tower residents before the fire had been ignored.

The service reflected the multi-cultural character of the Grenfell community, with Christian and Muslim prayers and music from Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Western traditions.

It also addressed the anger of many survivors over what they perceive as the neglect of their community before and after the fire. A majority of the hundreds of people displaced by the fire are still staying in hotels because suitable permanent homes have not been provided yet.

“Today we ask why warnings were not heeded, why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to,” Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, told the congregation.

“Today we hold out hope that the public inquiry will get to the truth of all that led up to the fire at Grenfell Tower … and we trust that the truth will bring justice.”

Police are investigating the fire and say charges may be brought against individuals or organizations. A separate public inquiry is under way on the causes of the fire and the authorities’ response.

Mourners pay their respects outside St Paul’s Cathedral after a memorial service in honour of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville


Prime Minister Theresa May, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry were among those attending the service along with bereaved families and firefighters who took part in the rescue effort on the night.

The devastation inside Grenfell Tower was such that it took police and forensic scientists several months to recover and identify all human remains. The final death toll was 53 adults and 18 children.

The service began when a white banner bearing a large green heart emblazoned with the word “Grenfell” was carried through the congregation to the pulpit by a Catholic priest and Muslim cleric from the area around the charred tower.

Later, a young Syrian musician played a mournful tune on the oud, an instrument commonly played in the Middle East and parts of Africa, where many Grenfell residents had ties.

A choir of Muslim schoolgirls performed a song called “Inshallah”, and survivor Nadia Jafari, who escaped from the tower but lost her elderly father Ali, read a poem called “Remember Me” by the 13th century Persian poet and scholar Rumi.

The service also included a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed by a Caribbean-style steel band, and a performance of “Somewhere” from the musical “West Side Story.”

Schoolchildren from the Grenfell area scattered green hearts, a symbol of solidarity with the victims and survivors, around the cathedral’s altar.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

Exclusive: After Grenfell fire, same builders rehired to replace dangerous cladding, Reuters finds

Exclusive: After Grenfell fire, same builders rehired to replace dangerous cladding, Reuters finds

By Tom Bergin

LONDON (Reuters) – Some building companies that installed dangerous cladding on social housing blocks across Britain are now winning new contracts following the Grenfell Tower blaze to remove their original work and install panels that can pass safety tests, a Reuters review shows.

The safety of high-rise buildings has come under scrutiny since the Grenfell disaster in June which killed 71 people. The British government, which ordered a series of tests to establish which types of cladding panels met fire safety rules, said those on the London tower block did not comply.

A Reuters review identified 65 other towers with cladding of a type that was approved by local building inspectors, but which government tests found did not comply with the statutory regulations. The towers were clad by major builders including French groups Engie <ENGIE.PA> and Bouygues <BOUY.PA>, and Britain’s Galliford Try <GFRD.L>, Forrest, Wates Group, Rydon Group and Willmott Dixon.

The Reuters review was based on publicly available building planning permission documents, which detail the work carried out and the materials used, as well as visits to the towers and statements from housing providers and builders.

For 29 of the buildings, the same builders that installed the cladding have won new contracts to remove or replace the panels, according to the owners of the buildings, who said they were paying millions of pounds for the work. The rehired companies are Willmott Dixon, Wates and Engie.

Willmott Dixon and Rydon said their cladding work complied with safety regulations, but did not say how. Wates, Bouygues, Galliford Try and Engie declined to answer questions on whether their work complied with regulations.

“Following the Grenfell tragedy, we have been supporting the relevant councils, and removed the cladding where requested. Our primary concern is to ensure all residents in these buildings are secure and safe,” said an Engie spokesman.

In the wake of Grenfell, the government ordered an independent review into building regulations and fire safety, and the way the rules are complied with and enforced. The review is due to report its findings early next year.

The 65 towers in question are owned by local governments – known as councils – or housing associations, which are publicly funded, non-profit bodies that provide housing intended for low-income people.

At the time all the panels were installed, building inspectors – usually council workers but sometimes staff of inspection firms licensed by councils – signed off the work as being compliant with safety regulations, according to the owners of the blocks and the building firms involved.

Chris Blythe, CEO of trade body the Chartered Institute of Building, said builders hired to carry out high-rise cladding projects used many subcontractors and advisers, and that this could lead to misunderstandings, with one party thinking another had ensured work was compliant.

“The business model we have is almost geared up for potential failure,” said Blythe, adding that if fewer parties were involved, there would be less room for confusion over responsibilities.

For all 65 blocks identified by Reuters, the councils or council-licensed firms whose inspectors approved the work as compliant either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment while the independent review was ongoing.

The government has already acknowledged problems with the inspection process, with Fire Service Minister Nick Hurd saying in July there was a “system failure, built up over many years” in the area of regulation enforcement.

However a spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which ordered the cladding tests and regulations review, said sign-off by inspectors did not absolve contractors of responsibility to meet safety standards.


Cladding systems are panels put up on the outside of buildings to improve their aesthetics and energy efficiency.

Since 2006, building regulations have required materials used in cladding on high-rise buildings to be able to pass the “BS 8414 test” which measures combustibility.

After Grenfell, the DCLG ordered a series BS 8414 tests to establish which types of cladding met fire safety rules. It said that, of around 600 social housing towers in England that had cladding, 161 had systems of a type that failed the tests. But it did not name the towers.

Reuters identified 60 blocks which, since 2006, had been cladded with aluminum panels with polyethylene cores – a form of cladding that failed the DCLG’s test, and which the prime minister and three other ministers have said breaches safety regulations when used in tall buildings. Five other blocks, also cladded since 2006, had combinations of panel and insulation board that failed the test.

The three companies that were rehired to replace the cladding on 29 of the towers had all originally fitted aluminum panels with polyethylene cores.

Wates secured contracts with Westminster council in central London and One Manchester housing association to reclad 14 towers it covered in 2007 and 2010.

Willmott Dixon has received contracts from Oxford council and west London’s Octavia housing association to replace panels it installed on three blocks early this year and in 2013.

Engie has been hired by Barnet Homes in north London to replace cladding on three blocks it clad in 2012. It also has a contract to remove cladding from nine blocks in Salford, north England, owned by the local council that it clad around 2016.

Engie has been hired to remove panels from 12 blocks it clad in 2012 and 2016, and install new cladding on three of them. The contracts are with housing associations Barnet Homes in north London, and Pendleton Together in Salford, north England.

The three building companies declined to comment on how much the contracts were worth.

However five of the six owners of the buildings told Reuters how much money they were paying for the work.

Oxford council said about 1 million pounds ($1.3 million) for its two blocks; Octavia said about 2 million pounds for one block, Westminster council said about 6 million pounds for six blocks; and Barnet Homes said 8.2 million pounds for three blocks.

Salford council said it expects to spend up to 25 million pounds in total for the removal and recladding work on nine blocks. Engie has been hired to remove its original panels, but the recladding contractor has not yet been named.

One Manchester declined to comment on how much its recladding work would cost.

The building companies declined to comment on the figures.


Jonathan Raynes a partner with law firm Steptoe & Johnson said councils or housing associations who paid contractors for cladding that turned out to be non-compliant could sue the contractor for the cost of replacing the cladding.

“The contract will almost certainly have a provision that says the contractor must build in accordance with statutory requirements,” he said, adding that if the contract didn’t say this, a requirement to act legally could be deemed implicit.

Raynes and Adam Creasey, a solicitor with Lewis Nedas, said the fact building inspectors signed off on work did not remove the builder’s responsibility to adhere to building regulations. Creasey added a builder could conceivably try and reclaim any money awarded against it from the body which provided the inspection sign-off.

Reuters contacted the owners of all 65 blocks with cladding of a type that failed the government tests – seven local councils and 10 housing associations – and asked if they were considering legal action against contractors to recover the money spent on cladding, or to cover the cost of replacement.

Only Camden council in north London said it was considering legal action. It declined to elaborate on its plans.

Barnet said it was not seeking any money from its contractor, Engie, over the original cladding but declined to say why. Westminster council said it was not seeking any money from its contractor, Wates, because it believed the original work was compliant with the rules in place at the time.

Oxford council said it had not sought money from Willmott Dixon over the original cladding and would only consider taking legal advice after the independent review was completed.

One Manchester said it would not talk about seeking recompense while the review was on-going.

(Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Pravin Char)

Manslaughter charges possible in London tower block fire disaster: police

FILE PHOTO: A member of the emergency services works inside the Grenfell apartment tower block in North Kensington, London, Britain June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – The criminal investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire that killed about 80 people in London in June could result in manslaughter charges, but any prosecutions could be months away due to the complexity of the forensic work, police said.

The 24-storey social housing block, home to a poor, multi-ethnic community, was destroyed on June 14 by a fire that started in a fourth-floor flat in the middle of the night and rapidly engulfed the whole building.

Police have formally identified 60 of the victims, but painstaking forensic work to find human remains, some of them tiny fragments, among tonnes of debris inside the charred ruin is ongoing.

Commander Stuart Cundy, who has overall control of police operations at Grenfell Tower, told reporters on Tuesday it was likely the final death toll would be a little below 80.

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Bonner, in charge of the criminal side of the police investigation, said a forensic examination of the tower would continue into 2018 and would be followed by lengthy laboratory analysis.

“I will seek to identify and deal with whatever offences come to light during that investigation,” he said.

“The kind of stuff that I would envisage we may come across would involve offences perhaps of fraud, misconduct offences, health and safety breaches, breaches of fire safety regulations and of course offences of manslaughter whether that be on a corporate or an individual level,” he added.

However, Bonner said this should not be taken as an indication that police had already found evidence to support any such charges.

The building, which was completed in 1974, was owned by the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of London’s richest, and managed by an organization that ran social housing on the borough’s behalf.

Bonner said police had so far identified 336 companies or organizations that were involved in the construction, refurbishment and management of the tower and officers had recovered as many as 31 million documents from all of those.

Police were now also investigating allegations of thefts from some of the less damaged flats in the lower levels of the building. There had been one confirmed theft of a considerable amount of money from one of the flats and three further allegations of theft, they said.

The thefts had come to light when former residents had been let into their apartments to pick up treasured possessions and say goodbye to their homes. Cundy said police had been shocked.

“All of us here, working down on Grenfell Tower or working on it anywhere, are just so disappointed that something like that can happen on the back of such a huge tragedy,” he said.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)

London fire inquiry starts amid anger, despair of survivors

Demonstrators gather outside the Grenfell Tower public Inquiry in central London, Britain, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – A public inquiry into a fire that killed at least 80 people at London’s Grenfell Tower will get to the truth about the tragedy, its chairman pledged on Thursday, but critics said survivors of the blaze were still being failed.

The 24-storey social housing block, home to a poor, multi-ethnic community, was gutted on June 14 in an inferno that started in a fourth-floor apartment in the middle of the night and quickly engulfed the building.

Grenfell Tower was part of a deprived housing estate in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the richest boroughs in London, and the disaster has prompted a national debate about social inequality and government neglect of poor communities.

The inquiry started with a minute’s silence to honor the victims, whose exact number remains unknown because of the devastation inside the tower.

“(The inquiry) can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London,” its chairman, retired judge Martin Moore-Bick, said in his opening statement.

He said the inquiry was not there to punish anyone or to award compensation, but to get to the truth. A separate police investigation is underway, which could result in manslaughter charges. There have been no arrests.

The inquiry will examine the cause and spread of the fire, the design, construction and refurbishment of the tower, whether fire regulations relating to high-rise buildings are adequate and whether they were complied with. It will also look at the actions of the authorities before and after the tragedy.

But critics warned of a disconnect between the technical, legalistic inquiry process and the ongoing ordeal of traumatized former Grenfell Tower residents still awaiting new homes.

Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that all families whose homes were destroyed in the fire would be rehoused within three weeks, but three months later most still live in hotels.

Just three out of 197 households that needed rehousing have moved into permanent homes, while 29 have moved into temporary accommodation.

“We lost everything. It’s difficult for the other people to be in our shoes,” Miguel Alves, who escaped his 13th-floor apartment in Grenfell Tower with his family, told the BBC.

“Now I’m without anything, I’m in the hotel, I have to cope with my family. My daughter, she just started school. They need some stability and that I cannot give to my family,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: The spire of the Notting Hill Methodist Church stands in front of Grenfell Tower, destroyed in a catastrophic fire, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in London, Britain July 2, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The spire of the Notting Hill Methodist Church stands in front of Grenfell Tower, destroyed in a catastrophic fire, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in London, Britain July 2, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo


Emma Dent Coad, a member of parliament from the opposition Labour Party who represents the area, said the inquiry’s remit was too narrow and would fail to address the blaze’s deeper causes such as failings in social housing policies.

She also criticized the choice of venue for Moore-Bick’s opening statement, a lavishly decorated room in central London.

“We were sitting in a ballroom dripping with chandeliers. I think it was the most incredibly inappropriate place to have something like that, and actually says it all about the us-and-them divide that people see,” she told the BBC.

Many of those affected have also expressed disquiet about the fact that Moore-Bick and the other lawyers appointed to run the inquiry are all white and part of a perceived “establishment” far removed from their own circumstances.

“The experience of many residents of that tower is that they were ignored because of their immigration status,” lawyer Jolyon Maugham, who is advising some residents, told the BBC.

“We need someone on the inquiry team that can speak to that experience and at the moment on the panel we have a bunch of white privileged barristers,” he said.

One of the difficulties facing the inquiry is that it needs former residents to give evidence but some fear possible deportation.

The government has said it would grant a 12-month amnesty to anyone affected by the fire who was in Britain illegally. Supporters say only permanent residency rights will persuade people to come forward.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

UK inquiry to examine Grenfell Tower fire but not broader social issues

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Grenfell Tower, which was destroyed in a fatal fire, in London, Britain July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Tolga Akmen

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – A public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 80 people in June began on Tuesday with a mission to examine the cause of and response to the tragedy, but not broader issues such as social housing policy.

The destruction of the 24-storey social housing block, home to a poor, multi-ethnic community, in an inferno that spread with terrifying speed in the middle of the night shocked the nation and raised public anger over social inequalities.

Grenfell Tower was part of a deprived housing estate in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the richest areas in the country. The fire has prompted debate about the impact on poor communities of years of public spending cuts by Conservative-led governments.

The inquiry, led by retired judge Martin Moore-Bick, was announced by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to show she wanted the truth about the disaster to emerge after her initial response was seen by survivors as slow and insensitive.

The inquiry formally opened on Tuesday with the publication of its terms of reference. Moore-Bick will start hearings in September.

It will examine the cause and spread of the fire, the design, construction and refurbishment of the tower, fire regulations relating to high-rise buildings, whether they were complied with at Grenfell Tower, and the actions of the authorities before and after the tragedy.

But Moore-Bick said the inquiry would not delve into broader issues such as social housing policy and the relationship between the community and the authorities, even though many local people wanted it to.

That drew immediate criticism from the local member of parliament, Emma Dent Coad of the opposition Labour Party, who said it was precisely what the community had feared.

“We were told ‘no stone would be unturned’ but instead are being presented with a technical assessment which will not get to the heart of the problem: what effects if any the lack of investment into social housing had on the refurbishment project,” she said in a statement.

Moore-Bick said it would take too long to fully examine social housing policy issues when there was a need for the inquiry to quickly identify safety problems that may be putting lives at risk in other tower blocks.

May said the government would tackle the deeper issues in a different way.

“I am determined that the broader questions raised by this fire — including around social housing — are not left unanswered,” she said in a statement.

May said the housing minister, Alok Sharma, would personally meet as many social housing tenants as possible in the Grenfell Tower area and across Britain to help identify common concerns, and there would be further announcements about this shortly.

But Dent Coad rejected the assurance.

“We have no confidence whatever in the ability of Alok Sharma and a few politically compromised individuals to take on the task of answering this most important question,” she said.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry faces an uphill struggle in gaining the cooperation of those affected by the fire, many of whom are distrustful of the authorities and see Moore-Bick as a remote, establishment figure unlikely to relate to their lives.

During consultation meetings with the community in recent weeks, he was heckled several times.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alister Doyle)

UK announces fire safety review after tests identify 82 unsafe tower blocks

A man looks at floral tributes for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fatal fire, in London, Britain July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Tolga Akmen

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain announced a review of building and fire safety rules on Friday after tests conducted following last month’s deadly tower block blaze in London found a cladding system known to be used on 82 buildings breached regulations.

Police have said they believe the system of insulation and cladding panels added during a refurbishment of Grenfell Tower may have contributed to the rapid spread of the fire in which 80 people died.

After initial testing highlighted potential fire risks in buildings across the country, a second, more extensive round of tests found a specific cladding system known to be in use on 82 buildings did not meet building regulations, the government said in a statement.

Alongside the release of the test results, ministers ordered an independent review of building regulations and fire safety.

“It’s clear we need to urgently look at building regulations and fire safety,” communities minister Sajid Javid said in a statement. “This independent review will ensure we can swiftly make any necessary improvements.”

The review will look at the existing regulatory system, compliance and enforcement of the regulations, and will draw on similar regulations overseas.

Friday’s results are the first to be published from six sets of tests involving three different types of aluminium composite material combined with two different types of insulation.

The government said immediate action was already underway to ensure the safety of residents in the affected buildings, without giving further details.

The BBC reported on Thursday that police investigating the fire believe there are grounds to suspect that corporate manslaughter may have been committed by the local council.

(Reporting by William James,; editing by Kylie MacLellan and Ed Osmond)

Britain sends in task force to help run council after tower block fire

FILE PHOTO: Damage to Grenfell Tower is seen following the fire in London, Britain, June 25, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Wednesday it was sending in a task force to help run the local authority struggling to cope with the aftermath of a deadly London tower block blaze which killed at least 80 people.

Kensington and Chelsea council has been criticized by victims’ relatives and survivors for its handling of the disaster in Grenfell Tower on June 14 and its leader quit last week over the response to the fire.

“The scale of the recovery effort needed on the Lancaster West estate in the months to come cannot be underestimated,” Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said.

“Support to survivors, the families and friends of those who lost their lives and residents in the wider community must and will be ongoing. The challenge of providing that support is and will continue to be significant.”

Prime Minister Theresa May promised that all residents from the tower would be offered good temporary homes in the local area within three weeks but, with that deadline due on Wednesday, many remain in emergency accommodation after rejecting as unsuitable the premises they had been offered.

There has also been anger at the failure to provide definitive answers about those who are missing since the fire. Police have said 80 people were dead or missing presumed dead, but say they expect the number to rise amid accusations from locals that the scale of the death toll is being kept low.

“I completely understand their desire for answers and we are committed to providing as much information we can, as soon as we can,” Commander Stuart Cundy said on Wednesday adding that all visible human remains had been recovered.

“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.”

The fire has also thrown a spotlight on the safety of exterior cladding used to provide insulation and improve the external appearance of Grenfell Tower and other high-rise blocks. Since the blaze, the government said cladding tested at nearly 200 sites had failed fire tests.

(Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

Child, 5, named as youngest victim of London tower block fire

Five-year-old Isaac Paulous, who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, is seen in this undated photograph received via the Metropolitan Police, in London, Britain June 27, 2017. Metropolitan Police/Handout/Via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) – A five-year-old boy was identified by police on Tuesday as the youngest victim so far of the fire which engulfed a London tower block two weeks ago, killing at least 79 people.

Isaac Paulous was named as one of those who died after fire tore through the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block, trapping many inside their apartments.

“Isaac, our beloved son, was taken from us when he was only 5 years old,” his family said in a statement.

“We will all miss our kind, energetic, generous little boy. He was such a good boy who was loved by his friends and family. We will miss him forever, but we know God is looking after him now and that he is safe in heaven.”

Police have so far identified about 20 of the 79 who are dead or missing and presumed dead, and have warned they might never know how many people died in the inferno.

The British government has faced mounting criticism for its response to the disaster, while police say they would consider criminal charges, including manslaughter, over the fire.

The officer in charge of the investigation has said exterior cladding on the building had failed all fire safety tests and on Monday the government said 75 high-rise tower blocks in England with similar cladding had also failed tests.

U.S. firm Arconic Inc said it was stopping global sales of its Reynobond PE cladding, which was used in Grenfell Tower, for use in high-rise buildings following the fire.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

With housing blocks failing safety checks, UK’s May calls for more tests

Cladding is removed from the side of Whitebean Court in Salford, Manchester,

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May appealed to landlords of high-rise buildings on Monday to allow potentially flammable building material to be tested, seeking to reassure residents after a tower block fire killed 79 people in London.

The Grenfell Tower blaze, which trapped dozens of people in their beds, has become a focus of public anger at the Conservative government’s austerity cuts and the perceived slow response in trying to look after those who escaped.

The government said the number of high-rise tower blocks in England found to have “cladding” – panels placed on the facades of buildings, mainly for insulation or to improve their appearance – that have failed fire safety tests had risen to 75 from 60.

Communities minister Sajid Javid said that all samples submitted had failed the tests, which May’s spokesman had earlier said was “concerning”.

May, who scored a deal with a Northern Irish party to prop up her minority government on Monday, wants to repair her authority by showing leadership in dealing with the aftermath of the June 14 Grenfell disaster, but faces criticism by her political opponents.

“Clearly it’s concerning, concerning for residents who are living in these blocks,” the spokesman told reporters at a regular government briefing.

“That’s why we have put in place a system where testing can be carried out very quickly and whereby local authorities are informed immediately when a positive test comes back and that appropriate measures are put in place,” he said.

Responding to criticism that the testing program was not running quickly enough, he said landlords must get potentially flammable building materials tested as soon as possible.

Material should also be tested in schools and hospitals if there were safety concerns there too.

Some 600 buildings are being tested, showing how widely combustible cladding may have been used across Britain.

“It is clearly of huge concern that this is the case,” the spokesman said.

“What is apparent is that this is on buildings across the country … Obviously the job for the public inquiry will be to find out how and why this happened,” he said, hoping there would be an earlier interim report to cast some light on why such materials were used and whether they met safety requirements.

U.S. firm Arconic Inc said it was stopping global sales of its Reynobond PE cladding, which was used in Grenfell Tower, for use in high-rise buildings following the fire. Shares in Arconic fell around 5 percent.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Smout; editing by Mark Heinrich)

London tower blocks evacuated as 27 buildings fail fire tests

Residents are evacuated from the Taplow Tower residential block as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the building on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Kate Holton and Jamillah Knowles

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said 27 high-rise apartment blocks had failed fire safety checks carried out after the deadly Grenfell Tower blaze, including several in north London where residents were forced to evacuate amid chaotic scenes late on Friday.

British officials have conducted tests on some 600 high-rise buildings across England after fire ravaged the Grenfell social tower block in west London on June 14, killing at least 79 people in the capital’s most deadly blaze since World War Two.

The Department for Communities said 27 apartment blocks had failed tests, from London in the southeast to Manchester in the north and Plymouth on the southwest coast.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was forced to apologize for the government’s initial slow response to the tragedy, said the authorities were now racing to establish what needed to be done.

“In some cases it’s possible to take mitigating action,” she told Sky news. “In others it’s been necessary for people to move out on a temporary basis and that is what happened in Camden last night.”

Some 4,000 residents of the Chalcots Estate in Camden, north London, were told to vacate their apartments on Friday after the Fire Brigade ruled that their tower blocks were unsafe.

Emerging into the streets on a hot night, residents clutched children, pets and small amounts of clothing and food to try to find a bed in a local hotel or with family or friends. Many were directed to inflatable beds laid out on the floor of the local sports hall.

“I know it’s difficult but Grenfell changes everything,” Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, said in a statement. “I don’t believe we can take any risks with our residents’ safety.”

May said the local authority would be given all the means necessary to make sure people had somewhere to stay.

Residents complained of first hearing about the evacuation from the media and getting very short notice to leave from city officials going door-to-door. Not all residents agreed to go, as they felt the evacuation was an over-reaction.


“It was farcical communication,” 21-year-old Daniel Tackaberry told Reuters outside a nearby sports center where the local council had laid out air beds. “You don’t get everyone to leave this quickly.”

Several local councils said they were removing cladding from the facades of buildings that had failed the tests. In Camden, however, the London Fire Brigade found a number of faults, including concern about cladding, faulty fire doors and holes in compartment walls that could help a fire to spread.

Gould, the Camden council’s leader, Gould, said it would take up to four weeks to repair the blocks that were evacuated. and that around 4,000 residents were affected.

Police investigating the cause of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower blaze have said the fire started in a fridge but spread rapidly due to the use of external cladding on the building, trapping residents in their beds as they slept.

The cladding has since failed all safety checks and prompted a nationwide review of the materials used on everything from hospitals to hotels and apartment blocks.

The fire has become a flashpoint for public anger at the record of May’s Conservative Party in government following austerity-driven cuts to local authority budgets. Grenfell Tower is located in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in Europe.

Battling to save her position after losing her majority in a June 8 election, May has promised to do everything she can to protect those residents who survived the fire and to improve the quality and safety of public housing in Britain.

British police have said they are considering bringing manslaughter charges over the Grenfell fire.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Mark Heinrich)