PM expresses regret over not meeting survivors and locals when she first visited site
Theresa May has admitted her initial response to the Grenfell Tower fire was not good enough, saying she will “always regret” not meeting survivors of the blaze when she first visited the site.
Ahead of the first anniversary of the fire, which killed 72 people, May said the fact she did not initially meet survivors and residents made it look as though she did not care for their plight, insisting this was not the case.
Writing in the Evening Standard, the prime minister pledged that lessons from the fire would be learned as soon as possible. She also said Downing Street would be lit up in green on Thursday evening, as part of wider commemorations of the anniversary of the blaze.
“It was a tragedy unparalleled in recent history and, although many people did incredible work during and after the fire, it has long been clear that the initial response was not good enough,” May wrote. “I include myself in that.”
The day after the disaster, the prime minister continued, she saw firefighters at the site and met those in charge of the response. “What I did not do on that first visit was meet the residents and survivors who had escaped the blaze,” she wrote.
“But the residents of Grenfell Tower needed to know that those in power recognised and understood their despair. And I will always regret that by not meeting them that day – it seemed as though I didn’t care. That was never the case.”
On Thursday evening, buildings including other tower blocks around North Kensington will be illuminated in green to mark the anniversary.
“As part of ‘Green for Grenfell’, children from primary schools around the tower will visit No 10 tomorrow to plant two camellia bushes in the garden here,” she said.
“Camellias flower in the winter months, bringing life and colour to the darkest times of the year. Growing within sight of the cabinet room, they will provide a lasting reminder of those we lost on that darkest of nights.”
Along with vehement criticism of Kensington and Chelsea council after the fire, both for its perceived role before the tragedy and a botched response to it, May faced condemnation for seeming to avoid interaction with survivors and locals, and was heckled when she eventually did.
WThe prime minister said she understood the scale of the challenges faced by those affected, and she had two main priorities: “To see that the survivors of Grenfell get the homes and support they need, and the truth and justice they deserve.”
On rehousing, May conceded the process had taken too long, but said the vast majority of households had accepted offers of accommodation.
On the inquiry into the blaze, May referred to the decades-long campaign for truth by Hillsborough families, promising the “litany of obfuscation, evasion and delay must not and will not be repeated with Grenfell”.
“Given the scale of the tragedy, the public inquiry and police investigation will, inevitably, take time – longer than many of us would like,” she wrote.
“But while I will not tolerate unnecessary foot-dragging, they must be given the space they need to do their jobs properly. Only that way can any individuals and organisations found to be at fault be properly held to account for their actions. Only that way can justice be done.”