March through central London to go ahead as Theresa May comes under increasing pressure over her handling of the disaster
Protests are expected to continue on Saturday over the government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy that killed at least 30 people, as police say the death toll is likely to rise.
As anger over the disaster mounted, hundreds of protesters descended on Kensington town hall on Friday, with some marching towards Downing Street in central London, chanting: “No justice, no peace.”
A protest planned for midday on Saturday outside Kensington town hall has been postponed due to the “rapidly changing situation”, its organisers said, but a larger march through central London is due to go ahead.
After being heckled on Friday afternoon when leaving a west London church, Theresa May was further criticised after she appeared to sidestep a series of questions about her handling of the disaster in an interview with BBC2’s Newsnight.
Emily Maitlis, the interviewer, told the prime minister: “You misread the public mood on this one. You misread the anger that people feel about this.” May responded by repeatedly saying the blaze was “absolutely horrifying” and had been a terrifying experience for those affected.
Damian Green, May’s most senior minister, defended her on Saturday, and said some of the criticism had been “terribly unfair”. “She’s distraught by what happened as we all are. Absolutely, she has the same degree of sympathy and horror at these events that we all have,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Green also reiterated the government’s promise to rehouse those displaced by the fire within three weeks, either in Kensington or neighbouring boroughs.
On Friday, May announced a £5m fund to help feed, clothe and rehouse the displaced residents of the recently refurbished building, which caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Green said this would be the start of a larger funding package required to respond to the blaze.
A taskforce made up of representatives of Kensington and Chelsea council and central government would be on the ground on Saturday, he said, but a Cabinet Office spokeswoman was unable to explain exactly what help it would be able to give Grenfell residents.
May was scheduled to chair a meeting of senior officials at Downing Street on Saturday morning before meeting Grenfell residents and volunteers at the prime minister’s residence.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called on the government to pay the funeral costs of those who died in the blaze and the travel expenses of relatives who wanted to attend the funerals and the subsequent inquiry into the tragedy.
After visiting a relief centre on Friday to speak to Grenfell residents and volunteers, the Queen said it was “difficult to escape a very sombre national mood”.
In an unprecedented message on her official birthday, the monarch said: “In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies. As a nation, we continue to reflect and pray for all those who have been directly affected by these events.
“Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity. United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”
About 70 people remain unaccounted for since the blaze, which police fear was so devastating that some victims may never be identified. There has been anger and confusion about the official number of dead within the local community, where people believe the true figure is considerably higher. Police said they would have an update at about 3.15pm on Saturday.
NHS England said 19 people were being treated in hospital, including 10 in critical care.
As investigators begin the painstaking work of establishing how the fire started and spread, experts have called for a ban on combustible materials in high-rise buildings. Contractors told the Guardian that panels used to clad Grenfell Tower were the cheaper, more flammable version of two available options.
The MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, has written to the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, asking her to confirm that the public inquiry May announced on Friday would not impede the force’s criminal investigation.
“I also call on you to confirm that the scope of the criminal investigation will be comprehensive, including but not limited to investigating the actions of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, Rydon and all contractors and sub-contractors involved in any aspect of refurbishment work at Grenfell Tower,” he wrote.
“The public are justifiably angry at what has happened at Grenfell Tower and I fully support the work that the Metropolitan police service are doing and will continue to do in order to ensure that those culpable are held to account under the law following a thorough criminal investigation.