Victims’ advocate role created in response to Grenfell Tower fire
An independent public advocate to help bereaved families after public disasters was announced in the Queen’s speech, a week after the Grenfell Tower disaster in which at least 79 people died or are missing presumed dead.
The new role will ensure those affected will have representation at public inquests, it said.
The Queen announced the measure saying that the government would “initiate a full public inquiry into the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, to ascertain the causes and ensure the appropriate lessons are learned”.
She added: “To support victims, my government will take forward measures to introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests.”
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has written to the prime minister saying it is crucial that the bereaved, survivors, residents and local civil societies have a say in the public inquiry from day one. He has called on the government to pay the legal fees to ensure there be “no inequality of arms”. Khan said failure to do so risks further fuelling the “considerable mistrust and anger” that had been aimed at those in positions of authority over Grenfell.
The role was announced as the official Grenfell fire response team, set up to coordinate relief, said £675,000 had been paid out to those affected by the fire. The money is in immediate cash payments of £500 and in £5,000 bank payments or similar. So far, 51 households have been given the £5,000 payments.
To date, 140 hotel placements have been made for people living in Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk. There are also 109 additional households in hotels from the wider affected area, it said.
John Barradell, the head of the Grenfell fire response team, said: “We are doing all we can to coordinate and bring in additional support to help local people who have suffered so much, but know we have so much more to do and won’t let up on our efforts.
“As well as looking to deliver much more and effective practical and emotional help, we are listening very closely to the community so they can direct help to where it is needed most.”
Sixty-eight flats in a luxury apartment complex, where prices start at £1.6m, are being made available to families displaced by the fire. They have been purchased by the Corporation of London and will become part of its social housing stock.
Marking one week after the fire in the 24-storey block, Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan police, said: “Today is a day to reflect and remember all those who have been affected by the disastrous fire, those who have died, those who have lost loved ones and those who survived.
“My thoughts, and those of everyone in the Metropolitan police, are with those for whom Grenfell Tower was home, those who are grieving and the local community.”
He pledged: “We will continue to do everything we can to find answers for those who are missing loved ones. I know that for those who are suffering those answers cannot come quickly enough.”
NHS England said 10 patients were still receiving care at four London hospitals, with six of them in critical care.
Five of those who died have been formally identified. They include Khadija Saye, an artist and photographer. Tate Britain has put on display one of her last art works, a silkscreen print on paper, called Sothiou, in its memorial display space at the gallery. Saye lived on the 20th floor, and had just exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale.
Harrods, which is located in the borough, announced it is to donate £1m to the British Red Cross’s London Fire Relief Fund, to help support individuals and families affected. The store said some of its employees had been personally affected. Its in-house cooks had been producing food for local relief centres, while other staff had been collecting blankets, toiletries and toys for donation, it said.
Michael Ward, the managing director, said: “Over the past week, we have been overwhelmed by how the community has come together to support our neighbours at this terrible time.” He added through the donation “we want to play our part in helping our neighbourhood recover from this tragic event”.
A charity fundraising single, a cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 hit, Bridge Over Troubled Water, was released on Wednesday to raise further funds. It is produced by Simon Cowell and features about 50 artists, including Rita Ora, Jessie J, Louis Tomlinson, Leona Lewis and Emeli Sande.
The grime star Stormzy opens the single rapping: “I don’t know where to begin so I’ll start by saying I refuse to forget you / I refuse to be silenced, I refuse to neglect you / As for every last soul up in Grenfell, even though I’ve never met you / That could be my mum’s house, that could be my nephew / That could have been me up there, waving my white plain tee up there / With my friends on the ground trying to see up there / I just hope that you rest and you’re free up there.”