PM 'welled up' at meeting with Grenfell survivors
18 June 2017 National News
Grenfell fire survivors were “angry” and “passionate” during a meeting with Theresa May, as their harrowing accounts moved her to well up, say people who were present.
At Downing Street on Saturday afternoon, the Prime Minister met 16 people, including victims, residents, community leaders and volunteers, following the devastating blaze at the west London tower block.
The PM had been widely criticised for her response in the aftermath of the tragedy. She failed to meet survivors during an initial visit to the site on Thursday, and was heckled when she returned a day later.
But a clergyman who was present at the No 10 meeting said Mrs May showed empathy as he talked for two and half hours to survivors.
“I saw the Prime Minister welling up,” the Rev Mark O’Donoghue told Sky News.
“Somebody began to sob beside her and she just held her hand for the next 20 minutes, which wasn’t quite the caricature most of us have of the Prime Minister,” he added.
“There was real anger expressed at what the residents and survivors perceived as a lack of coordination on the ground, lack of communication and very little reassurance.”
Mrs May said after the meeting that the response in the hours immediately follwing the tragedy was .
She has promised a £5m support fund and more staff deployed across the area to assist the bereaved families.
At least 58 people are missing and presumed dead in the blaze that broke out in the early hours of Wednesday, catching many families in their sleep.
The tragedy in a social housing complex in Britain’s wealthiest borough has become a symbol of inequality in the country, stoking tensions after seven years of Tory austerity.
There has been mounting anger among demonstrators, with dozens on Friday afternoon, many shouting “we want an inquest” and “we want justice”.
For the Prime Minister, it has added to her problems following a failed election gamble and an increasingly weak grip on her party.
Some commentators have likened her response to Grenfell to George W Bush’s “Katrina moment”, when the former US president initially surveyed the hurricane-devastated land from Air Force One.
Grenfell residents said after the meeting at Downing Street that they had spoken to the PM about their demands and what they expected.
The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, who also attended the talks, said: “There was passion, there was anger, but there was good, hard, reasoned argument used by the residents.”
He said residents left the meeting feeling “reassured that they were listened to”, but added: “Time will tell as to whether it makes a difference. We wait to see what action will come from it.”
Residents are understood to be meeting lawyers on Sunday evening to consider legal action.
A minute’s silence is planned at 11am on Monday to remember the victims.