LONDON (AFP) – Shouting “Killers!” and “We want justice”, dozens of people stormed the town hall in London s richest borough on Friday, accusing the authorities of ignoring the plight of the victims of the Grenfell Tower block blaze.
Three days after fire ripped through the 24-storey block, killing at least 30 people, residents are desperate for answers — and for the bodies of their loved ones, many of which are still inside.
During an angry protest outside the headquarters of the offices of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which manages the social housing block, a group broke off and scuffled with security guards in the lobby of the red-brick building.
“Shame on you!”, they shouted in a stand-off involving around 30 people, as many police officers, as well as a dozen security guards.
Hundreds of people, including singer and human rights campaigner Lily Allen, were protesting outside, holding up signs saying “Justice for Grenfell”.
One protester held up a “Wanted” poster for an executive who manages the building, accusing him of “corporate manslaughter”.
“It is criminal to wrap homes in flammable plastic,” read another sign after it emerged that cladding installed on the exterior walls as part of a recent refurbishment was not fire-resistant.
Residents had long complained about fire safety risks at Grenfell Tower, but said the concerns of the multi-ethnic, largely working-class inhabitants had been brushed off by local authorities.
“We are in the richest borough in the UK and in this very borough we have a building where some of the poorest live and the safety measures are totally inadequate,” said Mustafa Al Mansur, one of the organisers of the demonstration.
“We need to know what commitment the council is taking to ensure this tragedy is not repeated,” he said. “We need to know exactly the number of people who were there during this tragedy.”
There were chaotic scenes as angry protesters shouted through a loudspeaker, with one woman saying: “We are in pain. We have been trodden on by people who say they are there to protect us.”
Another said: “It was a death trap and they knew it.”
The protesters also held up pictures of those still missing and now feared dead, as the crowd shouted: “No justice, no peace!”
“We are not here to trouble people. We just want answers,” said Salwa Buamani, 25, who attended the protest with her three-year-old niece on her shoulders.
“I have friends in the tower and they are not telling us anything,” she told AFP, adding: “We can t respect the bodies.”
The death toll was revised up Friday from 17 to 30, but police warned they expect it to increase further, with as many as 70 people thought to still be missing.
Many of those in the crowd were calling for the remains of their loved ones to be returned, highlighting how survivors had described walking over bodies on the stairwell as they fled.
“They (the authorities) are clearly aware roughly of the number of bodies,” said local resident Karen Brown, 36, whose friend s 12-year-old daughter Jessica was among those missing.
“The fact that they are not telling people is very frustrating. We are not stupid we are aware people are dead. Just tell them!”
A man shouted: “Where are our children now? In the building! No one takes care of their bodies. Shame on you!”
The crowds moved back towards the blackened tower, gaining numbers until several thousands were marching through the affluent streets around Notting Hill and Kensington High Street.
It developed an almost festive atmosphere, with locals providing free food and revellers in pubs and residents on balconies standing up and applauding as the protesters walked by.
But there was still anger, largely directed at Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, who was earlier heckled and booed after visiting survivors in a church nearby.
“Theresa May it s time to go” they shouted, while others held up banners saying “Tories out”.