UK Politics

London fire: Crowds vent anger at Theresa May

Church Image copyright PA

A large police presence held back angry crowds outside a Kensington church where Theresa May was meeting victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The prime minister faced cries of "coward" and "shame on you".

One woman wept, saying it was because the PM declined to speak to anyone outside the meeting which lasted less than hour.

Mrs May pledged £5m of support, housing guarantees and help with access to bank accounts and cash.

"The package of support I'm announcing today is to give the victims the immediate support they need to care for themselves and for loved ones. We will continue to look at what more needs to be done," Mrs May said in a statement issued by her office.

Dozens of demonstrators surged towards the entrance of St Clement's church and there were scuffles outside as organisers appealed for calm.

Earlier on Friday, the prime minister spent almost an hour speaking to patients and staff at London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Image copyright PA

It came a day after she faced criticism for meeting firefighters but not residents at the scene of the blaze. She also chaired the government's Civil Contingencies Committee, which deals with major crises such as terrorism or natural disasters, in Whitehall.

But local people have contrasted the style of Mrs May's private visit to the scene with those of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was seen with his arm around the shoulders of people affected by the disaster.

Also on Friday, the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge met volunteers, local residents and community representatives while visiting Westway Sports Centre, near the tower block in north Kensington.

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Image caption The Queen was accompanied by the Duke of Cambridge on a visit to Westway Sports Centre
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Theresa May went on a private visit to meet firefighters at the scene on Thursday

During interview with the BBC, Mrs May sidestepped questions over her response to the disaster.

Pressed on whether she had failed to understand the anger felt by the community, she said: "This was a terrible tragedy that took place. People have lost their lives and others have lost everything, all their possessions, their home and everything.

"What we are doing is putting in place the support that will help them."

She said she had worked to ensure public services had the support they needed in order to be able to deal with the immediate aftermath.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo said Mrs May should have been prepared to face residents' anger.

He told BBC's This Week: "Alas Mrs May was what she has been for the last five or six weeks, that is to say she wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn't use her humanity.

"She met in private with the emergency services, a good thing to do no doubt, but she should have been there with the residents, which is what Jeremy Corbyn was."

'Not even sprinklers in there'

But Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, who also faced some anger when she visited a community centre in the area on Friday, insisted that Mrs May was "absolutely heartbroken" by the blaze and was simply trying to make sure the government did everything it could to deal with its aftermath.

Mrs Leadsom said: "In reality, every single member of the House of Commons, every member of the government from the prime minister downwards are absolutely horrified by what's happened and we are all trying to do the best we can.

"I don't really think it is appropriate to be talking about whether people have humanity or not."

As she spoke to Sky News at the site in west London, she was confronted by a local resident, who said opportunities had been missed to make the 24-storey block safe following a report into the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, south London.

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Media captionCommunities minister Sajid Javid tells Today the Grenfell Tower fire should not have happened

"Why are Sadiq Khan and Corbyn coming down here to speak to people and Theresa May is coming here with police, walking around, not meeting no-one, not meeting families?" the man said.

"This fire could have been stopped a long, long time ago... There's not even sprinklers in there.

"In 2009, the last block was on fire. What has changed since then? Nothing. Enough is enough, I have got friends in that tower. I have a right to be angry. Because of people saving money, people are dying."

'Pretty grim days'

Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said it was "not OK" for the prime minister to go to the area but not meet residents, and called on her to invite them to talk to her in Downing Street, as victims of the 2009 Lakanal House fire had been.

But on the BBC's Question Time programme on Thursday, Conservative defence minister Tobias Ellwood said there were "security reasons" why Mrs May had not met residents.

And former housing minister Mark Prisk said Mrs May would not have wanted "to bring the whole weight of the media circus down on families who are going through some pretty grim days".

But BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said there would be questions about why the Queen was able to make such a visit, and the prime minister was not.

Downing Street said that Mrs May's visit on Thursday had been made to get a briefing from the emergency services to ensure that they had the resources they needed.

Urgent review

On Friday, Mrs May visited the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital which is treating eight people, three of whom are in critical care.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC on Friday there would be immediate action following early conclusions from an investigative report into the fire.

"We need to do whatever it takes to make people that live in those properties safe: that's either make the properties safe or find some other accommodation, it has to be done," Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"In this country, in this century, for this kind of thing to happen it is horrific and we cannot allow anything like this to ever happen again."

Councils say they are carrying out urgent reviews of high-rise buildings in their areas in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The chairman of the Local Government Association, which represent about 150 councils in England, said councils were reviewing fire risk assessments and the construction of buildings along with partners.

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