Grenfell Tower survivors barred from update meeting

Grenfell Tower survivors barred from update meeting
Posted at 12:03 PM, Jun 29, 2017

Survivors of London's Grenfell Tower fire are among those banned from a local authority meeting Thursday about the disaster because of "security and public safety concerns."

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which has been criticized for its handling of the tragedy's aftermath, published an agenda stating that the council cabinet meeting would meet "entirely in private ... in the light of the risk of disruption." Council members are due to hear an oral update on the fire during the session.

At least 80 people died at Grenfell Tower as a massive fire engulfed the 24-story apartment block in the early hours of June 14, though UK police have warned that a final death toll may not emerge until "the end of the year."

British Prime Minister Theresa May has apologized for what she called "a failure of the state -- local and national -- to help people when they needed it most," adding that "the support on the ground...was not good enough."

The council's agenda cited a previous protest against the council's handling of the tragedy as the reason behind the decision.

The earlier protest took place at the authority's headquarters in west London on June 16, when residents entered the town hall shouting: "We want justice."

Evacuee: 'Not surprised' by council decision

There are differing views in the local community about the council's behavior.

"I was not surprised in the slightest because no one from [the] council has spoken to residents" said Joe Delaney, a Grenfell estate resident and evacuee. 'It is cowardice. [The council] don't want to slip up.'

Delaney said he "cannot look" at the shell of the tower, which remains standing.

He dismissed the idea that a meeting open to all posed a security risk. "Even when town hall was stormed, the only damage was to the front door," Delaney said. "If [the] council put 1% of their effort they do for Notting Hill Carnival we wouldn't be where we are now."

But Mustafa Almansur, who organized the protest at the town hall, told CNN that he thought the local authority had made a "sensible" decision. "The council has concerns and rightfully so because they messed up in the beginning, in terms of their community engagement, and people are very, very upset," Almansur said.

"If everyone were invited the meeting would certainly be disrupted. Every meeting we've had with local and central government has been disrupted. People are still in a state of rage."

Almansur suggested that the council should include representatives from the community at meetings in order to ease tensions.

"I've spoken to the leader of the council who feels under a lot of pressure," Almansur said. "[The council] should have respected, cool-headed community representatives at the meeting."

In a statement to CNN a spokesman for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said that the council would hold "a full meeting in July which will be open to all."

"As you are aware,' the statement said, "there have been recent real threats and assaults on council staff and damage to one of the office buildings. Such risks remain and we have had to take the decision to hold the meeting in private as to do otherwise would likely result in disorder." The statement added that minutes of the meeting "will be published as soon as possible following the meeting."

Survivor: 'No point in being angry'

Some evacuees hadn't heard any news of the meeting.

Hamid Ali Jafari, a survivor who lived on the 11th floor of Grenfell Tower, said he hadn't been aware of it until contacted by CNN. Jafari's father is currently missing.

"No point in us being angry," Jafari said. "If something happens we cannot be angry. We lost our father. There is no point in blaming each other, or the government because it is too late ... my father isn't going to come back." Jafari does think residents should attend the meeting, but doesn't blame the authorities.

"My point of view, we have to attend the meeting but government is the only person helping us right now," he said. "I know it is not [a] government mistake ... government understand. They don't want anyone to die."

Jafari said that the council's response had improved since the fire's chaotic immediate aftermath. Sajid Javid, who as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is overseeing the response, handed Jafari a card with his direct phone number and email address, he said.

"My dad's last wish was to have a house," Jafari said, "so [the] government [is] trying to find a house with a garden so we can grow plants."

But accommodation and council meetings aren't Jafari's immediate priority.

"We care more about finding my father than about a flat at the moment," he said. "Hoping 1% maybe he is alive.... I know he is not alive because it's been two weeks, but we are always thinking."