The death toll from Grenfell Tower has now risen to 80, with police saying it could be next year before the true number of those who died is finally confirmed. This uncertainty isn’t for a lack of effort on the part of the emergency services; it’s clear that the search and recovery operation is underway in earnest but that conditions inside what’s left of the block are, inevitably, hampering efforts. In the words of Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack, the police officer leading the investigation, a scene of ‘utter devastation’ greets rescuers making their way precariously through the remains of the tower block. Yet while the police are right to be cautious on giving an exact figure, their uncertainty is likely to further rile those clamouring for answers.
In the early hours and days after the fire, there was much local anger about the initial low number of those confirmed to have died. Protests saw shouts of ‘not 17, not 17’ – a reference to the initial number of victims said to have died in the fire. More recently, even as the number of confirmed deaths has risen dramatically, the tally has been repeatedly called into question. Labour MP David Lammy – who has said the 79 figure was ‘far, far too low’ – told Newsnight this week that it would be wrong to ‘presume’ that the authorities are putting together lists of those believed to have died in the fire:
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) June 26, 2017
Some residents are even now taking matters into their own hands by doing just that and compiling the names of those believed to have lost their lives. One man, Sajad Jamalvatan, a student who lived in Grenfell Tower, has set up a WhatsApp group of survivors; he suggests the final death toll will be in three figures. It would be wrong to speculate on his figure, yet at the same time it seems likely that the police’s current tally is almost certain to rise again. This puts the police in the difficult situation of trying to give residents the answers they deserve while ensuring a need for accuracy. Yet the dreadful sadness of the Grenfell Fire and the failings which brought it about means that even those authorities now working hard to discover the truth are bearing the brunt of the anger over this deadly tragedy.