A senior UK government minister said Sunday that he believed the cladding apparently used in a recent refurbishment of the London high-rise devastated by a blaze is banned in Britain for buildings above a certain height.
Speculation has focused on the role that may have been played by the cladding since the fire tore through the 24-story Grenfell Tower in the early hours of Wednesday, leaving at least 58 people presumed dead.
The government on Saturday promised a public inquiry and police have opened a criminal investigation. But angry residents, many of whom lost everything they had in the blaze, have voiced fears of a cover-up.
“My understanding is the cladding in question, this flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and the US, is also banned here,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told the BBC’s “The Andrew Marr Show.”
“So there are two separate questions. One, are our regulations correct, do they permit the right kind of materials and ban the wrong kind of materials? The second question is were they correctly complied with?
“That will be a subject that the inquiry will look at. It will also be a subject that the criminal investigation will be looking at.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government told CNN that the use of a composite aluminum panel with a polyethylene core would breach current UK building regulations guidance, which says this material should not be used as cladding on buildings over 18 meters (59 feet) in height.
However, the spokesman did not confirm what type of cladding was used on Grenfell Tower, adding that this would be subject to investigation.
The company that installed the cladding, Harley Facades Limited, said in a statement Wednesday that it was “not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.”
No sprinkler system
Police said Saturday that 30 people had been confirmed dead since the fire, while another 28 remain missing and are presumed dead. Nineteen people remained in hospital as of Saturday afternoon, of whom 10 were receiving critical care.
The tower’s cladding will likely be one of only many factors taken into account as investigators probe what happened.
Authorities have also faced questions about why the tower block, built in the 1970s, was never subsequently fitted with a sprinkler system that might have saved lives as the blaze took hold.
But Hammond said it was up to the public inquiry to determine whether the retrofitting of sprinklers to buildings was necessary to improve fire safety.
“What I am hearing from the leading fire safety experts is that it isn’t necessarily necessary to retrofit sprinklers to make a building fire safe,” he told the BBC. “If something needs to be done to make buildings safe it will be done.”
Councilor Nicholas Paget-Brown told the BBC this week that sprinklers were not fitted inside the building during the refurbishment “because that would have delayed and made the refurbishment of the block more disruptive.”
MP: Survivors’ treatment ‘appalling’
Labour politician David Lammy called Friday for corporate manslaughter charges to be brought over the Grenfell Tower disaster and wrote to London’s Metropolitan Police urging them to ensure that those responsible for the refurbishment were held to account.
Lammy, who represents Tottenham in north London, has also expressed concerns that vital evidence concerning the refurbishment might be destroyed or lost before it can be seized by police. In a series of tweets Sunday, the lawmaker said survivors wanted greater transparency.
“Trust is very, very low. Contractors are removing Grenfell details from their websites. What else are they deleting?” he asked.
“I was with the Grenfell survivors last night. They want answers, not a cover-up from the council and contractors.”
Lammy, who lost a friend in the fire – talented young artist Khadija Saye – also said that the residents’ treatment by the authorities had been “absolutely appalling,” with volunteers stepping in to help instead.
Corbyn slams response
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn added his voice Sunday to a mounting chorus of criticism over officials’ response to the fire.
Corbyn told ITV’s “Peston on Sunday” that the local council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, was failing to provide effective help for people made homeless by the fire – despite being the wealthiest local authority in the country.
“Four hundred or so people – still most of them have not got somewhere decent or safe or secure to stay,” he said. “Somehow or other it seems to be beyond the wit of the public services to deal with the crisis facing a relatively small number of people in a country of 65 million.”
The Labour Party is Britain’s main opposition party.
Corbyn’s comments come a day after Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May said support for families in the initial aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire “was not good enough” and announced a fund of 5 million pounds ($6.4 million) to help those affected by the blaze.
The borough said Friday that all residents of Grenfell Tower who had asked for help had been housed in hotels and that it was looking for interim accommodation for those people and others living nearby who could not return home.
“We want to rehouse people in a good home as quickly as we can,” it said.
Scores of people attended a service Sunday morning at the nearby Notting Hill Methodist Church, at which tribute was paid to those impacted by the fire.
A message from the church’s president, Roger Walton, read out to the congregation, said his prayers were with local people, adding: “You are a symbol of hope in the dark days.”
Outside, many people lit candles and added flowers to banks of bouquets piled against the church walls. Posters appealing for help to find missing loved ones remain pinned to a green door, the smiling faces of those pictured standing in contrast to the somber mood.
Around the corner, volunteers offered counseling to those traumatized by the disaster and handed out donated food and water to those in need.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted that he had attended an “incredibly moving” service at St. Clement’s Church, also close by, and that it was an honor to stand alongside the community to pray for the fire victims. Speaking after the memorial service, Khan called the fire a “preventable accident that didn’t need to happen.” He said the local community was frustrated and angry about “years of neglect” from the local council and successive national governments.
“There is a feeling from the community of they’ve been treated badly because some of them are poor, some of them may come from deprived backgrounds, some of them may be asylum seekers and refugees,” Khan said.
The government has said the country will observe a moment of silence at 11 a.m. Monday in remembrance of the victims.
CNN’s James Gray, Bex Wright and James Masters contributed to this report.