Police investigators searching through the burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower are now focusing on the inhabitants of 23 flats from which there are not thought to be any survivors.
Two weeks on from the disaster, the number of those missing and presumed dead now stands at 80, and it will take at least until the end of the year for a final figure to emerge – and even longer for all those who died to be formally identified.
At a briefing for reporters at Scotland Yard on Wednesday, Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack, who is leading the investigation, said the families of those who are thought to have died in the tower were being prepared for the likelihood that their remains may never be found, or may be unidentifiable.
The Metropolitan police have managed to speak to at least one person from 106 flats in the tower at the time of the fire, and have established that these flats account for 18 people who are missing, presumed dead.
But they have yet to identify anyone from the remaining 23 flats, which are between the 11th to the 23rd floor, raising the possibility that entire families or households may have perished together.
"That means, and it’s a terrible reality, that there are 23 flats where despite huge investigative efforts we have been unable to trace anyone alive who lived there. So at this stage we must assume that no one in those 23 flats survived," McCormack said.
"That would include those who lived there and any visitors. I can’t say with any certainty the number of people in those flats on that night."
Investigators have been trying to glean all they can from 26 emergency 999 calls made during the fire from people in these 23 flats.
The briefing also revealed that:
- The police have identified more than 60 companies that were involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. So far all the companies that police have requested data and documents from have complied and there have been no arrests or raids.
- The initial tenant list given to police by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation was incorrect and police believe that no complete list of all the people living the tower exists.
- Since last Friday the Met's Grenfell incident room has had 45 calls, while tests continue into the safety measures in place in every flat.
- In the last two weeks police managed to find an unnamed couple who were presumed dead – they had left the country on holiday.
- Some 250 detectives continue to work on the case, one of the biggest in the Met's history.
McCormack addressed head-on the concerns of some survivors and local community members in north Kensington who feel that the official death toll doesn't match the true figure of those who died. Campaigners for the victims have already started making their own list of those missing, presumed dead.
"I understand the huge concern, the speculation, and the rumour about the number of people who’ve lost their lives in Grenfell Tower," she said.
"I stress that I share the concern about the number of missing. I must also stress that we do not have the final picture and that work will take some time.
"I do not want there to be any hidden victims in this tragedy. We know that there is a huge amount of work being done by local community action groups to understand who escaped and who survived the fire.
"If there are groups with information then please give it to us. Our aim is the same – we want to understand the true human cost of this tragedy."
The intricate fingertip search inside the building continues, and while every room has had an initial search, construction experts are working to make some flats safe for officers to enter.
And such was the intense heat of the blaze, police are consulting anthropologists and odontologists – forensic dentists – to help identify victims.
"We are working very hard to identify everyone who died in the fire but the tragic reality is that due to the intense heat there are some people who we may never identify. I was inside Grenfell Tower yesterday and I cannot stress the challenge facing the search and recovery teams.
"Tragically we are preparing families and loved ones for the fact that we may never recover the remains of their loved one."
Previously, the police made clear that they are considering a range of charges in relation to the fire, including manslaughter.
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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