Scotland Yard says it will consider manslaughter charges following the Grenfell Tower fire, as police continue to look at the involvement of various companies who played a role in the recent refurbishment of the building.
Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack told reporters on Friday morning that the investigation – one of the largest and most complex in the Met's history – had identified that a faulty fridge-freezer was the cause of the fire.
The briefing confirmed that:
– A range of criminal charges, including manslaughter and possible breaches of health and safety laws, are being considered by police.
– Police have seized documents from various companies that were involved in the recent refurbishment of the tower.
– Police are working with the manufacturer of the fridge-freezer, Hotpoint, to carry out tests on it. The model, which has the serial number FF175BP, has not been subject to any previous safety recalls.
– Cladding and insulation taken from the building failed safety tests conducted after the fire, and councils across the country have been informed of these results.
– The number of people confirmed dead, presumed dead, or missing remains at 79 and it will take at least until the end of the year for all the bodies to be removed, such is the danger and complexity of the investigation. Some victims may never be identified.
McCormack said: "We are looking at every offence from manslaughter onwards, and we are looking at safety offences, and we are reviewing every company that was involved in the refurbishment of the tower.
"This is one of the largest and most complex investigations that the Metropolitan Police has ever undertaken. There are over 250 specialist investigators working on all aspects of this investigation. It will investigate how the fire was started and the speed and spread that [the fire] took hold of that building."
McCormack said cladding and insulation samples taken from the building after the fire almost immediately set alight in tests.
"Preliminary tests on the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower showed that it combusted soon after the tests started," she said.
"The cladding tiles also failed the safety tests. Such are our safety concerns we have shared our data with the Department for Communities and Local Government and we have ensured that that information has been shared with every council."
On the fridge-freezer, a Downing Street spokesperson said on Friday: "The government has ordered an immediate examination of this unit by technical experts to establish the cause of the incident. This is a product which was manufactured between ’06 and ‘09 and has not been subject to product recalls. This testing will establish whether further action is required."
McCormack said police were not just investigating the type of material but also how it was installed.
Responding to fears that the number of fatalities may continue to rise, she said the police did not want "any hidden victims of this tragedy" and urged anyone with information on who was in the tower that night to contact police urgently.
Investigators have listened to more than 600 emergency 999 calls made while the fire was in progress. Some were more than an hour long and McCormack said many were "truly harrowing".
"Our search to recover all the people inside continues. The working conditions are difficult and distressing in many ways. ... We will make sure we recover everything we can.
"This will take at least to the end of the year. And there is the terrible reality that we may not be able to identify everyone who died in that fire. Which is why I would appeal people who know people who are missing to come forward."
Investigators will carry out a fingertip search of the building, assisted by search and rescue dogs, and a lift will be installed outside the building next week. A preliminary search has already taken place.
In a further written version of the briefing, McCormack reiterated the prime minister's promise made on Wednesday that the authorities would not use the incident as an opportunity to act on any possible immigration rule breach.
"We are not interested in people's reasons for not telling us sooner and as the mayor has already said people should be not be nervous about contacting us," she said.
"The Home Office has assured us that they are not interested in people's immigration status and we are not interested in looking at that.
"What we are interested in is that making sure we know who is missing and we take every possible step to establish if they are safe and well."
Anyone with information that could identify victims is asked to phone the police incident room on 0800 032 4539.
Hotpoint said in a statement: "Words cannot express our sorrow at this terrible tragedy. We offer our most profound condolences to the victims, those who have lost loved-ones, homes, and possessions, and to their friends and families. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved, including the emergency services who risked their lives to extinguish the blaze and rescue those in the building.
“We have just been informed that the fire may have originated in a Hotpoint fridge freezer (model number FF175BP).
"We are working with the authorities to obtain access to the appliance so that we can assist with the ongoing investigations. Under these circumstances, we are unable to speculate on further details at this time. We are addressing this as a matter of utmost urgency and assisting the authorities in any way we can. We will provide additional updates as our investigations progress."