LONDON: Survivors of a fire that killed at least 71 people six months ago in the Grenfell Tower social housing block in west London will join firefighters and members of the royal family at a national memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral today.
The blaze broke out in the middle of the night on June 14 and quickly gutted the 24-storey building, which was home to a close-knit, multi-ethnic community living in a poor area within one of London’s richest boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea.
The disaster profoundly shocked Britain, highlighting extreme disparities in living conditions between rich and poor and fuelling a debate over whether disdain for social housing residents had played a part.
“Hosting this service at St Paul’s Cathedral, an iconic venue in London, recognises the significance of this tragedy both for the local community and the wider nation,” said Graham Tomlin, the bishop of Kensington, ahead of the service.
Prime Minister Theresa May, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry are all expected to attend the service.
But members of Kensington and Chelsea council, which owns Grenfell Tower and has been widely criticised for its actions before and after the fire, have been asked not to attend because survivors and bereaved families do not want them there.
“I totally respect that,” council leader Elizabeth Campbell told the BBC earlier this week. “We will be paying our own respects in the council with a minute’s silence.”
Hundreds of people displaced by the fire, both those who lived in the tower itself and others who lived in nearby buildings, are still staying in hotels six months later as the council has so far been unable to permanently rehouse them.
Campbell has defended the council, saying it was doing everything it could to secure quality homes for affected families, but members of the Grenfell community who have spoken to media have complained of a slow, confusing process.
“I am sorry. I‘m sorry that they’re in hotels,” said Campbell.
Police are conducting a criminal investigation into the fire and have said that charges may be brought against individuals or organisations.
A separate public inquiry is under way on the causes of the fire and the authorities’ response.