May visits Grenfell survivors in hospital

Theresa May meets fire fighters at the Grenfell Tower siteImage copyright EPA

Theresa May has visited survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in hospital – as colleagues defended her against claims she was failing to engage with those affected by the tragedy.

The PM spent almost an hour speaking to patients and staff at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on Friday.

It came a day after she faced criticism for meeting fire fighters but not residents at the scene of the blaze.

Tory Andrea Leadsom said the PM was coordinating the government’s response.

She will also be chairing the government’s Civil Contingencies Committee, which deals with major crises such as terrorism or natural disasters, in Whitehall.

But local people have contrasted the style of Mrs May’s private visit to the scene with those of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was seen with his arm around the shoulders of people affected by the disaster.

Also on Friday, the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge met volunteers, local residents and community representatives while visiting Westway Sports Centre, near the charred remains of the tower block in north Kensington.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo said Mrs May should have been prepared to face residents’ anger.

He told BBC’s This Week: “Alas Mrs May was what she has been for the last five or six weeks, that is to say she wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn’t use her humanity.

“She met in private with the emergency services, a good thing to do no doubt, but she should have been there with the residents, which is what Jeremy Corbyn was.”

He added: “The prime minister would have been shouted at by the residents, but she should have been willing to take that.

“You have to be prepared to receive people’s emotions .. and not be so frightened about people.”

‘Not even sprinklers in there’

But Commons leader Mrs Leadsom, who also faced some anger when she visited a community centre in the area on Friday, insisted that Mrs May was “absolutely heartbroken” by the blaze and was simply trying to make sure the government did everything it could to deal with its aftermath.

As she spoke to Sky News at the site in west London, Mrs Leadsom was confronted by a local resident, who said opportunities had been missed to make the 24-storey block safe following a report into the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, south London.

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Media captionCommunities minister Sajid Javid tells Today the Grenfell Tower fire should not have happened

“Why are Sadiq Khan and Corbyn coming down here to speak to people and Theresa May is coming here with police, walking around, not meeting no-one, not meeting families?” the man said.

“This fire could have been stopped a long, long time ago … There’s not even sprinklers in there.

“In 2009, the last block was on fire. What has changed since then? Nothing. Enough is enough, I have got friends in that tower. I have a right to be angry. Because of people saving money, people are dying.”

But Mrs Leadsom said: “In reality, every single member of the House of Commons, every member of the government from the prime minister downwards are absolutely horrified by what’s happened and we are all doing trying to do the best we can.

“I don’t really think it is appropriate to be talking about whether people have humanity or not.”

‘Pretty grim days’

Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said it was “not OK” for the prime minister to go to the area but not meet residents, and called on her to invite them to talk to her in Downing Street, as victims of the 2009 Lakanal House fire were.

But on the BBC’s Question Time programme on Thursday, Conservative defence minister Tobias Ellwood, said there were “security reasons” why Mrs May had not met residents.

And former housing minister Mark Prisk said Mrs May would not have wanted “to bring the whole weight of the media circus down on families who are going through some pretty grim days”.

But BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said there would be questions about why the Queen was able to make such a visit, and the prime minister was not.

Downing Street said that Mrs May’s visit was made to get a briefing from the emergency services to ensure that they had the resources they needed.

She has ordered a judge-led public inquiry into the disaster.

On Friday, Mrs May visited the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital which is treating eight people, of which three are in critical care.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC on Friday there would be immediate action following early conclusions from an investigative report into the fire.

“We need to do whatever it takes to make people that live in those properties safe: that’s either make the properties safe or find some other accommodation, it has to be done,” Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The government has been absolutely clear on this: we need to do whatever is required and that will happen.

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“In this country, in this century, for this kind of thing to happen it is horrific and we cannot allow anything like this to ever happen again.”

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