World News

Grenfell Tower Survivors Mourn, With a Nation Watching

Posted December 14, 2017 3:18 p.m. EST

LONDON — Members of the royal family were there, including the heir to the throne. Prime Minister Theresa May was there, as was her chief political rival, Jeremy Corbyn. The BBC broadcast it live to the nation.

The devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London occurred six months ago, but an emotional memorial service for its victims at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city on Thursday made clear that the tragedy continues to resonate far beyond the North Kensington neighborhood where 71 people died.

Flames tore through the 24-story tower in west London on June 14. The disaster shook Britain and prompted a furious national debate as it exposed the gaps in living conditions between rich and poor in one of the country’s wealthiest boroughs.

On Thursday, more than 1,500 people, including bereaved families, emergency medical workers, Prince Charles and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, gathered for a multifaith commemoration almost a month after the London Metropolitan Police released what it said was the official death toll.

Images broadcast live on national television showed families in tears with their heads bowed, clutching white roses and holding up pictures of their loved ones.

The service reflected the multiethnic community that had lived in the tower, with performances and speeches from different religious groups and leaders. As the memorial began, several survivors held up a Grenfell banner emblazoned with a green heart. A girls’ choir from two religious schools represented the tower’s Muslim residents.

While the mood of the service was somber, audio clips were played that reflected survivors’ anger and frustration at the slow official response to the disaster.

Most of those left homeless by the fire, including more than 300 children, are still living in hotels and emergency accommodation as they wait for permanent housing. “I just want a home again,” one child said in the recording.

Many of Grenfell Tower’s former residents say that the local council neglected them before the fire, and that the disaster might have been prevented if officials had heeded their concerns.

A public inquiry has begun, and Scotland Yard is investigating: Police officials have said that they would consider individual as well as corporate manslaughter charges.

“Today we ask why warnings were not heeded, why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to,” Graham Tomlin, the bishop of Kensington, said during the service.

“Today we hold out hope that the public inquiry will get to the truth of all that led up to the fire at Grenfell Tower, and we trust that the truth will bring justice.”