London — British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that her initial response to the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 71 people in London a year ago, was not good enough because it had given the wrong impression that she did not care.
The 24-storey social housing block in west London, home to a close-knit, ethnically diverse community, was engulfed by flames in the middle of the night on June 14 2017, in Britain’s deadliest fire on domestic premises since the Second World War.
The tragedy, which unfolded within one of London’s richest boroughs, prompted a wave of soul-searching about inequalities, neglect of immigrant communities and poor safety standards in social housing.
The day after the disaster, May briefly visited the site, thanking firefighters for their work and holding a short meeting with the team in charge of the response.
But her failure to meet any of the traumatised survivors or desperate relatives searching for missing loved ones angered the local community and came to symbolise what many people felt was a history of contempt from the authorities.
"It has long been clear that the initial response was not good enough. I include myself in that," May wrote in a column in the Evening Standard, a London newspaper, days before the first anniversary of the tragedy.
"The residents of Grenfell Tower needed to know that those in power recognised and understood their despair. And I will always regret that by not meeting them that day, it seemed as though I didn’t care. That was never the case."
The prime minister did not say why she had not ventured outside the police cordon around the blackened ruin of Grenfell Tower to meet any of the survivors who were being cared for at a nearby church and in the homes of local residents.
At the time, palpable grief and anger were coursing through the neighbourhood. While some people were pasting up improvised missing-person notices and creating makeshift memorials, others were giving media interviews in which they blamed local and national government for the disaster.
The head of the local authority of Kensington and Chelsea borough, which owned Grenfell Tower, was forced to resign days later as it became clear the body was failing to provide adequate emergency housing and other services to the survivors.
Some of the survivors have said that the longer-term response has been equally poor, with families languishing in inappropriate temporary accommodation for months.