Demands For Answers Mount As London's Tower Fire Death Toll Rises

The deadly blaze has triggered a debate on public housing and safety.

Politicians and victims are demanding some kind of accountability for this week’s deadly apartment block fire in London, in which at least 17 people died.

Grenfell Tower, a 24-story public housing complex in west London built in 1974, went up in flames early Wednesday. The fire quickly engulfed the building, trapping residents on upper floors and burning out of control for a full day. Dozens of people were injured in the fire, and hundreds were displaced.

The disaster has brought renewed focus on the state of public housing in Britain, as residents claim their warnings about unsafe conditions at the tower were ignored. Prominent politicians, including opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, are calling for answers. 

“We have to get to the bottom of this,” Corbyn said during a visit to the neighborhood. “The truth has got to come out, and it will.”

Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with a serious fire in the Grenfell Tower apartment block at Latimer Road in wes
Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with a serious fire in the Grenfell Tower apartment block at Latimer Road in west London, June 14, 2017.

Onlookers have contrasted Corbyn’s highly visible outreach following the fire, which included speaking at length with residents, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s private visit to the area. British media criticized May for failing to meet with victims, and Labour Party members have demanded that the government send a minister to answer questions on housing issues and the fire in Parliament.

May vowed on Thursday that there would be an investigation into the fire, after London Mayor Sadiq Khan issued a statement calling for a full, independent inquiry.

“The full scale of the tragedy is becoming clear and there are pressing questions, which demand urgent answers,” Khan said in his statement.

Scotland Yard confirmed on Thursday that it had launched a criminal investigation into the incident.

The precise cause of the Grenfell Tower fire is unclear, but similar incidents have occurred in other apartment blocks, including a 2009 blaze that killed six people, three of them children. The 2009 fire led to the block’s local London council pleading guilty to charges related to lack of safety at the apartment.

There is already an ongoing debate in the United Kingdom over inequality and lack of resources in housing, which this week’s fire has put at the forefront of British politics. That Grenfell Tower is situated in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which contains some of the nation’s wealthiest neighborhoods, further highlights the divide.

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