The number of people dead or missing presumed dead after the Grenfell Tower firehas risen to 79, police have said.
That figure may change as the search and recovery operation takes place over the coming weeks, but it is not expected to rise significantly. Five of the dead have now been formally identified.
Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan police said: “Over the last 48 hours a huge amount of effort has been undertaken by our investigators to understand as completely as we possibly can just how many people are missing who were in Grenfell Tower that night. If they are missing I do presume sadly that they are also dead.
“It’s a hugely complex situation. Sadly today, as of 8am this morning, the number has increased. I believe there are 79 people who are either dead, or missing and sadly I have to presume are dead.” Specialist officers were supporting families, he said.
“The terrible reality of the fire on that night means that some of those that we are supporting have lost a number of their family members.”
Cundy said the figure may change for a number of reasons. “As our understanding of the tragedy becomes clear there may be people who were in Grenfell Tower on the night that people don’t know were in there, that families and others don’t know were in there on the night.
“Equally there may be people who were in there that we believe are missing that did escape, but for whatever reason have not let it be known.”
He appealed for any such people to confirm they are safe. “What is important to myself and all of us is to find everyone who was inside that building and return them to their loved ones. Five people who were reported as missing had been found safe and well, he said.
Cundy fought back tears as he told reporters about the scene inside the 24-storey tower in north Kensington. He said specialist police teams, supported by London’s fire brigade and ambulance service, were working inside the block. “It’s a painstaking task to locate and recover all those within Grenfell Tower.
“Our teams have been throughout the whole building from the top to the bottom. On Saturday I was in there myself and went all the way to the top floor, and it is incredibly hard to describe the devastation in some parts of that building.”
Images released by police with the permission of those that had lived in the flats show the extent of the devastation. “It is a truly awful reality that there may be some people that we may not be able to identify” because of the intensity of the fire, he said.
Cundy said police had received about 70 pictures and videos of the fire from the public and urged them to send more as officers investigate the blaze. He would not be drawn on the specifics of the criminal investigation of the fire, including whether anyone had been arrested or raids carried out.
Cundy’s announcement came moments before a minute’s silence was held at 11am across all government buildings to remember the victims.
As anger continued over the disaster, described by London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, as a “preventable accident”, the government announced on Sunday that those left homeless would be given at least £5,500 from an emergency fund.
Residents are being given £500 in cash followed by a bank payment for the rest from Monday. The money will come from the £5m fund announced by Theresa May on Friday.
Police have explained the process of identifying victims to the families affected. All remains recovered from the tower are taken to Westminster mortuary, where postmortem and formal identification procedures are carried out.
“We know that a lot of people in Grenfell Tower may have lived elsewhere in the world so the identification process when we may be looking for things like dental records may lead us to request records from all over the world, which may take some time for us to receive,” Cundy said.
“It is so important to me that the families have every confidence in our identification procedure and processes so they know it is their loved ones being returned to them and that is why it is so exhaustive. And it can be very time consuming but my absolute commitment to all the families and the loved ones of those that died is that we will do this as quickly as possible.”
Cundy said the scale of the criminal investigation was “truly, truly significant”. “We are looking at all criminal offences that may have been committed,” he said. “The investigation will be exhaustive to identify how the fire started and how it spread. And whilst it will look at the how, it will also look at why this happened.”
Grenfell Tower is being treated as a crime scene. About 250 investigators are working on all aspects of the investigation which would be “far reaching in a number of areas”, from how the building was managed and maintained, the fire-safety measures and its construction and refurbishment.
“It is only when we have investigated fully and properly will I be able to say what happened and why,” Cundy said. He refused to say anything more about the criminal investigation, or to speculate on the cause of the fire, which is not believed to have been started deliberately.
“ If as a consequence of our investigation we identify anything as a risk to public safety we will begin informing the appropriate authorities,” Cundy said.
He thanked those living locally for the patience they had shown the emergency services since “day one”.
Cundy added: “Our search and recovery operation at Grenfell Tower is going to take weeks and I would ask for the public to bear that in mind as we go about the truly important operation to recover those who have died.
“As the scale of this terrible tragedy becomes clear my thoughts and those of the Metropolitan police, the local community, Londoners and the whole nation, all of our thoughts are with those who have been most affected.”