The final death toll from the fire that destroyed the Grenfell Tower social housing block in west London in June is 71 after two women, a mother and her daughter were added to the list of the dead, police said on Thursday (16 November) after five months of painstaking forensic fingertip search and recovery operations.
The two women have been formally identified as Victoria King, 71, (12.6.46) and her daughter Alexandra Atala, 40, (24.4.77).
Their family have made the following statement: “We were devastated to hear of our sister, Vicky’s, fate, and that of her daughter, Alexandra, in the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
“Some comfort can come from the knowledge that she and Alexandra were devoted to one another and spent so many mutually-supportive years together.
“They died at each other’s side and now they can rest together in peace.
“We will remember them always.”
DEATH TOLL CONTROVERSY
The final death toll became the most contentious issue after the tragedy with locals believing there had been a conspiracy to cover up actual number of fatalities to satisfy political expediencies and agendas. These suspicions still linger amongst locals and campaign activists on the ground at the stricken neighbourhood. Police had previously said about 80 people died in the blaze, which tore through the 24-storey tower in North Kensington in the middle of the night, but officers now believe all those who died in the fire have been accounted for.
The figure has come down because some people were reported missing several times, some people who lived in the tower and were feared dead were found to have been elsewhere on the night, and some people were falsely reported dead by fraudsters hoping to receive financial compensation.
The final toll includes 70 adults and children who died in the tower during the fire, and one baby named Logan who was stillborn shortly after the heavily pregnant mother escaped from the 21st floor, suffering severe smoke inhalation on her way down. The mother survived.
FORENSICS BACK UP FINAL FIGURES
“Specialist teams working inside Grenfell Tower and the mortuary have pushed the boundaries of what was scientifically possible to identify people,” said Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy, who is in charge of operations at the tower.
“I know that each and every member of the team has done absolutely all they can to make this possible. They have done that for every person who lost their life, their families and loved ones, and all those for whom Grenfell Tower was home.”
The tower was home to a tight-knit, multi-ethnic community in a deprived social housing estate within the wealthy Kensington and Chelsea borough that is also home to large numbers of millionaires and billionaires.
The tragedy has prompted political debate and soul-searching about London’s stark social inequalities and whether neglect of social housing estates and the communities living in them played a part in the fire.
GRENFELL CRIMINAL PROBE
A criminal investigation is under way that could result in individuals or organisations being charged. A separate public inquiry aims to shed light on any flaws or irregularities in the design, construction or maintenance of the tower.
Cundy said that when he first entered Grenfell Tower after the fire, the devastation was such that he feared it would not be possible to find, recover and identify all those who died.
Police officers, assisted by forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and specialists in using dental science to identify unknown human remains, searched every flat on every floor and every communal area.
The search involved sifting through up to 15.5 tonnes of debris by hand on every floor to identify all human remains in the charred building.
In parallel, huge amounts of investigative work was undertaken to identify who was in Grenfell Tower on the night of the fire, who was missing and presumed dead, enquire after those reported missing and reconcile all the information.
One person was reported missing 46 separate times. Some were reported under a number of different names, and even the slightest differences in spelling had to be investigated.
Police said that having completed all this work, they now believed it was highly unlikely that anyone remained in Grenfell Tower.
Cundy concluded: “The human cost and terrible reality of what took place at Grenfell Tower affects so many people. Our search operation and ongoing investigation is about those people. Tragically, that night, 70 children and adults died and a baby was stillborn. My thoughts, and those of all my colleagues in the Met Police are with all those who lost their loved ones, those who survived, the local community and all those who live with this tragedy every day.
“Our criminal investigation is continuing, and we are determined to do all we can to find the answers that so many people so desperately want.”