A local London council has decided to evacuate some 800 households — about 1400 residents — in apartment buildings it owns because of safety concerns following the devastating fire that killed 79 people in a west London high-rise.
The move comes amid escalating concerns among residents of thousands of tower blocks around Britain and as police announce they are considering filing manslaughter charges.
The Camden Council is the first to take such a dramatic step in light of the June 14 fire at Grenfell Tower.
Council leader Georgia Gould said the borough took the unusual step to evacuate after the London Fire Brigade and council experts had conducted a joint inspection of the properties.
“Camden Council is absolutely determined to ensure that our residents are safe and we have promised them that we will work with them, continue to act swiftly and be open and transparent,” Ms Gould said in a statement.
The council is encouraging residents to stay with friends and family, but promised to provide temporary accommodations, if that was not possible. Repairs on the building are expected to be completed in three to four weeks.
“The Grenfell fire changes everything,” Ms Gould said.
“We need to do everything we can to keep residents safe.”
Ms Gould said the move came after firefighters said they “could not guarantee our residents safety.”
But some residents were frustrated by the late notice of the evacuation orders.
“I think it’s absolutely disgusting,” evacuated resident Shirley Phillips told Sky News.
“Why have they left it till half-past eight at night to get the residents out? Where do they think we are all going?”
Camden is one of the councils in England which has learned that combustible cladding has been placed on buildings during renovation projects, rather than non-flammable cladding.
The aluminium composite panels, which are put on buildings to make them more energy efficient, are suspected of contributing to the rapid spread and intensity of the enormous Grenfell blaze.
Manslaughter charges possible
On Friday, police said they were considering filing manslaughter charges in the Grenfell incident.
In its most detailed briefing yet on the criminal investigation, the Metropolitan Police confirmed residents’ suspicions that the inferno at Grenfell was touched off by a refrigerator fire.
The department also said exterior cladding attached to the 24-story public housing project during a recent renovation failed safety tests conducted by investigators, and that police have seized documents from a number of organisations.
“We are looking at every criminal offence from manslaughter onwards,” Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack told reporters.
“We are reviewing every company at the moment involved in the building and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.”
The government has ordered an immediate examination of the refrigerator model that started the blaze. McCormack said the Hotpoint model FF175BP refrigerator-freezer had not been subject to any product recalls before the fire.
Hotpoint said on Friday that “words cannot express our sorrow at this terrible tragedy” and added it was working with authorities to examine the appliance.
Police are looking at all parts of the cladding system and its installation, McCormack said.
“Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the test started,” she said. “The initial tests on equivalent aluminum composite tiles failed the safety tests.”
Authorities now acknowledge the risks posed by exterior cladding to thousands of people around the country who live in blocks like Grenfell Tower.