Police say 80 died in London fire, while locals count hundreds lost

Extensive damage is seen to the GrenfellTower block which was destroyed in a disastrous fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain, on June 16, 2017.
Extensive damage is seen to the GrenfellTower block which was destroyed in a disastrous fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain, on June 16, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (NYTIMES) - How many people died in the Grenfell Tower blaze?

On Monday, after weeks of criticism, the police for the first time offered an estimate of the number of people who should have been in the building that night - 350 - and said that of that figure, 255 had survived and 14 were not at home, which would imply that 81 people had died.

But the official death toll in London's deadliest fire since World War II has been repeatedly challenged by survivors and their advocates.

Sceptics, including three volunteer researchers, have been trying to fill the information vacuum: an Iranian biomedical engineering student who lived on the third floor (he estimated at least 123 dead), a demographer who came out of retirement to bring professional techniques to bear and a software engineer in Brussels whose website has emerged as the most credible source (both the demographer and the engineer place the toll in the 90s).

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The tragedy, for many, has come to symbolise not only official negligence, but also rising inequality, particularly given that the fire occurred in a borough, Kensington and Chelsea, that is one of the wealthiest localities in Britain.

The Metropolitan Police, which serves Greater London, says that it has made efforts to provide information, but that it is painstaking work, hindered in some cases by inaccurate and unreliable official records. But the paucity of official information about the fire dominated a series of meetings last week between residents and the authorities.

"If this was a terrorist attack, they would have had the numbers out here already," said Beinazir Lasharie, a Labour member of the Kensington and Chelsea Council who represents the neighborhood that includes the tower.

 
 

From the day of the fire, June 14, when the death toll was initially announced as only six and later 12, people began to complain that the police were giving low estimates. The death toll was raised repeatedly, finally reaching 80 on June 28, where it has stayed since.