A group of Grenfell Tower survivors have said they were ‘speechless’ after a former Cabinet minister misstated the number of people who died in the blaze while giving evidence to an inquest.
Lord Eric Pickles, who was Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) between 2010 and 2015, said 96 people died in the June 2017 tower fire while the exact number of victims was 72.
The politician, who was also chairman of the Conservative Party from 2009 to 2010, described the victims as ’96 unnamed people’ when he appeared before the inquiry into the west tower fire on Thursday from London.
Following his remarks, survivors’ group Grenfell United slammed him for what they called a ‘complete disregard’ for victims and called for his removal from government and the House of Lords.
“Eric Pickles’ lack of respect during the investigation left us speechless. How dare he call our loved ones we lost that night “the nameless 96″. 72 people died at Grenfell and none of them were anonymous,” the group said in a statement.
“His utter disregard for what happened and for those who are no longer with us is horrendous, given that he had the ability as housing minister to reform building security.”
The group added: ‘Eric Pickles must be removed from government and the Lords. Otherwise, the government continues to show the disregard it has always had for the safety of the people in this country.
The former MP for Brentwood and Ongar made the mistake at the end of his testimony by responding if there was anything he would have done differently.
Lord Pickles told the inquest: “My answer, the one which I obviously prepared because I had watched you do this and realized I was going to be asked – is entirely different from the one I am going to give. “
He referred to the coroner’s recommendations following the 2006 Lakanal house fire in Camberwell which killed six people and injured 20 others.
The first report of the Grenfell Inquiry revealed that the lessons of the Lakanal House fire had not been learned by the time of the Grenfell disaster eight years later.
Lord Pickles said: ‘What I was going to say is maybe I should have put in the letter the simple phrase ‘and I accept the coroner’s recommendations’ – would that have made a difference? ” he said.
“And your diligence, and your choice of examples, made me think, I don’t think it would have made any difference, I think.
“There was a kind of mindset that existed in certain parts of the department that just ignored what was going on, got a picture of what we were, and got there.”
He said the inquiry should “never lose sight” that “this is not about deregulation”.
Instead, he said they were the “unnamed” victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
“It goes to Michelle (Udoaka, who died in the Lakanal fire) and the 96 unnamed people who were killed in the Grenfell fire.
“They’re the ones we have to think about when we’re fighting over the draw.
“Ultimately, as I said earlier, the dead deserve the dignity of being remembered by name and the dead deserve the dignity of a solution.
“And I’m sure you will come to it.”
I’m sorry this interfered with your arrangements for today, but there were some things we needed to ask you.
Seventy-two victims of the Grenfell Tower fire have been named and counted.
Earlier on Thursday, the second and final day of giving evidence, Lord Pickles also appeared frustrated at the time the inquest was taking.
He told lead inquest counsel Richard Millett QC: “Of course sir, feel free to ask me as many questions as you like, but may I respectfully remind you that you promised that we would be away this morning and I have changed my hours to accommodate that.
“I have an extremely busy day.
“But this is more important than anything, but I urge you to use your time wisely.”
Mr Millett replied: “Okay… can I have my question answered please?”
However, at the end of his testimony in the afternoon, Lord Pickles thanked the inquiry for the “professional and courteous” way in which he was treated.
In return, Grenfell Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick thanked him for his time, adding: “I’m sorry this interfered with your arrangements for today, but there were things that we had to ask you.”