LONDON – Britain’s royals and Prime Minister Theresa May joined survivors and families of those who died in London’s Grenfell Tower fire for a memorial service Thursday for the 71 people killed in the June blaze.
Prince Charles, his wife Camilla, Prince Harry, Prince William and his wife Kate joined some 1,500 people at the multi-faith service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, held exactly six months after the June 14 fire that engulfed a residential tower block in west London.
Emma Dent Coad, a Labour lawmaker for the neighbourhood, said “emotions are still very raw” and the service was a “recognition that people from all walks of government are going to come down and grieve with them.”
As they filed out of the service, many of the bereaved paused on the steps of St. Paul’s to comfort each other. Some held aloft photos of their loved ones and clutched white roses.
In all, 71 people including a stillborn baby died in the fire, which started in a refrigerator in one apartment before racing through the 24-story tower, home to a largely immigrant and working-class population.
The disaster shocked Britain and raised many questions about the country’s rich-poor divide, not least because it took place at a publicly owned tower block in Kensington and Chelsea, one of London’s — and Britain’s — richest boroughs. Many residents are angry at authorities for ignoring their safety concerns, which were raised months before the fire.
London police are conducting a criminal inquiry and are looking at possible manslaughter charges on both a “corporate or individual level,” but no one has yet been charged.
The high death toll at Grenfell has also spurred U.S. fire safety groups to re-examine fire-prevention methods.
Rev. Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington, said he hoped the service Thursday would reassure those present that they were not forgotten by the nation.
“As we come to the end of this difficult year, as we celebrate Christmas … nothing can remove the memory of that night,” he said. “And yet my hope and prayer is that this new year can bring new hope of a future.”