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Grenfell Tower: 12 dead in fire that destroyed 24-storey building



Sandra Laville, Alice Ross, Alexandra Topping, Damien Gayle and Jamie Grierson

Police expect death toll to rise further as search continues and firefighters say they will be at site of blaze through the night

Firefighters and police were searching through the still smouldering debris of a tower block inferno in London to retrieve bodies as police warned the death toll of 12 would rise in the coming hours.

Hundreds of people have made desperate calls to a specially created casualty bureau to report missing loved ones in the aftermath of the blaze, which ripped through the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London.

Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan police said a full search of the building was taking place but it was not anticipated there would be any survivors found inside: “The thoughts of all of us from the emergency services … and from all of London, our thoughts will be with those so affected by a fire on a scale that is unprecedented,” he said.

Amid scenes of anger and recriminations residents said their concerns about fire safety in the building over many years and during a £10m refurbishment last year, had been ignored by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the block’s management company.

In a blog David Collins of the Grenfell action group said: “ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

Housing activists called the tower block fire a tragedy that was the result of a “combination of government cuts, local authority mismanagement, and sheer contempt for council tenants and the homes they live in”.

The investigation into the cause of the blaze is likely to focus on whether cladding panels fixed to the outside of the building contributed to the pace of the fire spreading.

Throughout the day, the families and friends of residents desperately put out messages on social media searching for any news of their loved ones. A 12-year-old girl, a family with three children, and an 82-year-old man were among the missing. Several hundred people would have been in the block sleeping when the fire took hold.

The London ambulance service said 68 patients were being treated in six hospitals, 18 were in critical care wards.

The prime minister, Theresa May, promised a “proper investigation” saying that if any lessons are to be learned they will be, and “action will be taken”.

Emma Dent Coad, the newly elected Labour MP for Kensington, said the terrible events had devastated the community. “Local people have been streaming into support centres with clothes, food and other supplies to help those affected. It is at times like these that we see the very best of our community, coming together in the face of such adversity,” she said.

At three rest centres across west London distraught people were being comforted and supported. Up to 44 families have been placed in emergency accommodation by the council and many more are being supported in rest centres.

At St Clement and St James Church, the Rev Mark O’Donoghue, said the church was trying to find hotel rooms and bedding for people. “One of the saddest things has been seeing people who have come from one (refuge) centre to another centre, trying to find their loved ones,” he said.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said legitimate questions had to be answered, including over the fire safety strategy for the building, which told residents to stay put inside their flat if a blaze broke out.

“There are genuine concerns, reasonable concerns, that have been raised in the course of the night and it’s really important that these questions are answered,” said Khan.

“I will be demanding answers and I can assure you I will be ensuring there is independence in relation to it. Across London we have many, many tower blocks and what we can’t have is a situation where people’s safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained.”

As smoke billowed from the building and pockets of fire continued to break out, Steve Apter of the London fire brigade described the unprecedented nature of the inferno. The first commander on the scene shortly after 1am had been faced with a blaze that spread with a scale and speed greater than he would have anticipated.

Late on Wednesday firefighters were continuing to face arduous conditions inside the tower block. Drones supplied by Kent fire brigade were used to fly up and down the building to help fire fighters and forensics teams as they picked through rubble, ash, timber and concrete in a detailed search.

“This incident continues to be a challenging one,” said Apter. “We intend to be here until the job is done, working alongside colleagues in the London ambulance service. We certainly intend to be here through the night.”

Apter would not comment on the causes of the fire. He said a full investigation would be set up by fire and police investigators.

“The fire was unprecedented in its scale and spread and is the subject of a full investigation with police. Lessons learnt will be brought out not just across London, but across the UK and globally,” he said.

Some experts said the cladding fixed to the block during a £10m refurbishment last year might be responsible for the speed with which it took hold.

Dr Jim Glocking, technical director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), an industry body, said a major issue was that insulation underneath cladding on the outside of tower blocks did not need to be fireproof.

The London Fire Brigade wrote in April to all councils warning them about the use of insulation panels on high rise buildings after tests revealed they were highly likely to have caused a devastating fire in Hammersmith and Fulham last year. The investigation showed the panels came apart when burnt exposing flammable insulation to the flames. The FPA had “lobbied long and hard” for building regulations on the issue to be changed, but nothing had happened.

Nick Hurd, the policing and fire minister, said checks would be carried out on tower blocks going through similar refurbishments.

The scale of the horror residents faced continued to emerge throughout the day. Witnesses described seeing mothers throw children to safety, people who were on fire jumping from windows and residents waving and screaming for help using mobile phone lights and torches as distress signals.

“The flames, I have never seen anything like it, it just reminded me of 9/11,” said Mua Ali, 45. “The fire started on the upper floors … Oh my goodness, it spread so quickly, it had completely spread within half an hour.

“My friends live on the fourth floor, someone knocked on their door, they didn’t know and they got out. They have three children. Some people were knocking on doors but the people inside didn’t open the door.”

Samira Lamrani said she saw a woman gesturing to the crowd below that she was about to drop her baby from “the ninth or 10th floor” of the building. A man ran forward and managed to catch the baby, she said.

Joe Walsh, 58, said he saw children being thrown from the windows. “I saw the parent throw two kids out of the window. I don’t know where they landed because I was on the other side. I doubt anyone caught them, I hope they did.”

“It was the screaming that was the worst and I could hear that from the ground. All I could hear was ‘help, help, help’,” said Anne Waters.

At its height 200 firefighters tackled the blaze, supported by 40 engines and a range of specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue vehicles, she said. In addition, at least 20 ambulance crews were in attendance.

Many of those who escaped the flames gathered at the nearby Rugby Portobello centre where they were given water, clothes and blankets.

Businesses at the nearby Notting Dale Village brought trolleys of refreshments, including sandwiches and fruit to the emergency services working at the cordons around Grenfell Tower. The manager, Hayley Allen, said: “We have a local community focus and wanted to help and show our support in whatever way we could.”

Volunteers stood on the edge of the exclusion zone with trays of sandwiches, which were offered to police as they walked past.

Marco Antoniades, who owns MGA Autos on Latimer Road near Grenfell Tower, said: “Everyone is walking round in shock. I’ve seen a couple of friends nearly in tears in other garages round here. Like in most places in England people get together and help each other in times like this and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

If you are concerned for loved ones the police have set up an emergency line: 0800 0961 233


Spy poisoning: How could the UK retaliate against Russia?



BBC — UK Prime Minister Theresa May is braced to take “extensive measures” against Russia should it not offer a credible explanation of how an ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent.

“Should there be no credible response,” Mrs May told parliament, “we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”.

But what could the UK actually do – both on its own, and with the help of allies? And how likely are the US, EU and others to be on board?

Direct action

Britain could expel Russian diplomats, as it did after the poisoning of former Russian Federal Security Service operative Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 with radioactive polonium.
But many argue that this, and the other measures that were taken after that killing – including visa restrictions on Russian officials – did not go far enough. The man identified as the main suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is not just at large, he is now a Russian MP.

So what else could the UK do?

  • Expel senior diplomats, perhaps even the Russian ambassador, and known Russian intelligence agents
  • Take some sort of action to bar wealthy Russian oligarchs from accessing their mansions and other luxuries in London, as suggested by Tory MP and House of Commons foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat. One way this could happen is through the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders, which allow government officials to seize assets including property until they have been properly accounted for
  • A boycott of the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year by officials and dignitaries – a symbolic move that UK allies are unlikely to emulate
  • Taking Russian broadcasters such as RT (formerly Russia Today) off the air – broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it will “consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licences” after Mrs May speaks on Wednesday.
  • Pass a British version of the 2012 US Magnitsky act, which punishes Russians involved in corruption and human rights violations with asset freezes and travel bans. It is named after a Russian lawyer who died in custody after revealing alleged fraud by state officials. MPs have been pushing for a Magnitsky amendment to be added to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill now going through Parliament

More EU sanctions?

Current sanctions on Russia that Britain supports are imposed via the European Union. They were first passed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. Some 150 individuals and 38 companies have been targeted with visa bans and asset freezes.

EU countries are already divided on the sanctions, with diverging views among members states as to how Russia should be treated. States like Hungary, Italy and Greece have all supported the weakening of sanctions.

Some doubt whether Britain could convince the bloc to further toughen its measures against Moscow, especially with the UK on its way out of the Union.

Could Nato act?
By framing the poisoning as a possible “unlawful use of force” by Russia against the UK, Theresa May prompted questions as to whether this could be a matter for Nato, the military alliance of 29 countries.

The alliance’s policy of collective defence – under Article 5 – states that an attack on any one ally is seen as an attack on all.

It was invoked for the first and only time by the United States after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, told the BBC that such an “unlawful act” warranted the involvement of Nato.

Any action “will be much more effective if there can be a broader, Nato-EU solidarity behind us”, he said.

But Downing Street has played down suggestions that this is an Article 5 matter.

For its part, Nato has called the attack “horrendous and completely unacceptable”. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the incident was of “great concern” to the alliance, which has moved in recent years to deter Russia by sending troops to Poland and the three Baltic states.

Lord Ricketts suggested one option involving Nato could be a reinforcement of resources on the group’s eastern flank.

Are UK’s allies showing support?
The UK could also seek to bring the issue to the UN – and seek to gather international support for action against Russia.

Theresa May has already spoken to France’s President Macron and the two leaders “agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies”, according to Downing Street. Although Mrs May has not yet spoken to President Trump about the case – there have been “conversations at a senior official level”.

The UK has already internationalised the matter by asking Russia to provide a “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok nerve agent programme to an international agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Indeed, the magnitude of the response that may be announced on Wednesday will depend on the scale of international co-operation that Mrs May can secure, says BBC Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called the attack an “outrage” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went further, saying the attack “clearly came from Russia”. President Donald Trump himself has not spoken out.

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Royal welcome and noisy protests await Saudi crown prince on UK trip



LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s grand welcome for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will begin on Wednesday with a lunch with Queen Elizabeth, as the two countries seek to widen longstanding defence ties into a far-reaching partnership.

Both sense an opportunity to broaden their existing relationship: Britain is looking for trading partners as it exits the European Union, and Saudi Arabia needs to convince sceptical investors about its domestic reforms.

But as Prince Mohammed and Prime Minister Theresa May meet, demonstrators will protest both countries’ roles in Yemen where war has killed an estimated 10,000 people and where 8.3 million people depend on food aid and 400,000 children have life-threatening levels of malnutrition.

Inside May’s Downing Street offices the two leaders will launch a “UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council” – an initiative to encourage Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms and foster more cooperation on issues such as education and culture, as well as defence and security.

“It will usher in a new era of bilateral relations, focused on a partnership that delivers wide-ranging benefits for both of us,” May’s spokesman told reporters.

Britain is vying to land the stock market listing of state oil firm Saudi Aramco, but no decision is expected this week.

Later this month Prince Mohammed visits the United States, which also wants the lucrative listing, although sources said both countries may miss out.

British officials were privately delighted at the decision by Prince Mohammed, 32, to choose Britain as the major western destination on his first foreign trip since becoming heir to the Saudi throne last year.

The British government is keen to transform its historic defence relationship into two-way trade and investment, eyeing both an expanded market in Saudi Arabia for service sector exports, and attracting Saudi cash to finance domestic projects.

Business deals are possible with British defence group BAE Systems and European weapons maker MBDA, and initial agreements could be concluded on gas exploration, petrochemicals and other industries, according to British and Saudi sources.


The three-day visit will include two audiences with the British Royal family, a briefing with national security officials, and a prestigious visit to the prime minister’s country residence.

May intends to use the private dinner at Chequers, a 16th-century manor house 40 miles (60 km) northwest of London, to bring up concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, her spokesman said.

A Saudi-led military coalition is fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen, generating what the United Nation said in January was the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Demonstrators drive a van with a large protest poster on it during a protest against the visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in central London, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

“You can expect them to discuss Yemen, and the prime minister to raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation,” May’s spokesman said. “She will also reiterate how seriously we take allegations of violations against international humanitarian law.”

Speaking to reporters in London on Monday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country had failed to effectively communicate the reasons behind its involvement in Yemen, but that they had not chosen to start the war.

Protestors are planning to target the Saudi officials over Yemen and other human rights issues, and Britain for licensing 4.6 billion pounds of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.

Buses have spent two days touring London with banners accusing Prince Mohammed of war crimes, with more planned for Wednesday ahead of the main rally.

“It is vital that people show up to the protest tomorrow outside Downing Street to make clear that the UK government’s complicity in the war on Yemen is not supported by the public and that we demand a peaceful and humane foreign policy,” said Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition.

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LONDON: Man ‘deliberately drove’ at Somali woman days after Parsons Green terror attack, court hears



THE TELEGRAPH — A man deliberately tried to kill a Muslim woman by driving his car into her, just days after the Parsons Green terror attack, a court has heard.

Paul Moore is accused of targeting Zaynab Hussein because of the colour of her skin and the fact she was wearing a hijab, five days after the attempted attack in London last September.

The 21-year-old allegedly drove his Volkswagen Up! into Ms Hussein – a Somali national – after spotting her in a Leicester street shortly after 8am on September 20. Witnesses claimed he was laughing at the time.

Just moments later he is accused driving the same vehicle at a 12-year-old schoolgirl, a short distance away in an attempt to cause her serious harm.

The jury was told how Ms Hussein, a Somali national, was struck once and subsequently driven over again moments later during the incident which took place in Leicester.

A jury of seven men and five women at Nottingham Crown Court were told Mr Moore had tried to kill Ms Hussein “purely because of the colour of her skin” and her “perceived Islamic faith”.

The prosecution said four other people were in the car with Moore during the incident and they had begged him to let them out afterwards.

Opening the case against Mr Moore, prosecutor Jonathan Straw said: “(Moore) carefully and deliberately, in an act of calculated evil, aligned his wheels so the front and back wheels were over her (Ms Hussein).

“He did not know her. He tried to kill her purely because of the colour of her skin and because of her perceived Islamic faith as she was wearing a hijab.

“It is no coincidence, we say, that there had been a bomb at Parsons Green Tube station in London, said to have been carried out by sympathisers of Islamic State.”

Mr Straw said it was only thanks to members of the public and medical professionals that Ms Hussein’s life was saved.

He continued: “She had received severe fractures to her pelvis, her spine, and one of the bones in her leg was broken.

“Having deliberately, we say, tried to kill Zaynab Hussein, the defendant then drove at a second victim – a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

“He did not hit her, he brushed her, but it is only by the grace of God and nothing more that she was saved.”

Mr Straw said Moore intended to offer no defence, adding: “It may well be he has no defence. He admits he was the driver.”

In a recorded interview played to the court, Reece Bishop, a passenger in the car at the time of the alleged attack on Ms Hussein, told police: “He was just driving like a maniac. I thought we were going to be dead. He said ‘I feel like running someone over. Anyone.’

“It all happened so fast. He turned the steering wheel and he just hits her out of the blue.”

On the recorded interview with police, Mr Bishop said Moore was laughing as he drove at Ms Hussein.

Mr Moore denies attempted murder, causing grievous bodily harm with intent and dangerous driving.

The trial continues.

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