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

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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

Sports

Looking back on my Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace | Mo Farah

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I recently had the honour of being knighted by Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. When I came to the UK from Somalia aged 8, not speaking any English, who would have thought that my running would eventually lead me here? This was another very special gold medal for me and I am so honoured to have received it. Here’s a little glimpse of how the day went for me.

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Crime

Police bid to trace stolen VW car used in shotgun killing in west London

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A man shot dead in a “cowardly” execution-style attack in west London was murdered by killers using a stolen VW car with cloned number plates, police revealed today.

Khalid Abdi Farah, 26, was blasted to death by a gunman armed with a shotgun as he sat in a car outside a convenience store in Southall.

Detectives say the killer was a passenger in a first generation Tiguan car which pulled up alongside Mr Farah’s Ford Focus in Lady Margaret Road in the early hours of last Saturday.

The gunman walked up to Mr Farah’s car and pushed the shotgun through the window, firing twice at close range.

The 26-year-old, who worked as a courier, suffered critical injuries to his chest and died later in hospital.

The charity Crimetoppers today announced a £10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killers and appealed to anyone who saw the Tiguan with the number plate ‘VK 61 EEG’ being driven in the Southall area around the time of the murder.

The plates were cloned form a legitimate Tiguan owner who recently purchased a car and the stolen vehicle was found burnt out in West Drayton after the murder.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Partridge, who is leading the murder inquiry, said : “We believe the VW Tiguan found burnt out in Knowles Close was the car used by the suspects who shot Khalid. This car had been stolen from the Uxbridge area on 15 October and was using cloned plates between then and Khalid’s murder.

“I am making a very specific request for assistance from the public who live in the Southall and West Drayton areas of west London for sightings of the Tiguan bearing the cloned plates ‘VK 61 EEG’.

“Our work indicates this car was being used and stored around these areas during that time.”

He also appealed to petrol station employees about anyone buying a green petrol container on November 11 to contact them.

DCI Partridge added: “It is early in the investigation and we are still keeping an open mind about what lies behind this attack. If anyone has any information which might give us a reason for this then please let us know.

“From what I understand the victim was sitting in his car minding his own business on a night out, he was targeted in a cowardly fashion.

A family has been left devastated by Khalid’s murder and I would urge anyone who has information that could assist this investigation, please call police or the charity Crimestoppers.”

Mr Farah’s family issued a statement saying : “Khalid was such an amazing son, brother and nephew. We can’t stress enough how distraught we are that our beautiful boy was taken away from us.

“He was a kind and lovable soul that made an impression with everyone he would meet. We as a family will never come to terms with this. If you know even the tiniest of details please come forward. Khalid will only rest in peace when this killer is brought to justice.”

There have been no arrests.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police through incident room on 020 8358 0300 or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 11.

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UK

It makes me livid that the Labour Party assumes black people must support it

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Apart from the London mayoral elections, I have never voted Tory, but I know many black and brown people who have. My beautiful younger brother is one such person. Not only is Mohammed a proud Tory but he is also the chair and founder of the Somali Conservatives and will be standing for the party in 2018 local elections.

So when a 2010 blog by Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad surfaced, referring to Shaun Bailey a “token ghetto boy”, I took offence. No, actually I was livid. Like my brother, Shaun is black and a Tory. My brother and many of those I love and respect, who are proud Conservative members, are not tokens. They are brave, bright people who have chosen to vote for and back a party they believe in. They also want to help it change.

As a child, Mohammed, like me, saw our grandfather dragged out of his bed in Hargeisa, now the capital of Somaliland, in the middle of the night for speaking out against a dictator. As a result of this and the civil war my family were forced to flee.

Something like that shapes your life. For my family it meant we became very political and some of us joined political parties.

None is perfect — I am a member of the Women’s Equality Party — but there is a prevalent idea that Labour owns black and minority ethnic (BAME) people, which I reject. That was the undertone of Dent Coad’s statement, and a toxic reminder of why Labour has lost me and many of my peers.

To me, the Labour Party is all talk and no action. I get trolled by its members and I have even been blocked on Twitter by members of the shadow cabinet — I think because I work with Tory MPs to end female genital mutilation.
Many on the Left still believe that FGM is a cultural issue and that we should be “talking” to abusers and prefer to “respect” differences rather than saving girls like me.

One senior Labour figure once told me they would have to see “how it plays out with the mosques” when I asked him to back me in my fight.

During my campaigning on FGM I have been open to working with anyone in power, but in my experience the Labour Party has shown little interest, while those in the Conservative Party have been quick to respond.

From David Cameron to the current Prime Minister, Conservative politicians have demonstrated that they care about ending FGM. For me and 200 million women across the world who have been cut this is crucial.

Today there is a real possibility that FGM can and will end within our lifetime and that is thanks to some very white and posh men who saw me and listened.

As Kemi Badenoch — a rising star and very black Tory MP — said, the attitude that black people cannot be Tories “traps many black children within imaginary boundaries they believe they aren’t allowed to cross. They end up living less than the very best lives they can.”

Seeing MPs such as Badenoch and James Cleverly in the House of Commons means that my niece and little cousins can see people like themselves in positions of power.

The BAME population of this great country is diverse, and as such, we have the constitutionally-given right to join and support whichever party we wish. Dent Coad and her party would do well to remember that.

I did not need Jeremy Corybn to unlock my talent in order to get three law degrees and I am not waiting for him and his band of Lefty loons to set me free.

Hijab Barbie is not for children to play with

I’ve never played with a Barbie doll and I don’t intend to buy one for any of the girls in my family. I totally get that the makers of Barbie want to sell more of them in the run-up to Christmas but I would not buy my six-year-old niece Sofia a make-up-wearing Barbie, and for the same reason I would not buy her a hijab-wearing one.

The hijab, like make-up and other things meant for adults, is not for children to play with. Instead I would love a world in which girls have strong female icons to admire in many industries — and not have dolls marketed to them by a company such as Mattel.

My homeland is leading the way in outlawing FGM

On Monday Somaliland held its fifth multi-party presidential election, though the results are not in yet. Despite the lack of international recognition, Somaliland is leading the way in the region on so many fronts. Last week, in the final days of the election campaign, I visited Hargeisa, the city of my birth, to lobby for legislation to ban FGM.

Somaliland has the world’s highest incidence of FGM. Like me, 98 per cent of women and girls in the country have undergone FGM — but there is hope. Not only did all three of the men seeking to be the next president agree with me on the subject, they and their party chairmen agreed to table legislation on FGM in their first 100 days.

I know politicians will say anything to get elected but sitting down with these men, I believed them.

I hope to travel back to Somaliland in February with Zac Goldsmith, who has played a significant role in supporting this work. Ending FGM within a generation is something I believe we will achieve. I am proud that Somaliland is leading the way.

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