Police considering manslaughter charges in London apartment tower fire

LONDON — London’s Metropolitan Police Service said Friday it is considering manslaughter charges among the criminal offenses that might have been committed in relation to last week’s deadly Grenfell Tower fire.

The police investigation is focused on how the blaze started, how it spread so fast and whether any person or organizations should be held responsible, Detective Chief Superintendent Fiona McCormack said.

Documents have already been seized, she said.

McCormack said the number of people dead or presumed dead remains at 79, but she fears the true number could be higher.

She appealed for people to come forward with information about anyone who may have been in the building on the night of the fire.

U.K. authorities have given assurances they will not check anyone’s immigration status as a result of information given to police in relation to the blaze.

The 24-story high-rise was home to 125 families, but visitors also might have been in the building when the flames took hold.

The investigation is one of the most complex ever undertaken by the Metropolitan Police, McCormack said.

Work at the scene of the fire is “difficult and distressing,” but search teams are endeavoring to recover everything possible so it can be returned to victims’ families and survivors.

“Such is the devastation inside, our forensic search and recovery may not be complete by the end of the year,” she said. “There is a terrible reality that we may not find or identify all those who died due to the intense heat of the fire, but we will do absolutely everything we can with the utmost sensitivity and dignity.”

Speculation has focused on the role that cladding apparently used in a recent refurbishment of the tower might have played in the fire, which appeared to spread quickly up the exterior of the tower in the early hours of June 14.

Samples of insulation from the tower and equivalent aluminum composite tiles sent by police for analysis have failed safety tests, McCormack said.

“Such are the safety concerns with the outcome of these tests we have immediately shared the data with the Department for Communities and Local Government, who are already sharing that information with local councils throughout the country,” she said.

Investigators are also looking at the insulation behind the cladding and how the tiles were installed, she said.

With the inquiry in its second week, police have started taking witness statements from those who were in the tower, McCormack said, and have listened to all of the more than 600 emergency calls made that night to get a full understanding of how the fire spread.

“Some of those calls are over an hour long and truly harrowing in their content,” she added.

McCormack also urged any present or past residents of Grenfell Tower who had previously reported or had concerns about the building’s safety to get in touch with police.

The fire was not set deliberately but started in a Hotpoint fridge-freezer that was not previously part of any product recall, McCormack added. Police are talking to the manufacturers.

In a statement, Whirlpool — which owns Hotpoint — offered its condolences to the victims of the fire and said it was “working with the authorities to obtain access to the appliance so that we can assist with the ongoing investigations.”

The model was discontinued in 2009.