Theresa May under pressure as anger mounts over Grenfell Tower

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Theresa May’s leadership was under attack on Friday night as she faced a storm of criticism over her reaction to the Grenfell Tower fire.

Questions over the Prime Minister’s judgement were raised as she was accused of failing to show empathy with those affected by the tragedy.

Questions over the Prime Ministers judgement have been raised following her reaction to the Grenfell Tower disaster. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Questions over the Prime Ministers judgement have been raised following her reaction to the Grenfell Tower disaster. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Public anger was directed at Mrs May for a decision to ignore members of the public when she first visited the scene of the fire.

The shock at the mounting death toll, which by Friday night had risen to 70 missing and feared dead, was accompanied by fury over her decision to restrict herself to having private talks with the emergency services when she went to the site on Thursday.

After her initial failure to engage with the public, the Prime Minister sought to make amends when she went to St Clement’s Church, near the blaze, to meet locals and community leaders.

The Prime Minister faced cries of “coward” and “shame on you” as she left St Clement’s on Friday afternoon. Police had to bundle her into her car as she left by a side-door, surrounded by an irate crowd. There was a large police presence at the church, where Mrs May announced a £5 million relief fund.

Protesters gained access to Kensington Town Hall on Friday to demand the local authority answer questions on the disaster. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Protesters gained access to Kensington Town Hall on Friday to demand the local authority answer questions on the disaster. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Earlier Mrs May went to London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, but her visit was not enough to dispel the anger caused by what many saw as a perfunctory trip to the site on Thursday.

READ MORE: Grenfell Tower disaster: Protesters march on Whitehall

One woman wept saying it was because the Prime Minister declined to speak to anyone outside the meeting which lasted less than hour.

Police broke up a scuffle between members of the crowd as Mrs May’s car drove off.

Theresa May meets firefighters as she visits the remains of Grenfell Tower in west London. The prime minister is facing mounting criticism over her handling of the disaster. Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

Theresa May meets firefighters as she visits the remains of Grenfell Tower in west London. The prime minister is facing mounting criticism over her handling of the disaster. Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

Tension also rose when around 60 protesters stormed Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall brandishing a list of demands and seeking help for those made homeless.

Mrs May’s reaction to the horrifying events was also criticised when the Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom went to the scene of the fire and was tackled about the Prime Minister’s behaviour.

Mrs May’s response has been contrasted to that of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, both of whom engaged with those affected.

One man asked Ms Leadsom: “Why are Sadiq Khan and Corbyn coming down here to speak to people and Theresa May is coming here with police, walking around, not meeting no-one, not meeting families?

“This fire could have been stopped a long, long time ago ... There’s not even sprinklers in there.

“In 2009, the last block was on fire. What has changed since then? Nothing. Enough is enough, I have got friends in that tower. I have a right to be angry. Because of people saving money, people are dying.”

Ms Leadsom replied: “The Prime Minister came yesterday to look at the operation, to try to make sure that everything that can be done by the Government is done.

“The Prime Minister is absolutely heartbroken ... The whole sense in the House of Commons is absolute horror and shock. I don’t really think it is appropriate to be talking about whether people have humanity or not.

“Understandably, people are desperately traumatised and, yes, people are angry and that is totally understandable.

“What we need to do is to get a grip of this and make sure we are meeting their immediate needs as well as their ongoing needs and that is really the priority for Government.”

Former Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo urged Ms May to show “humanity”.

“She should have been there with the residents, which is what Jeremy Corbyn was,” he told the BBC’s This Week. “She wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn’t use her humanity.

“The Prime Minister would have been shouted at by the residents, but she should have been willing to take that.”

On a wall near the tower where local residents have left tributes, one person scrawled: “Theresa May, stay away.”

Meanwhile London mayor Sadiq Khan wrote to Ms May urging her to step in with further support to the relief effort “as a matter of urgency”.

Mr Khan, who himself faced anger from residents on his visit to the site on Thursday, wrote: “[Residents] feel the Government and local council haven’t done enough to help them in the aftermath of this horrific incident, or to provide answers to their increasingly urgent questions,” he wrote.

Asked if the PM would bow to pressure and meet residents at the site, Ms Leadsom said: “The Prime Minister is doing everything she can. I’m sure if it is felt that that would be helpful, then she will do that.”

The former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said it was “not OK” for the prime minister to go to the area but not meet residents, and called on her to invite them to talk to her in Downing Street, as victims of the 2009 Lakanal House fire were.

But on the BBC’s Question Time programme, Conservative defence minister Tobias Ellwood, said there were “security reasons” why Mrs May had not met residents.

Mr Ellwood’s claim led to raised eyebrows with many wondering that if security had been the issue, how it was that the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge had managed to speak to residents during their visit yesterday to the West Way Sports Centre near the site.