Grenfell Tower: 'It was apocalyptic, like a horrendous film' - BBC News

2022-06-09 07:04:17 By : Mr. Adam Gao

By Frankie McCamley News Correspondent

Investigators had to enter Grenfell Tower while it was unsafe and as new fires broke out, the man who led the police recovery operation has revealed.

Simon Fox spent five months working as the scene evidence recovery manager at the 23-storey building in west London.

Speaking exclusively to the BBC, the retired Met officer said the block had been "liable to collapse at any stage" as his team carried out their work.

Seventy-two people died after the blaze broke out at the tower on 14 June 2017.

At the time, the former detective inspector had been working as an armed officer with the diplomatic protection group.

However, he was brought in to lead the disaster victim identification (DVI) team at Grenfell due to his expertise from working on cases like the bombing of the bus in Russell Square during 7/7.

Speaking publicly for the first time about what was involved, Mr Fox said they were "sending teams in to try and recover the victims more or less from day one".

"There were still fires breaking out. The building was structurally unsafe," he explained.

"It was such a dangerous thing the teams were doing in the building. Those early days it was liable to collapse at any stage."

Once inside the building, Mr Fox described the scene as "apocalyptic" and "like some horrendous film", with floors "one metre or two metres deep of everything that had fallen down".

"When you got close to the windows, bits were still falling off. So every now and again you'd hear a bit crash or something would fall off," he said.

He also described how investigators had to wear protective suits and masks as they scoured the tower's "empty shell", but in the rubbish chute room on one floor they found a "black bin bag full of rubbish untouched by the heat because of the fire door".

"I thought long and hard about whether anyone could have survived in there and I can honestly say I don't think they would have. The smoke would still have got in there. It wasn't an air tight door.

"But you just think that's such a normal everyday thing, a bag of rubbish has survived this, this inferno - it just brings home the human cost," he said.

While the final death toll has been recorded by police as 72, Mr Fox has previously stated the actual number may never be known.

Asked whether he still believed that to be the case as the fifth anniversary of the disaster approaches, the former officer replied it was "always a possibility", but he was "99% certain that everyone who has reported to us as being missing we have accounted for".

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The ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry found the building's cladding was a key factor in the fire's rapid spread.

The Met has said it will not pass any evidence on to prosecutors until after the inquiry has been completed and no individuals or companies have been charged over the fire so far.

In a statement the force said: "The safety and welfare of all those operating within the tower was paramount. Any activity was undertaken once it was safe to do so and with the involvement of a range of specialists."

Survivors and relatives of those who died previously called on the force to abandon that decision.

Mr Fox retired as a detective inspector with the Met shortly after the tragedy and now trains new police recruits.

Nevertheless, he said the disaster was something he still thought about every year since.

Asked why he had chosen to speak about his experiences now, he replied: "I think people need to know what a good job the DVI teams did.

"And I think it's important these stories are told."

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